There is something about a gloomy overcast day that just makes me smile. We don’t get many of them in Southern California, and they come as a welcomed relief from the never-ending sunshine. The quiet gray clouds rolled in last night with the thick fog that blanketed the coast shielding the beach cities from the rest of the world. Chilly enough for a sweater and some soup, but not cold enough for a fireplace or hot chocolate. Perfect weather for baking bread, but what kind? Pain de mie, cornbread, challah. I was at an inspirational loss.
I though back to a trip we took last year about this time. We drove through Germany on a long weekend. We got lost in the modern streets of Frankfurt and explored the old streets and castle of Heidelberg. It was a bit cold and dreary, just what I was experiencing here in Orange County. It was then that the light bulb went off. Pretzels! Soft, salty and perfect dunked in spicy mustard. Soon the house would be fragrant with the yeasty smell of baking bread.
And a little bonus, I included the perfect egg wash. Egg wash can be essential in baking. It gives pastry that golden brown color and glossy sheen, and it’s an edible glue. It can be used as a glue to shape croissants or pinching together galette dough or used as a glaze for danishes, tart dough or breads before baking. The trick is to use a light coat, so it doesn’t become scrambled eggs when the pretzels come out of the oven. This egg wash is thin to prevent too thick of a coating, and is also seasoned for an extra glossy browned effect.
German Soft Pretzels Recipe
(makes 12 large) adapted from Martha Stewart
2 1/4 tsp (1/4oz) dry active yeast
1/4 tsp coarse salt, plus more for sprinkling
2 tsp sugar
1 c (270ml) warm water
3 c (486g) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp onion powder (optional)
2 tbsp (30g) unsalted butter, softened
baking soda, 1 tbsp for each cup of water for poaching liquid
egg wash (recipe below)
The Perfect Egg Wash Recipe
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
splash of water
Whisk yeast, salt, sugar and water together. Let sit for 10m until foamy. While the yeast is feeding, mix flour and onion powder together. Rub butter into flour until fully incorporated and mix resembles coarse crumbs.
Pour yeast mix over flour. Combine until it produces a soft dough. Knead dough for 5m until smooth. Round into a ball and place in large bowl lightly coated in veg oil. (I actually used extra virgin, because it was all I had. And it worked just fine.) Cover with a towel and place in a warm place to rise for 30m to 1 hour until doubled in size. Rising time depends on temperature of your kitchen.
Punch down dough and place on board or counter. Shape dough into square and cut into 12 equal pieces. Keep all dough covered while working with each piece. Roll each piece into an 18″ rope. Form a U with the rope, twist ends together twice and fold them up to meet the bottom of the U and pinch to secure. For a diagram, go here. Repeat with remaining dough. If not baking pretzels same day, place shaped pretzels on a sheet pan, wrap with plastic and refrigerate overnight if you decide not to bake them the same day. They will slowly proof overnight in fridge, but they must be baked within 24 hours or frozen. When ready to bake them, allow to come to room temp and proof until slightly puffy. Then continue to poaching step.
Let pretzels rest for 20m until puffy. Preheat oven to 450F. To prepare poaching liquid, combine 1 tbsp baking soda for every cup of water you need to fill up your non-aluminum pot. (I needed about 8 cups.) Bring to a simmer. In batches, poach pretzels for 1m on each side, remove and drain. Place pretzels on parchment-lined or greased baking sheet. Lightly brush with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for 13m until browned. Store uncovered for up to a day. If they are covered, they will get soggy.