Thanksgoating - Day twenty three. Soft Pretzels - Cracking the Amish Encryption


Ok… it’s the day before Thanksgiving. I have a lot to do for that and also a ton to get done at work before taking a little time off. So, I’m sort of punting this one and I’m going to repost a blog post I wrote about 10 years ago. I like to cook and if you like soft pretzels, feel free to keep up.

Today, I am thankful for the Amish.

My daughter loves to help when I’m cooking in the kitchen so I try to find things that she likes to eat and would have fun helping out with.

By the age of three she was assisting with rolling out pizza dough and helping catch the fresh pasta as it went through the rollers. By the age of four she got her first award as an assistant brewer when she helped me brew a Kolsch that did well in a local competition and made her first very own loaf of bread. Now she’s five and we spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

One of the things we like to make (and have made many times in the past) are homemade soft pretzels. More often than not, I will look to Alton Brown for guidance when trying something new and he just happened to have a great video and recipe for making soft pretzels. We made the recipe several times and it produced very good pretzels, but they weren’t quite as good as the ones we could find at the Amish market around the corner. And I needed to know why.

The Dutch market is probably my favorite place to shop… and I’ve said many times, if they sold booze and seafood I wouldn’t shop anywhere else. It’s always packed, and for good reason. So, ready to solve the mystery of the Amish pretzel I printed out my Alton Brown recipe and headed to the market.

It was an exceptionally busy day, and the pretzel counter had a line of close to twenty people. Everyone selling pretzels was very busy so I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to glean any information on improving my recipe. I broke through the pretzel line and worked my way into the candy store where I could look over one shelf into the back of the pretzel making area. I saw a guy rolling up some sausage and cheese pretzels (which are about the best things in the world) and figured I might be able to ask one question without disturbing his work too much. I put my recipe away in my pocket and thought I’d find out about temperature. My recipe called for baking them at 450 degrees for 12-14 minutes. I wanted to see if that was in line with their technique.

I awkwardly yelled over the candy shelf, “What temp do you bake the pretzels?”.

He looked up and told me they actually bake them at 600 degrees in special stone ovens that radiate an even heat. He went on to tell me that since you want crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, you want higher heat for a shorter time. It made sense. I thanked him and right before I let him get back to work, I thought I’d at least make sure I was using the right flour. “All purpose flour?” I asked. He shook his head and said they use oxidant flour. I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly so I asked again and again he replied oxidant flour. I was puzzled, but I thanked him and left. Working my way back through the now longer pretzel line, a lady asked me what type of flour he had said. “Oxidant?” I told her and she was as puzzled as I was. I was sure google could help me out when I got home but I quickly stopped by the spice/pantry section of the market to see if I could find that oxidant flour. They have at least a dozen different types of flour for sale, and I browsed through them to see if I could figure out what it was. And to my embarrassment, there it was. Occident bread flour. It was a brand, not an oxidizing property. Who knew? I bought a bag and made my way home.

After doing some googling on Occident flour I stumbled up an Amish soft pretzel recipe that was printed and reprinted across the internet. The dough had more sugar and no salt, but the interesting thing was the difference in the kneading. My Alton Brown recipe had me working it in a stand mixer for a good 5 minutes and the Amish recipe had me just mixing it together then kneading for about 30 seconds to get it into a good dough texture. I’m guessing the higher amount of gluten in the bread flour would make the dough much tougher if kneaded for a longer period.

Oh… and butter. This recipe called for a dunk in butter as soon as they were done cooking. I’ve seen them do it a hundred times at the market, but I never bothered with it when I made them at home. Boy, was that a mistake.

Don’t forget the butter dunk!

It was time to finally make some pretzels. My oven doesn’t go up 600 so I cranked it up to 500 and put my pizza stone in just below the rack I was going to bake on. I figured that might help at least keep an even heat like the stone ovens at the Amish market. I kind of hodge-podged my two recipes together and came up with success! Here is the recipe:

1 1/4 cups warm water
1 packet yeast
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Pre-bake Dip:
1/2 cup baking soda
1 quart hot water

Post-bake Dip:
1 stick melted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 500. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sugar, salt and flour and mix until combined. Knead just enough until dough forms.

  2. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes.

  3. Cut dough in half and separate each half into 8-10 equal pieces.

  4. Roll each piece into a long rope and form into a pretzel shape. Dip in pre-bake solution briefly then place on a parchment lined (or greased) cookie sheet. Sprinkle with pretzel salt.

  5. Bake at 500 degrees for 7 minutes or until golden brown.

  6. Remove from oven and dip face down into melted butter. Let cool on wire rack.

And there you have it… almost authentic Amish soft pretzels! Eat them while they’re hot… they won’t last long… well, at least not in my kitchen.

They’re great by themselves or you might want to try them with a spicy mustard and a cold beer if you’re feeling a little bit Bavarian. My wife once made an amazing Guinness mustard that would pair perfect here.

I might just have to try and pry that recipe away from her.

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