Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By KIM ODE/McClatchy Newspapers
People say beauty is skin-deep like it's a bad thing.
For pretzel bread, the rounds of dough are dipped in a baking soda bath, brushed with egg white, and sliced across the top with a box cutter or sharp knife before baking.
McClatchy Newspapers photos
Consider the burnished dermis of pretzel bread, a hot dining trend in the burger world, but also a resurgence of artisan technique. While the innards of a sandwich naturally get the most attention, stacking them inside a strikingly contrasted pretzel bun doubles the pleasure. Remember: We eat with our eyes.
The pretzel-like mahogany crust comes from giving each bun a quick dip in a baking soda bath. The real beauty, however, emerges from a few quick slits across the top into the interior dough which, never exposed to the baking soda, retains a creamy white color as it bakes.
The resulting contrast makes a gorgeous crust that also tastes great, thanks to the particular tang of the soda dip.
Because we love you, we're looking out for your well-being by using baking soda instead of the traditional lye. Few home bakers enjoy donning safety glasses and rubber gloves and cranking up the ventilation system just to put dinner on the table, which is what lye requires.
The essential science remains the same: Lye and baking soda are both alkalines, but lye has far more corrosive qualities. Food-quality lye may be ordered online, but it's pricey and still requires safety measures.
(Besides, using a simmering baking soda bath offers an unexpected benefit: Once all the dough is dipped, slit and popped into the oven, pour the hot soda water down your sink's drain for a quick, easy cleansing.)
Pretzel bread dough can be used for a variety of sandwiches. We like it in a smaller "slider" shape, which we've filled here with corned beef, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing. To bring this Reuben into spring, we replaced the sauerkraut with the crunch of lightly dressed coleslaw. You'll get 16 sliders from this recipe.
The dough also can be made into burger-size buns (you'll get eight) and terrific beds for hot dogs or brats (again, think eight). Or skip the sandwich stage and shape the dough into chubby pretzel breadsticks -- great for adding interest to a bread basket, to munch with a cold beer or dip into melted cheese. You should get about a dozen. (Keeping them just 5 to 6 inches long makes them easier to manage in the soda bath.)
For the slashes, a razor blade (safest in a hardware-store box cutter) makes the cleanest cut, but your sharpest knife works, too. You can even snip the buns with a pair of scissors.
Whatever you use, the result will turn heads. As we make the turn into the grilling and picnicking season, pretzel bread is a tasty way to lend beauty to your feast.
Makes 16 sliders, eight burger or hot dog buns, or a dozen breadsticks
Note: This recipe is adapted from allrecipes.com. For an even chewier roll, substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour. Instant yeast also is called rapid-rise or bread machine yeast.
½ cup water
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, softened
3 cup flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2¼ teaspoons (1 envelope) instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, separated
Cornmeal for pan
¾ cup baking soda
Coarse kosher salt for sprinkling
Combine ½ cup water, milk and butter in a microwave-safe container and heat for about 45 seconds to melt the butter and warm the milk. Set aside.
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