Thursday, December 11, 2014

Traditional German Pretzels

Pretzels, what joyous treat.     
I used to make pretzels the easy way. It is delicious, I can assure you. But it lacks character. Something that makes pretzels pretzels. The traditional German pretzels require a dip in lye water. I understand that lye, or chemically known as Sodium hydroxide, lies in grey area. While it is safe in small amount to be digested by human, unless I am German and I own a pretzel geschaft, I do not find the need to go to the store and purchase lye solution.

But in my pursue of authentic pretzels, I read that baked baking soda is a good replacement for lye. You see, lye is alkaline and it affects the Maillard reaction, the  chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that gives browned foods--as a result of baking and searing-- a certain flavor. Lye bath gives pretzels deep brown crust, crunchy arms and distinctive taste. But remember, not all lye is food grade. You can’t just use lye that is meant or used for soap making. So this is where baking soda comes in. Lower in alkaline, baking soda can act as lye substitute. Not 100%, but near. Near is good than eating soap ingredients.

You can use baking soda, plainly. But if you wanna go further in altering the chemical properties of baking soda to make it very near to the effects lye gives, bake the baking soda in the oven for an hour in 120C. You can bake the baking soda in huge amount and keep it in an air tight canister. It has no expiration date. But I know better than to waste energy for the sake of color.

In short, this is what you get if you use..
-Lye bath: Very deep mahogany, like the color of a bark, superb texture.
-Baked baking soda bath: Deep mahogany, almost like a bark in color, superb texture.
-Baking soda bath: Beautiful dark brown color, superb texture.
-No bath at all: Are you kidding me?

Now that we set the rules straight for the matter of color and texture, we should get to the recipe. You will find many online that do not use beer, like my Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels recipe if you choose to omit beer and in a hurry. But this one, the one with the beer, trust me on this, it is a definite keeper.

Recipe adapted from Pretzel Making at Home
Pretzel dough:
2 1/4tsp instant yeast
120 ml  water
120 ml cold pilsner beer*
1tbs barley malt syrup/dark brown sugar
320gr bread flour
100gr dark rye flour**
5-10gr wheat bran***
2 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp salt
For the bath:
1/4 cup (baked) baking soda
2 Liter water
Coarse sea salt, for topping***
*You can use all water should you avoid beer
**You can use all bread flour should you not have dark rye flour

-Mix all dry ingredients together, pour water and beer. Knead until the dough is smooth. 
-Refrigerate the dough for at least 8 hours.
-Divide the dough into 8 equal portions

-Shape into pretzels and let them proof around 20 minutes.

-Prepare the baking soda bath by boiling the water and baking soda. When the baking soda already dissolves, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
-Dip each side of the pretzel dough for 10 seconds.

-If the pretzel hands fall off, worry not. You can always rearrange it again after the bath.
-Scatter some coarse sea salt on the pretzel if you like.
-Bake in a preheated oven on 260C for 8-12 minutes. If your oven cannot go that high, 250C will also be fine.
If you divide the dough into ten and bake for 15 minutes, you will get smaller pretzels with thin hands and very crispy hands those are.

I am not that big of a beer fan but I wouldn’t turn down a free beer, especially when it’s hot outside.. or when it’s cold outside or.. you know.. whatever the weather is. But I am also not a lass who would spend money on beer, unless I am making pretzels. You cannot taste the beer here, that is why you should keep some beer at hand. To help you gulp the pretzels down.

Oh.. Don't forget some mustard.

Not that yellow English mustard though.. 
Choose something bolder, Dijon I recommend.

Do try this at home. You won't regret it. But if you're too lazy to make it at home, you are always welcome at mine. Bring the beer,though.


Submitted to YeastSpotting
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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Chocolate Cinnamon Babka

I have been sleep deprived for the last 5 weeks. My works piled up high, which is good because it means people trust me to handle their scripts. Now that I finished them, I have to reward myself with something before I crawl to my cave and stay there like a hermit to study for the finals at November. Dang! So little time so many friggin text books. Not to mention I have to help Amiko with her school works. She's homeschooled, but that means lots and lots of subjects must be taught by her teacher at home, which is me, so her grades would be good, if not stellar. I do think 24 hours a day is not enough. That is why I have zero tolerance for bad coffee.

Now about my reward, I have the house all by myself today to concentrate on baking something so sinfully delicious; Babka. Babka is a very popular Ukrainian dessert bread. It is very rich and commonly appears around Easter. I guess each country in Europe has their own Easter bread; British Hot Cross Buns, Bulgarian Kozunak, Italian Pane di Pasqua, Russian Kulich,Croatian Sirnica, Spanish Hornazo, and many more. The word Babka derives from the word Grandmother, or Babka. Perhaps in the old times, grandmothers were the ones usually baked Babka.

Now, even though I am far from being a grandmother myself and this is not easter, I crave for something indulging because I am celebrating. What am I celebrating? I could say because I survived that monstrous creature called deadline. But no, I am celebrating the act of celebration, by baking a bread worthy enough to be celebrated. Chocolate Cinnamon Babka.

The recipe I always use is from the book Artisan Bread Everyday by Peter Reinhart. I have tried many recipes in that book because it was one of my first baking books. This particular one is a gem. I have tried many Babka recipes but if you have ever heard a term 'lesser Babka', most of other ones I tried are indeed lesser Babka. They're not yeasty enough and somehow lack of character. Anyhow, I cut down some butter and yolk and also incorporate whole wheat flour and wheat bran to make me feel less guilty. But if you carefully read the recipe, I am still guilty. Just not THAT guilty.

2 tbs instant yeast*
200gr lukewarm milk**
70 gr unsalted butter, room temperature
85 gr sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
200 gr all-purpose flour
225 gr wheat flour***
3 tbs wheat bran, optional****
1 tsp salt

*This will taste very yeasty, if you do not like the yeasty taste, do reduce it to  only 1/2tbs-1 tbs instant yeast.
**Use only 170 gr of water if you're using only all-purpose flour
***You can substitute the wheat flour with all-purpose flour, vice versa
****Adding wheat bran means you need to incorporate more liquid into the dough

250 gr dark chocolate
1 tsp ground cinnamon

50 gr unsalted butter

MAKE THE DOUGH              
-Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth.
-Add the vanilla to the egg yolks and whisk lightly to break up the yolks, then add the yolks to the sugar mixture. Keep whisking until it's creamy.
-Add the mixture of flour, yeast, salt, then pour in the milk mixture.
-Transfer the dough onto a work surface and knead, adding more water/flour needed to make the dough pliable. The dough should be a beautiful golden color and feel soft and supple. Form the dough into a ball.
-Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for about 1 1/2hours. If it rises significantly in less time, you can move to the shaping step or place it in the refrigerator overnight if you plan to bake it the next day.

-Using the bain marie, melt the chocolate and the butter. You do not need to melt it until silky smooth. Barely is enough.
-After you melt it, take it off the stove, then stir the cinnamon in.
-Spread the barely-melted mixture on a sheet of parchment paper or silicone baking mat, then refrigerate it until firm.

-Roll the dough into a rectangle  and cover the rolled out dough with the chocolate. 

-Roll the dough into a log. You will need to hit it until it cracks into pieces so it will be easy to roll.
-Using a metal pastry blade, cut the log down the middle lengthwise.

-Cross one piece over the other, then continue to crisscross the pieces in both directions to form a braid. Sprinkle with more cinnamon if you wish.

-Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for about 2 hours or less, depending on how warm yor kitchen is, until the dough size has increased to about 1 1/2 times from its original size.
-Preheat the oven to 175C and bake for 35-45 minutes.
-The babka will begin to brown quickly because of the sugar content but it won’t burn.

Don't forget to let it cool for at least 90 minutes before serving (yeah RIGHT)

This recipe made a HUGE bread. It's not a problem though because this is out of this world delicious.

Let's see the crumb shot, shall we?


It's yeasty, chocolatey, soft, there's a hint of butter, of cinnamon, but subtle. This is the ultimate comfort bread, must I say. I mean, I've made brioche filled with chocolate, it's wonderful. But in brioche, the star is the butter. Here, every ingredient goes harmoniously together. Of course the chocolate stands out more than the other ingredients, but just a bit. It does not overpower though it looks dominant. 

Now off I go make coffee. Lovely Indonesian coffee. 


PS: This is a cure from Haruki Murakami's aftertaste.

Submitted to YeastSpotting

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