I think this is because it is rare to be able to get bread, even from a bakery, that is as good as bread that you eat straight out of your own oven. Bread and cheese is a match made in heaven.
I decided to make some Bavarian soft pretzels and cover them with Gruyere and Parmigiano cheese. I believe I was right in that assumption because these came out great and really did taste like an authentic Bavarian pretzel. It reminded me of the big hot soft pretzels I used to eat as a kid from the street vendors in New York City.
I actually made these pretzels twice. While they came out good this first time, I knew I could do better a second time now that I knew what to expect.
Here is the recipe with my notes in bold, scroll down to the bottom for some process photos:
500g (1 pound 1 ounce) bread flour – (I use all purpose when I’m out of bread flour)
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
350ml (1 1/2 cups) warm milk
40g (1/3 stick) unsalted butter (1.4 OZ)
1 pkg. Yeast (1 ¼ tsp)
Mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt and yeast) with a stand mixer on low.
Melt the butter in the microwave and mix it with the warm milk. Make sure that the mixture is not too hot, otherwise the yeast will die a horrible death (and the pretzels will be pretty dense). Liquid should be about 100-110F. Add the milk/butter mixture to the mixing bowl and wait until everything comes together.
It may be necessary to add one or two table spoons of water. Mix for 10 minutes. The first time I added 1 tablespoon, the second time I did not add anything and the dough looked much better. I would allow the dough to mix for a good minute before deciding to add extra water.
After 10 minutes, remove the dough from the bowl, spray the bowl with cooking spray, and put the dough back into the bowl. I used a separate bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for three hours in a warm place, or over night in the fridge. (My dough stopped rising after 2 hours).
Heat the oven to 425F. I would like to try baking these with a preheated pizza stone in the oven to see if it makes them better.
Divide the dough into eight pieces (I usually end up with about 4 OZ per piece). Roll the dough into a long rope. Make sure that the middle part is thicker than the ends. I found this to be important in getting a good pretzel shape.
I usually do this in two steps: First I roll out all pieces to about 12″ – this gives the dough some extra time to rest. In the second step, I bring them to the full 24″ that I need to form pretzels. The second time, I rolled the pieces a little longer than suggested because they do shrink back a bit.
Form the pretzels and let them rest for a few more minutes.
While forming the pretzels, bring a pot with water to boil (about 1qt – 4 cups) and add about 1/3 box of baking soda (almost 3 oz).
Once the water is boiling, submerge one pretzel at a time and boil it for 15 seconds. Stretch the pretzel out a bit before dropping it in. Do this by holding the top loops and letting gravity pull the dough down for a few seconds. I found that this helped keep the proper shape because they puff up once they hit the water. If the loops are not big enough, it will look like a blob of dough instead of a pretzel. After taking the pretzel out of the water, put it on a baking sheet that is covered with parchment paper (I used a Silpat). Sprinkle with pretzel salt, and cheese if using, while the dough is still wet. This helps the salt to stick.
Cut the thick part of the pretzel length-wise with a very sharp knife – must cut deep. If you rolled the pieces properly and made the middle thicker, you should be able to make a nice deep cut to get the desired result. My cuts did not come out nearly as good as Karl’s, you should take a look at his pictures to get a better idea of what it can look like if done well. I will have to work on this part.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375F and place the baking sheet(s) into the oven. Rotate the sheets after about 10 minutes.
Bake for about 25 minutes. Take the pretzels out of the oven and cool them on a cooling rack.
Here are some process photos from my second attempt:
The dough rises a lot, so be sure to use a medium to large sized bowl.
Here are my 8 pieces of dough, I used a scale to measure each piece so they were all about the same weight.
Here are my pieces rolled out to 12″.
And here is one at 24″. I did not roll them all to 24″ first and then form them. I rolled one out and then formed it, and then repeated that process 8 times.
You can see here the result of making the middle thicker and the ends thinner. You get a nice fat section at the bottom of the pretzel, which really helps enable you to make a deep cut.
Pretzel in boiling water and baking soda. This got a little messy. Be prepared to work quick.
Here they are pre baking, sprinkled with cheese and a little salt.
Fresh pretzels, right out of the oven. :)) Of course, they are best eaten that day, but they stayed nicely in an airtight container for about 3 days.