Beer festivals are a wonderful opportunity to try some really special brews that aren’t part of a breweries normal line up. After attending my first one last winter I noticed several people walking around with pretzel necklaces. What a great idea!
Having snacks handy is nice for several reasons:
1) Eating food slows your absorption of alcohol
2) Pretzels are a great palate cleanser between beer tastings
3)Having something to munch on eliminates or reduces the need to find a food vendor and take time out of the main event.
With that said, I’ve subsequently made sure to always bring some sort of a pretzel necklace to the beer festivals I attend. Typically I just use regular old pretzels, but for the St. Paul Beer Dabbler this past weekend I decided to get a bit more elaborate and try my hand and making some homemade soft pretzels. And why not kick it up a notch and make them with beer?
Beer is really easy to substitute for the liquid in any bread recipe and adds a wonderful depth of flavor. In general, I’ve found that dark malty or roasty beers like stouts or porters work best, but I’ve also had success with brown ales and tried everything from High life to Guinness. For this occasion I used a homemade Belgian Quad. The combo of whole wheat, molasses and a rich beer made for a wonderfully complex and delicious soft-pretzel.
Belgian Quad and dough
The trick to great pretzels is soaking them in a strong base just before baking them at high temp. This produces the distinctive dark brown color and unique salty and slightly bitter flavor. Lye solution is traditional, but NaOH is pretty potent and you really need to have protective gear to work with it. Instead I opted for a baking soda solution which worked nicely.
The process to make pretzels is pretty easy, start with a good bread dough, I generally don’t follow recipes much for bread baking because after making a few hundred batches its like second nature, but if you need one this recipe from King Arthur Flour is a good place to start: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/soft-pretzels-recipe
Once you have your dough the process is quite simple. First roll the dough into a long cylinder about a half inch thick and maybe 18″ long. Then form a circle with the two ends extending about 4″ each. Twist the dough and then fold over. (See pictures below). Place on a floured piece of parchment paper and allow to rise 30 minutes.
Roll of dough- I find it helpful to not use too much flour when rolling it out otherwise it just slides across the surface
Twist the ends one time
Fold the dough over
Then press the ends down
While the formed pretzels are rising you can prepare the base solution. Again lye is the traditional base of choice, but I chose baking soda because I had it on hand, and its safe to work with. Some people mention baking the soda in the oven for an hour to produce a stronger base, but I found that regular old baking soda worked fine.
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil and add 1/4 cup of baking soda, stir until it dissolves and then allow to cool in a shallow pan; temp isn’t critical. Begin preheating the oven to 450F and prepare baking pans lined with parchment paper to bake the pretzels on. When the pretzels are done rising soak in the base solution for 4 minutes before transferring to the baking sheets, and topping with coarse salt (alternatively try adding some garlic powder and cayenne to spice things up). Then bake for 12-15 minutes.
Author and the finished product
After allowing to cool, I made a pretzel necklace with the beer pretzels, some hard pretzels and some individually wrapped cheese sticks using a hole punch and some heavy twine.