Snack with a twist: pretzel


A soft, doughy pretzel -- twisted and salted -- is the ultimate stadium food. But you don't need to be a season-ticket holder to get your hands on a great, hot, crusty one. With a quick class on pretzels from chef George Higgins, a lecturing instructor in baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., you can enjoy them even if your seats for the game are on the living-room couch rather than the 50-yard line.

Higgins is famous at the school for his pretzel-making prowess. "We make a lot of exotic items here," he says, "but simple things are what people really like. And when the word goes out that we're making pretzels, people beat a path to our door."

Now is the perfect time to learn this simple technique. Serve warm soft pretzels in the traditional fashion with a crock of tangy mustard.

Soft Pretzels

Makes 12 pretzels

2 1/4 cups lukewarm water

3/4 teaspoon malt syrup or dark corn syrup (see note)

3/4 teaspoon sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)

7 1/2 to 9 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/3 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon canola oil

3 cups lukewarm water

2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons baking soda

1/2 -1 tablespoon coarse salt

To make dough: In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup water, malt syrup (or corn syrup) and sugar. Sprinkle in yeast and stir until dissolved.

In another bowl, whisk 7 1/2 cups flour and salt. Add remaining 2 cups water, buttermilk and oil to yeast mixture. Gradually add flour mixture, stirring until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (Alternatively, mix and knead the dough in a stand-up mixer fitted with a dough hook.)

Lightly oil a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise in a warm place until just puffy but not doubled in bulk, 45 to 60 minutes.

Dust 2 baking sheets with flour. Punch dough down. Turn out onto work surface and knead several times. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll one piece into a 36-inch rope, lightly flouring work surface if necessary. Shape dough into a pretzel. Repeat with remaining pieces.

Place pretzels 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Let pretzels rise, uncovered, at room temperature until slightly puffy, 20 to 30 minutes. Refrigerate, uncovered, until dough feels leathery, 10 to 15 minutes.

To make browning solution and bake pretzels: Place rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 450 degrees. Lightly oil 2 wire racks or coat them with nonstick spray. In a large bowl, combine water and sugar, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Stir in baking soda.

Dip pretzels one at a time into browning solution and place 2 inches apart on prepared racks. Sprinkle evenly with salt. With a sharp paring knife, make a 2- to 3-inch horizontal slash across the bottom of each pretzel.

Place wire racks directly into oven. Bake pretzels for 15 to 20 minutes, or until browned, switching position of racks halfway through baking time. Cool on the racks. (The pretzels are best served the day they are baked but will keep, well-wrapped, in the freezer for up to 1 month. Reheat frozen pretzels on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.)

Note: Malt syrup, which is made from corn and barley, is available at health-food stores.

Per pretzel: 340 calories; 10 grams protein; 2 grams fat (0.3 gram saturated fat); 69 grams carbohydrate; 365 milligrams sodium; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 3 grams fiber

Pub Date: 02/24/99

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