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Pass the pretzels

The Baltimore Sun

With a slew of Oktoberfest beers chilling in my fridge, the notion of making my own pretzels seemed awfully appealing.

Pretzel-making, however, turned out to be difficult, gooey going. Making beer snacks, I learned, was certainly more work than popping off the top of a beer bottle.

To give credit where it is due, the inspiration for my pretzel-making venture came from the recent issue of Draft. This national magazine, published in Phoenix, celebrates beer, especially craft beers. It is an entertaining read.

So when the magazine printed a pretzel recipe and suggested it would liven up my Oktoberfest beer-drinking experience, I was on board.

The recipe, however, was flawed. It fell victim to the old tablespoon/teaspoon mix-up. Pretzels are cooked slightly in hot water before they are baked. When discussing the proportion of baking soda to water that goes in the pretzel bath, this recipe said to use two tablespoons of baking soda for each cup of water.

I followed these recommended instructions and the resulting pretzels were not pretty. They were leaden, hard to chew and had a baking-soda flavor that brought back unpleasant childhood memories of dental hygiene. When I was a boy, if our household ran out of toothpaste, we had to brush with baking soda. After chewing my way through one of these baking-soda-laden pretzels, I figured I wouldn't have to brush my teeth for a week.

I contacted representatives of Draft magazine and told them about the trouble. They told me they had gotten the recipe from a German food Web site. I sent the Germans an e-mail. I told them I was sympathetic because when the beers flow at Oktoberfest, mistakes are often made. Recently, for instance, when writing about Oktoberfest beers, I named the wrong local distributor for Samuel Adams, one of the favorites of our beer-tasting panel. The correct distributor is Bond. The German Agricultural Marketing Board responded, saying that 2 teaspoons, not tablespoons, is the way to go.

Dumping the failed pretzels in the trash and dusting the flour off my shirt, I gave pretzel-making another go. This time I used a whole-wheat pretzel recipe that came from Whole Grain Baking, a cookbook put out by the makers of King Arthur Flour. These folks are bakers. They spelled out all the steps needed to make a good pretzel, such as letting the dough rise, rolling it into "ropes" about 1/2 inch thick, then twisting the dough "ropes" into pretzels. Their proportion of baking soda to water in the pretzel bath - 2 tablespoons to 8 cups - was eight times lower than the Draft recipe.

This time when my finished pretzels - eight brown beauties - emerged from the oven, I was proud of them. They looked authentic. They had terrific flavor.

There is nothing like the taste of hot, baked dough, covered with salt.

Eating the homemade pretzels made me thirsty. But with a fridge full of Oktoberfest beers, my thirst was soon quenched.

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