I love a good shopping centre pretzel. Soft, slightly chewy, with a bunch of salt and that trademark hint of bitterness – few snacks are as comforting and nostalgic. I also love a good pretzel dog, pretzel bite or cheese-stuffed pretzel situation. I do not, however, love making dough.
Photo: Claire Lower
It isn’t a particularly tricky dough to make, but it’s a bit time consuming, and sometimes I just don’t want to work for joy. Mixing and kneading isn’t hard work, but it is work, and picking up a bag of pre-made pizza dough is no work at all.
Is this cheating? Yes, but it’s the kind of cheating I’m comfortable with. Though pizza dough and pretzel dough aren’t identical – the former is a bit wetter – they are made from the same basic ingredients and, when boiled in an alkaline solution before baking, pizza dough will get you very close. Pretzels get their dark crust and bitter flavour from taking a dip in lye, but you can use bicarbonate of soda to get very similar results. (If you want to supercharge your bicarbonate of soda, bake it first.) To make your impostor pretzel bites, you will need:
- 1 bag of fresh, pre-made pizza dough
- 8 cups of water
- 1/2 cup bicarbonate of soda
- An egg
- Coarse salt
- Anything you’d like to stuff inside your bites
Turn your dough out onto a lightly oiled surface and knead it a bit. Using a dough cutter, chop the dough into slightly larger than bite-size pieces. If you want a plain bite, leave the lumps as is, but if you want a stuffed bite, stretch it out with your (lightly oiled) fingers. Next, take your stretched piece of dough and wrap it around whatever food stuff you desire, pinching the edges very firmly to seal. Little hot dogs need not be completely encased, but cheese should be fully sealed inside a prison of bread. (The boiling and baking is enough cooking for something like hot dog, but cook other raw meats thoroughly before wrapping them in dough.)
Cheese likes to escape
Add your bicarbonate of soda to your water, and bring it to a boil. Drop each pretzel in, one at a time, for 30 seconds, then place them on a baking pan lined with lightly greased sheet of parchment paper. Beat your egg, and brush each bite with a bit of the wash. Top with coarse salt and bake in a 230C oven for 15 minutes or so, until the bites are a deep golden brown.
Of course, you don’t have to make them savoury. A cinnamon and sugar pretzel is also quite glorious.