Soft Pretzels



Plain soft pretzel rods and doughnuts, parmesan cheese rods and cinnamon-sugar rods

Soft pretzels have a definite following, and people are passionate about them. Somewhere along the line, I never seemed to try the tang of hot soft pretzels dipped in mustard. So, I was basically curious - what are soft pretzels, and can good ones be made gluten-free?

A number of gluten free soft pretzel recipes are available on the internet. To find out what the mainstream thought about soft pretzels, I consulted the opinions of passionate bakers - http://www.thefreshloaf.com/recipes/pretzels - bunches of them. An interesting gluten-free recipe is from the makers of Expandex, a proprietary modified form of tapioca flour. I use small amounts of Expandex in a number of my breads, and I believe it improves the stretch and overall quality. Another interesting soft pretzel can be found at Celiac.com - http://www.celiac.com/articles/878/1/Soft-Pretzels-Gluten-Free/Page1.html. This one was quite different in as much as the pretzels were not boiled - the unbaked pretzels are just dipped in water to which baking soda has been added. While I was doing internet research another soft pretzel recipe was posted, one from a Food Network chef, Alton Brown http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10736/soft-pretzels-alton-brown-style. Here would be a new taste to try.

OK, lots of recipes. Which one or ones to try? First of all, soft pretzels are boiled. Nix the Celiac.Com recipe. I was out for authenticity. Boiled in lye? Nope, not that much authenticity! Alton Brown's recipe? Yes, but not to the exclusion of what mainstream recipes appear to be. Alton Brown's looked kind of like a hybrid bread-pretzel.

The Expandex recipe would be my starting point for the basic authentic pretzel - http://expandexglutenfree.com/downloads/recipes/pretzel-recipe.pdf. I chose this recipe because it seemed that use of corn syrup would overcome the inherent dryness and inflexibility of a rice and tapioca flour mix. Based on my experience with Expandex and its high cost, the proportion of Expandex in the original recipe seemed too high. I cut way back. That was a good idea because the pretzels were plenty chewy. I'm no fan of white rice, or even brown rice so much. So, I made two versions - one with brown rice and one substituting sorghum for the brown rice.

The result of my first venture into soft pretzels was a chewy product that my wife and daughter said tasted similar to the wheat-based soft pretzels. Both the brown rice pretzels and the sorghum pretzels are quite good. They are different. Both types of pretzels re-heat well. I store the finished pretzels in the refrigerator, individually wrapped, and heat them at 450° F for a few minutes. They become warm and aromatic.

 

Tapioca- Brown Rice and Tapioca-Sorghum Soft Pretzels

Following the last comment in the http://www.thefreshloaf.com/recipes/pretzels recipe, I boiled the pretzel dough in 1 quart of water to which 4 tablespoons of baking soda had been added. The Alton Brown recipe uses the same proportion of baking soda to water - 1 Tablespoon per cup, but with 2-1/2 X the amount of boiling water and 2-1/2 X the amount of baking soda.

Using the recommended amount of water, the rice flour dough was pretty inflexible and could not be formed into the traditional twisted shape of wheat flour-based pretzels. To make a twisted pretzel in the future I might add a few additional drops of water and roll the pretzels out thinner than the 3/4" diameter recommended by the Expandex recipe. There was nothing wrong with the rod or doughnut-shaped pretzels, however.

Ingredients based on the modified recipe found in www.expandexglutenfree.com - Makes 4 Pretzels (top picture)
Amount Measure
Ingredient
3/4 Cup Tapioca flour (In a future experiment I might try equal amounts of tapioca flour and either brown rice or sorghum.)
1 Tablespoon Expandex (or Tapioca flour if you do not have Expandex)
1 Tablespoon Sweet rice flour
1/4 Cup Brown rice flour or sorghum flour (In a future experiment I might try equal amounts of tapioca flour and either brown rice or sorghum.)
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons Potato starch
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon Potato flour (If you don't have potato flour, grind up instant mashed potato flakes. It will not be as smooth as potato flour.)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Xanthan gum
1 teaspoon Sugar
1/3 Cup Water - 110° F - 120° F
1 Tablespoon Light corn syrup
1   Egg, plus an additional egg yolk if you are using the egg wash.
  1. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl using a whisk
  2. Pour the liquid ingredients into the work bowl of a stand mixer
  3. Add the dry ingredients
  4. Blend for a couple of minutes at medium speed
  5. Oil a bowl, scrape the dough into a ball, roll the ball around in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough proof for 30 - 60 minutes. The proofing is for flavor development.
  6. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil and then add 4 tablespoons of baking soda, It will foam up.
  7. Divide the dough into 4 portions. Wrap each portion so that it will not dry out. Roll out the first portion into a snake, form a long "U" and then take the right end and bring it to near the end of where the left upright of the U bends to the right. Now do the same with the other side. Press down to join. Repeat with the other dough portions.
  8. Start your oven to preheat at 375° F
  9. Boil each pretzel for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending how chewy you like them. Place the boiled pretzels on a rack to dry off slightly.
  10. Prepare a 1/2 sheet rimmed pan by placing a piece of parchment paper in the bottom. Pour 1 - 2 teaspoons of oil on the sheet and cover the sheet with a sheen of oil.
  11. Transfer the pretzels to the cookie sheet. You can paint the pretzels with an egg yolk wash (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tablespoon water) or you can use melted butter. You can also sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or parmesan cheese on top of either the egg wash or the butter..
  12. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes at 375° F. Do not over bake.

 

Alton Brown Recipe


 

I made the Alton Brown version using a modification of a millet-sorghum flour blend developed by Annalise Roberts. The Alton-Brown pretzel is more bread-like and not as chewy as the version above. I've successfully used this flour blend in a really nice, crusty dinner roll (click here). The pretzel dough, using the proportion of melted butter and water to flour, was very soft and hard to work with because it had no body whatsoever. But it was easy to shape. As you can see, the dough "broke" while it was rising in the oven. This dough has a nice oven spring. In the future I would start with 1 cup of water and then add water by the tablespoon until the texture of the dough was just right consistency for rolling and shaping into a pretzel. This pretzel has an egg yolk wash. Remember to add 2-1/2 teaspoons of xanthan gum to your favorite flour if you are using a different flour blend. Here is the flour blend (in blue) and recipe I used (makes about 4-1/2 cups of flour).

Weight measure or.......... Amount and measure Ingredient
6.7 oz 1-1/2 cups Millet flour
3.5 oz 3/4 cup Sorghm flour
3.6 oz 2/3 cup Potato starch
3.6 oz 2/3 cup Corn starch
1.0 oz 5 tablespoons Expandex or tapioca flour if you do not have Expandex
1.75 oz 6 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon Tapioca flour
.85 oz 3 tablespoons Sweet rice flour
.20 oz 2-1/4 teaspoons Xanthan gum
.15 oz 1 teaspoon Baking powder (You might want to omit this for the pretzels to limit the oven spring.)
  1tablespoon Sugar
  1 1/2 cups Warm water (110° - 115° F)
  1 - 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  1 package or scant tablespoon Instant dry yeast (Prefer SAF)
2 ounces   Unsalted butter or Canola Harvest margarine, melted
  1 large Egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water for the egg wash. (You can use the egg white in place of some of the water.)
    Vegetable oil, for pan

The Alton Brown recipe recommends 10 cups water with 2/3 cup baking soda. You can use less of both water and baking soda. You will want at least 1 quart of boiling water with 4 tablespoons of baking soda added when the water boils.

Follow the instructions here for the Alton Brown recipe.