Truth be told, I can't even remember how I got here. Somewhere in the email banter between Gina of SPCookieQueen and I about a month ago, someone had mentioned a Pretzel Throwdown. I'd like to say it was me for sure, but since I had only made pretzels once before in my life and knowing that Gina is one of the most talented bakers around, why would I even want to put myself out on a limb like that?
But still, here I am, offering to make a pretzel on the occasion of Gina's birthday. It's her Super Sweet 16 (give or take a few decades) and I wanted it to be a special pretzel, a memorable and tasty one. When I made my first pretzels just earlier this year, I Googled up a recipe and got a fairly easy and decent one. This time round, I wanted to see if there was a better recipe out there, so I typed in 'Pretzel' and amongst the stuff that came up was this:
Remember this hat?
Obviously, the search engine's cache had changed somewhat after April 29, 2011. When Princess Beatrice stepped out of that limo, I believe at that moment the world saw nothing else but that hat perched precariously on her forehead. Hands up anyone who remembers what her sister wore? Yep, my point exactly. The instant I saw that most fascinating hat (or rightfully, fascinator), one word flashed immediately through my mind. Okay, it was actually two words, the first one being 'antlers' and the second (one more pertinent to this post) was 'pretzel'.
Anyway, when the idea of this pretzel challenge came about, the image that stood out in my mind was that of the (in)famous fascinator. I was about to take the art of Philip Treacy, creator of that fascinator, one step further and turn it into a pretzel fascinator for Queen Gina!
Unfortunately, the choice of flavors stumped me. There are no bakeries or speciality delis serving up pretzels in Brunei, so I had very little idea of developments and trends in the pretzel world. The nearest freshly baked ones we could get are in Singapore or Malaysia, a plane hop away. The most famous pretzel franchise in these parts is Auntie Anne's. Their pretzel flavors are apparently zeitgeist-like, with localized adaptations but they come at fairly steep prices too.
One of Auntie Anne's most popular pretzels is called the Zesty Roselle. Now the name itself should be enough to stop anybody in their tracks, but how does it actually taste like? Apparently, it's a wondrously purplish-pink hued pretzel sprinkled with the exquisitely sour plum powder. The roselle part comes from the roselle plant that imparts a hibiscus-like (or Ribena-ish) flavor to drinks and baked goodies. Since I didn't have any roselle in stock, I decided to use rose syrup instead which would give my dough a distinct rose flavor and that pinkish hue as well. Naturally, Auntie Anne's recipe remains a trade secret but not to worry, I made up my own.
The process of making this was like solving a new puzzle, I had to figure out how much dough was required, how long the dough needed to be rolled, how to twist and configure the pretzel shape using one continuous rope of dough, and so on and so forth. I measured the whole length of the fascinator 'ribbon' in the picture using an actual ribbon, then just rolled my dough rope out to that length. It was a very l-o-n-g rope! You can see where the dough rope looped and went over each other from my pictures below. Like I said, it was fun once you got the logistics out of the way.
I also sprinkled Murray River Pink Salt flakes on top alongside the plum powder, so the pretzels had this salty-sweet-sour thing going on. As you can see, I ended up with pretty sizable pretzels. One pretzel can probably feed about 5 really hungry people. If you just want to make regular palm-sized pretzels, then this recipe makes 8 of those.
I'd love to say the pretzel on the right is cocoa-flavored but that was the one that got burnt!
Something worth pointing out here is that I didn't dip my pretzels in a lye or hot baking soda solution but simply brushed their tops with a mixture of baking soda and milk before adding topping and baking. So these are really soft, chewy pretzels on the inside, with a dark crust and bite on the outside. Besides, can you imagine the chaos if I were to poach pretzels of this magnitude and design in boiling water? No, let's not even go there.
Gina has thrown this birthday pretzel challenge to anyone out there, and if you fancy having a go, then by all means send her your link or else check out her post here. The round-up will be in a few days (or whenever the Queen feels like it), so you'll still have time. (Update: You can now view the round-up here!).
Just as the fascinator is not your everyday head gear, this is not your everyday pretzel (unless someone out there finds a niche market for them). Then again, today is not your regular Sunday, so let's all take some time to wish my friend Gina a very happy and joyous Birthday! Hope you have a fab day and enjoy wearing...err, eating this pretzel, Gina! Best wishes and lots of love <3.
Holy Smokes, Gina...you should've been sitting front row at the Royal Wedding!
This post also goes to Yeastspotting, home of the coolest breads, rolls and yes, even pretzels!
Princess Beatrice's Zesty Rose Pretzel
Preparation time: 1 hr 30 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes
Makes 8 palm-sized pretzels or 2 'fascinator' pretzels
350 g (3 1/2 level cups) plain or all purpose flour
150 g (1 1/2 level cups) bread or high protein flour
1 1/2 level teaspoon fine salt
3 level teaspoons sugar
2 level teaspoons instant dry yeast
300ml (1 3/4 cups) water
50ml (1/4 cup) rose syrup (not rose water)
30g (4 tablespoons) cooled, melted butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup plum powder
Pink river salt flakes (or coarse sea salt)
1. To make dough: Combine flours, salt, sugar and yeast (making sure salt and yeast don't come into direct contact with each other) and stir everything together with a whisk.
2. Stir rose syrup into the water, then add rose syrup water and melted butter to the dry ingredients and knead on low speed for about 5 minutes. The dough will be soft and slightly sticky with a dull pink, matt look instead of the almost satiny sheen of well kneaded dough.
3. Scrape dough out and grease inside of bowl. Shape dough into a neat ball, grease dough and return to bowl. Cover and leave to rise for an hour or until slightly more than doubled in volume.
4. To make 8 palm-sized pretzels: Turn dough out onto work surface, gently deflate and cut into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece with your palms (in one direction) into a rope about 30cm (12in) long, cover lightly and leave to rest for about 15 minutes. Preheat oven at 200C (400F).
5. Roll rope out again until 60cm (24in) long and about finger-thick. It should be a little thinner at each end then in the middle. Twist into pretzel shape and transfer to a greased or parchment lined baking tray. Repeat with other ropes. I could only get 4 on each tray.
6. To make 2 fascinator pretzels: After deflating dough, cut into 2 equal pieces. Starting from one end, roll out each piece with your palms (in one direction) into a rope about 100cm (40in) long, cover lightly and leave to rest for about 15 minutes. Preheat oven at 200C (400F).
7. Roll rope out again until 164cm (65in) long and about finger-thick. It should be a little thinner at each end then in the middle. Twist into fascinator shape, making sure to brush a little water onto the parts where the ropes overlap to seal them during baking. Carefully transfer onto a greased or parchment lined baking tray. Repeat with the other rope. Place one rope on each tray.
8. Glaze: Brush each pretzel gently and thickly with the milk and baking soda mixture. Make sure glaze doesn't drip down to the unlined tray or pretzels may get 'glued' to the tray after baking (if you use silpat, this shouldn't be a problem). Sprinkle pretzel generously with plum powder and river or coarse sea salt, and immediately bake for 12-15 minutes.
9. Remove from oven and cool on a rack immediately. Best eaten warm.