10 February 2010
When Mark and I were in the early planning stages of The Patisserie, we knew the menu was going to be local. He is very strong in his convictions about organic, local products. I wanted my piece of the menu to incorporate as many Pennsylvania traditions as I could. I found out the Milford, 'Mill' ford, once milled buckwheat flour. I use a buckwheat flour blend in my seeded wheat bread. I make an apple bread because we are just a few miles from Warwick, NY, apple capitol, USA. I use onions and potatoes from Pine Island, NY (check your bag of onions, I bet they were harvested in Pine Island!) in a beer bread which also incorporates, Yeunling, our Nation's oldest brewed beer, from Pottsville, PA. When we first opened I made pretzels a la the Pennsylvania Dutch. Of all my attempts at creating local, story based products, these were the least successful. I thought they were beauties but the soft, salty twists just didn't sell. I made pretzel kaiser rolls for Mark to use in a roast beef and blue cheese sandwich but he didn't sell enough of them to make it worth the daily pretzel process.
Pretzels are not as easy as you may think. Mixing the dough is pretty simple. It is a straight dough, meaning there are no starters, nothing to do the day before. Everything is dumped into the bowl and it gets the hell beat out of it. Most of my doughs are gently mixed but this one is mixed hard and strong. Pretzels are supposed to be chewy and dense, not light and airy like a far less mixed ciabatta would be. Typically, high gluten flour is used which is the same one would use when making bagels. I use regular bread flour because I want my pretzels to be a little softer than the norm. Once the dough is mixed, I divide it into 3 ounce portions and shape it into little logs. These logs rest for a while before I roll the dough out into long snakey strands and twist them into the pretzel shape. The resting step is super important in pretzel production because of the intense mixing. The gluten strands are forming such a tight network, they need to relax before you can roll them into the long strands. If they aren't given the proper time to relax, they will A. spring back into short strands and/or B. rip and tear. The pretzel twisting isn't too difficult once you get the hang of it. They kinda twist themselves if you get the right wiggle going.
The hard part of pretzel production is the dipping. Pretzels have to be dipped in a lye solution in order to get that nice dark, crisp, salty crust. Some home recipes say baking soda can be used to achieve this. It can't, I tried. I hate working with the lye because it is a hazardous chemical, sodium hydroxide. Did you ever see the scene in fight club when Brad Pitt sprinkles lye on Ed Norton's hand and it burns a hole in it? That's what I dip the pretzels in. The solution is one ounce of lye with one quart of water. I have seen bare handed bakers dip pretzels in this mix. Not me! I wear heavy rubber work gloves that come up to my elbows and I make sure I'm wearing my glasses to protect my eyes. Carolyn, my dip assistant extraordinaire, says I look like Dexter from Dexter's laboratory when I'm in the process. Once the pretzels are dipped, Carolyn sprinkles salt on top and they are baked until dark, golden brown. Yum!
The hotel next door is interested in ordering pretzel kaisers so this week pretzels returned to our menu selection. They are selling like hot cakes. Finally, enough sales to make the pretzel production worth while. I'm sure the Super Bowl helped out with the sales. Pretzels and football seem to be well paired. Carolyn and I also played around with filled pretzels and we came up with a yummy, 4 cheese jalapeno concoction. Double Yum!