Twisted Pretzels

Story Recipe

Last night, I wandered into the Stoned Soup kitchen to find a mess. Cook had dustings of flour on his face and in his hair. Clouds of steam billowed up from a boiling pot. Frank had a happy look on his face while he stood on a pile of peanut shells. He tossed a peanut in the air and tried to catch it in his mouth. Jennifer had an eye on the timer and a dough covered hand on the handle to the oven door.

The timer beeped setting everyone in motion. Frank and Cook crowded over towards the stove. Jennifer opened the oven door and pulled out a pan full of brown knots of bread. "They're perfect!" she bragged. Cook lifted a knot from the pan, carefully avoiding burning his fingers while he looked critically at the bread. It was deep brown, covered with big chunks of salt. While Cook inspected, Frank grabbed  a piece and popped it in his mouth.

"#^%&#$%*&^! That's hot!" declared Frank. He grabbed a beer bottle from the counter to quench the burning. When he recovered, he smiled at me and said, "We're makin' pretzels man."

I looked closely at the pan to see that Frank was right. The items from the oven were those big soft pretzels like you get at hot dog stands. From the grin on Frank's face I could tell that they included the special twist that the Stoned Soup kitchen is famous for.

Cook seemed pleased with the specimen in his hand. He placed it back on the tray and turned back to the baking station to make a new batch. Like any good chef, Cook had his ingredients carefully arranged on the counter. There were containers of all-purpose flour, sugar, salt and baking soda. Next to those items was a bowl of warm water, packets of rapid rise yeast, a carton of eggs, some vegetable oil and a tub of Buerre Vert.

After checking that the water was about body temperature, Cook added a tablespoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt and a packet of yeast. He looked into the bowl like he was reading tea leaves, to check for the little bubbles that told him that the yeast was alive. He seemed satisfied with the mixture and placed it on the back of the counter. He lifted the bag of flour and poured it into a kitchen scale until he had 22 ounces measured out. While he did that, Jennifer melted four ounces of Buerre Vert.

Cook added the water and the melted Buerre Vert to the flour, scooping the mixture with a baking spatula until everything came together. When he had a nice chunk of dough, he turned it out onto a floured section of counter and began kneading the dough. If you ever wondered where cook got his super-hero-like strength, wonder no more. A shine of sweat appeared on his face as he lifted the dough, folded it, and pressed it down with each arm. He repeated this exercise dozens of times before the dough formed a smooth ball. He cleaned and greased the mixing bowl, plopped the dough in and covered it with a towel. It was warm in the kitchen, so Cook just left the bowl on the counter. On a colder day, he gives rising dough a special spot near the stove where it will stay warm enough for the yeast to do their thing.

What is the yeast's thing? Eating sugars and turning them into carbon dioxide, that's their thing. For the next hour, the little beasties eat and belched until the dough was about twice its initial size. Frank drank beer and tossed peanuts to pass the time. Cook and Jennifer huddled together discussing recipes while I coded up some new pages for the website.

Frank likes to deflate dough and cook was in a good enough mood to indulge him. Frank put the dough on the floured counter, and socked it right in the middle. The ball of dough collapsed before Frank started to knead it. Cook was not satisfied with Frank's technique, so he took over, working the dough back into a compact ball. He cut the ball into eight equal pieces that he handed out to each of us. Following his demonstration, we rolled our bits of dough into ropes that were about half an inch in diameter and a foot long. We hung the ropes in a U shape, with the base of the U resting on the counter. Next, we twisted the legs of the U and folded them back into the classic pretzel shape. OK, Cook, Jennifer and I used the classic shape. Frank folded and twisted his into a blob that he claimed was the Chinese symbol for Sin.

Cook took each proto-pretzel and plunked them into boiling water for about 30 seconds each. This process plumped the pretzels and firmed them up. When they came out of the water, Jennifer brushed them with a bit of egg white whipped with water. Frank followed up by sprinkling pretzel salt that stuck to the egg wash. The pretzels went on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and the pan went in a 450 degree oven for about 14 minutes.

Learning from Frank's mistake, I let the pretzels cool when they came out of the oven. The results made for a very pleasant afternoon trying to throw peanuts into Frank's mouth.




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