Friday, February 13, 2015

Pretzels and Stuff

So I was thinking about what makes me me. There are many things I think, but several stick out more than others. If you know of me in person, then you're likely to first think about my disease. I have leukemia. Sad, isn't it. Why must I be defined by something I hate about myself? The short answer is that I don't. It is sad that whenever we meet someone that mom hasn't seen in a while all they can think to talk about is my condition. Why? Well, I have a rant brewing, but we'll save that for another time. Today it's: what makes Ed himself?

What does this have to do with pretzels? Well, really, it has everything to do with pretzels. And baking. And cooking in general. I haven't said this before, but this blog is really for only a few people I know but lots of others that want to know more about the infamous Edmond Manchester.

Why does he spell his name with an o instead of a u? Where does he live? In short, Who is he?

I will try to slowly answer these questions. With each post you will learn more about the Infamous Edmond Manchester. I know I'm really not 'Infamous', but it just seems to go with the phrase. It would be boring to just say the Edmond Manchester, or just Edmond Manchester...

Moving on. Pretzels. Why do they define me? Well, they don't really. I just like making them, and those who know me well know this about me. What more people know about me is that less specifically I enjoy baking in general. Except cakes. I don't do cakes. I prefer to stick to the fun yeast breads. There is something about seeing the dough, risen to double, then punching it down. What could possibly be more fun? (Hint of sarcasm, but I still do enjoy it.)

Originally, I was famed throughout my body of family and friends for making plain old white bread, the claims being that it was far more delicious than ordinary store bought bread. I will say that mine is of a heartier breed than the nearly unbelievable softness of Wonder Bread and such. I have yet to figure out the secret to the soft puffiness of it, but then again, it may be that what people like about my bread is that it does have that homestyle touch or heartiness (I mean, whatever, right?)

Anyway, This is not just going to be a post going on and on about why I like baking. We want to accomplish something don't we? (referring to myself and you, the reader.) In the last post I gave my perfect three points about writing. That was productive enough, right? Well today we're going to actually bake pretzels, at least, you're going to learn how to bake them, and I'm going to tell you.

Pretzels, in case you didn't know, are delicious; despite this though, it wasn't until recently that I started making them. This basic recipe is from the food network website, but I did make a few alterations that I think really help it. So here goes. Delicious soft pretzels in about two hours.

Here's what you'll need:

     A healthy amount of morale;
     2 hours of your life, minus the raising time;

Ingredients:
     2 cups of milk. It doesn't matter what %age of fat it has. I use 2%;
     2 tablespoons of yeast. I use active dry yeast;
     3/8 of a cup of brown sugar, preferably light, not dark;
     4 1/2 cups of flour, plus more for kneading. I really don't think it matters what kind of flour you use;
     2 teaspoons of salt;
     1 stick of butter;

     3 cups of water, slightly warmer than warm;
     1/3 of a cup of baking soda;

     A few drops of oil. It really doesn't matter what kind of oil you use. I do not, however, recommend using motor oil. It can noticeably affect the flavor of the pretzels.

Equipment:
     1 oven;
     1 stove or microwave. If you have a microwave, it will make your job a lot easier;
     1 large wooden or bamboo cutting/carving board. If you're especially adventurous you can just use your counter, provided that you have meticulously cleaned it first.
     2 bowls: one for mixing and one for raising. If you are multi-talented then you can wash the mixing bowl while the dough is resting on the counter or bread board. Please make note that the dough will rise to about double its original size, so choose your rising bowl accordingly;
     1 digital kitchen scale. (this is optional, but really handy.)

First of all, you need to have your stove or microwave handy. Warm the milk in a 1 quart or larger pot if you are using the stove, if you are a microwaver then measure the milk into a large mug and microwave it for 50 seconds, stir it and microwave it twenty seconds more. Milk should feel about the same temperature as a warm bath.
     Next, pour the milk into your mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top allowing it to soften a few minutes. Alas, the yeast is not the only thing that needs softening.
     Put the stick of butter in the mug you used for the milk and nuke it until it's almost melted, then stir it until the rest is taken care of. Now back to the yeast milk.
      After a few minutes stir it vigorously in order to dissolve it. It's okay if there are a few lumps. Those will go away when mixing in everything else.
     Next you need to stir in the brown sugar, then the melted butter, then 2 cups of the flour. Stir until it makes a smooth batter. Then you'll add the salt and the rest of the flour. Just gently stir it until the rest of the flour is incorporated to make a rather sticky dough. The next part is a little tricky, but it's not that bad. Don't worry.
     Now spread some flour generously on your counter top or our carving board. Enough so that there is absolutely no chance of the dough sticking to it when you dump it on over it, which is what you'll do now that the board is floured. Kneading to some is a pain and so they opt for electric mixers with dough hooks. I use that method when baking loaves of bread but haven't tried it with pretzels yet. If you want to, try it yourself and leave a comment below on how it worked out for you. Anyway, to knead, first you push the dough down onto the work surface then fold it towards you and turn it one quarter turn then repeat. Do this until the dough is nice and elastic, kneading more flour into it as needed. Most say that it should take about five minutes. I agree with them.
     After that, oil the bottom of your raising bowl and place the dough in it and cover it with a towel. let it sit for a half hour and check on it. by this time it should have risen considerably, but if you don't think it's risen enough, you can let it rise for another few minutes, but I do not recommend letting it rise for more than an hour.
     Right before it's done rising, mix the baking soda and the water in a bowl that is at least one quart until it's dissolved then turn on the oven and preheat it to 450° fahrenheit.
     Now this is where the kitchen scale is really, really handy. I'm only going to include instructions for those who do have one, but if you don't, read along and you can probably come up with a way around it.
     Remove the dough and weigh the bowl then set it as the tare. Now weigh the dough in grams and divide the resulting weight by twelve. This quotient is the weight that each dough 'slug' should weigh and it should be between 90 and 100 grams. Try to be as exact as possible, measuring to the gram if you can. Once you have the twelve dough slugs you can roll them into a thirty inch rope of dough then form them into the pretzel shape. Take the two ends of the rope and cross them to make a loop, then make one twist and bring the ends down on the loop and press gently, but don't let go just yet. Pick up the entire pretzel and dip it into the soda-ed water then place it on a greased cookie sheet. Repeat until the cookie sheet is full of pretzels and bake them in the 450° oven for twenty minutes.
     Do this for the rest of the dough, that is, rolling it, shaping it, dipping it, and baking it until there is none left.

Congratulations! If you did everything right you now have twelve delicious looking golden brown pretzels!

Now give yourself a gold star and get an organic gluten free treat sweetened with agave nectar;-)

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