Pretzels in England suck. Those tiny little bronze knots, baked to a crisp, sandpaper-dry; they’re the snack you buy for Christmas and eventually throw away in February, they always disappoint. In the US and in Germany it’s a completely different story. Over there, a pretzel is a snack as big as your face; it’s doughy and leathery, it’s chewy and tangy, it’s aggressively studded with enough salt to make your mouth water, it’s perfect for beer.
For my money, the key process in producing a great pretzel is the boil before the bake. You bring a large pan of water to the boil and add a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda; this is then used as a bath for each pretzel before baking. Keep the water at a boil and just throw each pretzel in for one minute, making sure that the whole surface of the dough gets contact time with the water. Easy. The science behind this defeats me, but what it does for the finished snack is add that characteristic leathery exterior, whilst leaving the inside soft and doughy.
Next on the critical list is the shaping of your unbaked pretzel. Roll between hands to form a long strand and then twist into that familiar shape - remembering to leave sufficient space for rising. Whilst this is easy enough for those face-sized-monsters we touched on earlier, smaller, dainty, bite-sized versions would need the kind of dexterity and finger girth that only Tinkerbell could boast of. For this reason, I made Pretzel bites by cutting the pre-shaped strands into thumbnail chunks with a sharp knife; maintaining the flavour and texture of the pretzel, just in a mouth sized morsel.
And to partner - a selection of beer themed dips; all starting with a foundation of mayonnaise, based on a recipe by Richard Fox (via Mark Dredge).
Having split the batch, the first version got three teaspoons of Young’s Bitter folded through it; giving a sharp bitterness to the finish and a feint hop-spice upfront. A generous pinch of mustard powder and a drizzle of honey to the second attempt seemed like a good idea at the time, but the mustard combined with the beer to give a two-punch-combo of astringency and heat; quite frankly horrendous. Attempt number three, beautifully fresh garam masala, enough to flavour without leaving a grainy texture, wonderfully fragrant, almost floral, earthy and spicy; tempered by the rich, velvety mayonnaise, a clear winner.
Finally, a dip inspired by the Mexican sauce Mole Poblano - a dark and luscious combination of chocolate, chilli peppers and as many as twenty other ingredients. I very finely grated some onion and garlic, sweated this off in some olive oil and then added a spice mix of smoked paprika, cumin, salt, black pepper, chilli powder, cinnamon and clove. To beer-it-up and add that essential chocolate flavour I deglazed the pan with Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, followed by enough tomato puree to leave a thick, velvety sauce. Intense but delicious.
So, pretzels and a selection of dips. Beer snacks are the way forward my friends.