Friday, May 25, 2012

Fermented Friday: Beer Pretzels

Fermented Friday: recipes featuring yeast, wine, beer or some form of fermentation

Pretzels and beer.  

Beer and pretzels.  

How about beer IN your pretzels? 


I was going to put beer in pizza crust, but decided to go with soft pretzels this time around.  Beer pizza will come eventually but it would have been the third night in a row with pizza, so these pretzels happened.

Making pretzels at home requires a few extra steps, but it's fun so don't be scared.  And oh my goodness does the dough smell amazing while you're kneading it.  Think sweet yeasty beer aroma combined with the relaxing motion of kneading dough by hand.  I think I stopped kneading 3 times just to breath in deeply.  Sometimes I really miss working at the bakery.  

I did a little research on pretzel making technique and came across this recipe for Bavarian pretzels.  The author said he has used it for many years and a reviewer from Germany wrote that she had been looking for this recipe for a long time.  Besides that it came from a beer blog so it seemed like the perfect recipe to add some beer to.  I've got to start somewhere.

I took the original recipe and replaced the warm water with Left Hand Milk Stout.  My brother and I are both lefties so we had that on his birthday with pizza.  Of course the one time I needed room temp beer all the beer was in the fridge.  If you find yourself in this predicament heat some water in the microwave for a few minutes and then place the unopened beer bottle in the warm water until it reaches the desired temperature.  When making bread you want your liquid to be warm (but not hot) in order to activate (but not kill) the yeast. I waited until it was at the upper end of lukewarm.

Mix the yeast and warm beer and wait a few minutes until bubbly.  It's a double Fermented Friday, beer and yeast mmmmm.  Are you excited yet?  At this point I was excited, sometimes it's the little things.  Next you add softened butter, salt, sugar and part of the flour. We're using bread flour because it has a higher protein content (more gluten) which will give us a chewier texture.  Stir this mixture vigorously until the batter starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  Then add the rest of your flour and stir to incorporate.

Now comes the fun part (another one), kneading! Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, this will take 6-10 minutes by hand. You'll get in a good arm workout.  Kneading is key to your final bread texture.  The back and forth motion allows proteins to connect and form sheets of gluten.  This protein structure traps the gas bubbles released from the yeast fermenting (in beer!).  There is a crazy amount of science going on here.  I love it.   Buuut, I'll stop. If I have to. I guess. (But really, we haven't even scratched the surface of all that's going on in this dough.)

Be sure to stop and inhale deeply several times while kneading.  As if the aroma of fresh bread dough isn't enough, this has dark beer aroma too.  Cover your dough and let sit until doubled in size.  This went much faster than usual. I'm not sure if that had to do with the beer or the fact that it was a pretty warm day, probably a little of each.  Punch down the dough and split into 12-20pieces depending on the size of pretzel desired.  Mine were pretty thick, but I think this recipe will work for thin pretzels with a crisper texture too. Roll each piece into a long rope and twist into a pretzel shape.

I had so much fun making the ropes into pretzels (or attempting to) I forgot my plan to save some dough and wrap around cheese for pretzel cheese bites.  Someone remind me next time.

Technique at this point varies but (this time) I let the formed pretzels rise again until doubled.  Then they take a bath in a boiling baking soda solution.  This gives them that characteristic pretzel taste and color.  Based on my results I think I would boil them a little longer next time and maybe add more baking soda to the water,  I'll have to look into that.  There's also a reaction that takes place if you use an aluminum pan.  I'm not sure what my pan is made out of, but I'll look into the science on that too. I love knowing the why behind the way things work. After boiling, the pretzels are sprinkled with salt and baked until dark and golden.  The exact baking time depends on how thin you roll your pretzels.  

These pretzels had a subtle beer flavor but it was often overpowered by the amount of salt I sprinkled on top.  I could try a recipe using the sponge technique to develop more beer flavor, or just serve them with beer cheese dip and more beer.  Or both.  As for texture these were softer than I expected.  I was hoping for chewier results.  The characteristic pretzel taste also could have been stronger in my opinion.  My best guess is this had something to do with the amount of time I boiled each pretzel, the water/baking soda ratio and the potential aluminum pan.  I evalu-ate-d 3 pretzels in a row  before I came to those conclusions.  Oops.

On a related note, I mentioned in this post that I'm reading a chapter of Proverbs each day.  I never realized before how many verses there are about beer and wine.  Interesting.

Okay, here's the recipe from this first trial run at beer pretzels.

Beer Pretzels
adapted from Brad Smith

2-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm dark beer (I used Left Hand Brewing Co. Milk Stout)
1 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2-3/4 cup bread flour, divided

4 cups water
5 tsp baking soda
kosher salt for sprinkling

* In a large bowl combine yeast and warm beer.  Let sit several minutes until foamy.
* Add the butter, salt, sugar and 1-1/2 cups flour.  Stir vigorously until batter is smooth and begins to pull away from sides of bowl.
* Stir in remaining 1-1/4 cups flour to form a soft dough.  Knead dough until smooth and elastic (this could take up to 10 minutes, be patient, inhale deeply for that wonderful aroma and have fun) Cover and let rise until doubled in size.
* Punch down dough and divide into 12-20 equal sized pieces depending on the number and size of pretzels desired.  Roll each piece into an 18-inch rope and twist into pretzel shape.  Place pretzels on a greased baking sheet, cover and let rise until double in size.
*  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 475 degrees F.  Bring 4 cups of water and 5 tsp baking soda to a boil.
* Using a heat-proof plastic spatula, carefully slide one or two pretzels into the boiling soda solution.  Boil 15-20 seconds, return to baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt it desired.  Repeat with remaining pretzels.
* Bake 7-10 minutes or until dark golden brown.  Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack.  Serve warm with beer cheese dip or mustard and cold beer.

Food for Thought: "Find something you are passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it." -Julia Child


  1. I have toured Left Hand Brewing, it is a fun place, I was 15 when we toured there so I've never actually had their beer.

    1. Hmmm...sounds like a road trip potential...