Wait, does that say birthday pretzels? Why, yes, yes it does. While you may traditionally expect a birthday to be commemorated with cake,  I think that’s a little predictable. And more to the point, the job of the birthday boy’s girlfriend. So, Lyndal’s lucky boyfriend, Matt, not only gets a Lyndal-baked cake, he also gets an experimentory pretzel basket.

Basically, I wanted an excuse to make pretzels, and rather than waiting for St Joanna’s day to roll around again (it’s in May, BTW – I made rhubarb custard square to celebrate this year), his birthday has rather conveniently fit the pretzel bill.

I’d just like to take this opportunity to remind our readers to always read the full recipe. Twice. Maybe even three times if your reading comprehension is reminiscent of a 7yo. Like me. Yes, I skimmed the recipe, thought it took 20mins to bake them and plowed ahead. It’s now 3hrs since I started, and I’ve yet to taste a delicious salty pretzel. Let that be my warning to you.

Firstly, the recipe, from our old friend, Joy the Baker:

1 sachet of dried yeast (7g or about 2.5 tsp)
1 Tbsp sugar
1.5c lukewarm water
3.5c (525g) plain flour
1Tbsp table salt
1Tbsp baking soda
1egg white to brush

Add the yeast and sugar to the lukewarm water, and stand for 5 minutes until the yeast froths. The temperature of the water is important – two hot and you’ll kill the yeast (murderer!), two cold and the yeast won’t activate. It’s really important, for reasons that I haven’t bothered to learn, that the yeast froths. If it doesn’t, start again.

Sift flour and salt together in a large bowl, then add yeasty water. Mix with a fork until it’s pretty much mixed, then tip out on to a floured surface to knead. Don’t flour the surface or the dough too much, as it needs to remain a bit sticky. Knead for about 8 minutes (I tend to lose track of time when I’m kneading, so it could have been anything), then return to the bowl, cover with Gladwrap, and leave in a warm draft-free place to rise for 45mins (see that 45mins? Yeah, I didn’t the first time.)

So perfectly formed. This bodes well

After 45mins it should have doubled in size. Tip out on to a floured cutting board, and divide into 16 equal bits (or 8 if you want big ones). Roll each bit out into a long snake, just like you used to do with playdough. Then fold it up in to an origami shape that vaguely resembles the pretzels you see in the shops (but not really at all).

Do that another eight times, and you’re halfway there. Do it 16 and you’ll have two trays full of pretty dough knots.

So pretty

Now comes the 20min part. You have to leave them to stand for another 20mins to rise a bit more, so don’t put them too close together on the trays, or they’ll stick. Mine didn’t in fact rise any more (see the importance of the yeast right there?), but anywho…

While they’re resting, fill a stock pot with water and bring to the boil, and preheat your oven to around 220°C (mine was 220 fan-forced). Once the water is at a steady boil, add in a heaping tablespoon of baking soda – this is what gives the pretzels their slightly sour taste. Then carefully place in a few dough knots at a time (I did 4 small ones at a time). Boil for around 2-3mins, turning over once, until they’re all puffed up and the shape has set. I used a slotted spoon, as that seemed the most logical thing, but you could also use tongs (just don’t squeeze too tightly, or you’ll squish them).

Why is a pot of boiling water less terrifying than a pot of boiling oil? They could be doughnuts right now!

Remove the hot dough to a wire rack to cool, and continue on with your remaining knots, until you have a tray full of par-baked dough.

Don't taste test these. It ain't nice. So I've heard...

Once they’ve cooled, place on trays lined with oiled baking paper, then brush the tops with egg white (I forgot this stage for the first batch, it didn’t seem to matter), then sprinkle with your topping of choice and salt. You always need salt, pretzels are meant to be salty. I used poppy seeds, and attempted to use sunflower and pumpkin seeds – the pumpkin seeds were a bit big and just ended up in a pile in the centre of the pretzel, rather than artfully sprinkled over the top.

I'm a little concerned that only half of my googies have happy faces. And yes, I did spend time arranging them like that. And yes, I did use a happy face googy for the egg wash

Put the tray in the top third of the oven for around 15mins (I was busy researching a trip to China, and forgot to note the time – as an estimate, it’s the time it takes webjet to figure out the cost of a multi-city trip). When they’re lovely and brown, they’re done.

For some reason, I was surprised at how delicious they looked coming out of the oven. I don't know what I was expecting

Cool on a wire tray, then artfully arrange in a way that makes them look more impressive than they really are, and give to the lucky recipient (maybe wait til they’ve had a few drinks, so that they’re in the mood for salty, carby treats).

Naturally, I had to taste test them (to make sure that there was no need for Plan B), and the words OMFG may have passed my lips. Of course, everything tastes good warm out of the oven, so fingers crossed the party goers tonight have a similar reaction – I’ll even be happy with a “What the hell is this? Oh, that’s pretty good”.

Happy Birthday Matt, and I hope you enjoy your pretzels!


P.S. There was a little bit of honey spillage on my plate, from my peanut butter and honey sandwich at lunch, and FYI, honey and salty go really well together. In case you were wondering.