Pretzels and Pretzel Dogs

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We were in the airport a month ago, wandering around because our flight was delayed, and I noticed the pretzel cart had pretzel dogs. They looked really good, but alas, they weren’t veggie dogs. When I came home, I put pretzel dogs and pretzels on my list of new recipes to try.

Nearly any recipe for authentic pretzels calls for boiling them in a pot of alkalinized water before baking them. This gives them the chewy texture and dark crust characteristic of a pretzel. Most recipes call for using baking soda, which has a pH of 9. Some recipes, however, call for using lye! Lye is sodium hydroxide, NaOH, and has a pH of 14, requiring the use of gloves and eye protection. From what I read, the lye bath is necessary if you want authentic German-style pretzels, but the baking soda bath will give you great results if you want them Philly-style.

Never having had a German pretzel, and not willing to turn my kitchen into a chem lab, I went with the baking soda. It worked beautifully. Mine got really dark, darker than the ones in most of the recipes I looked at, and the crust was perfectly pretzel-y. I can’t describe it, but you’ll know it the minute you bite into one.

It takes a practice to shape a pretzel. I got it right with the last one.

Pretzels and Pretzel Dogs

1 cup warm water (about 105 F)
1-1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons Earth Balance margarine
1 cup bread flour or all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cup white wheat flour, or whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons wheat gluten

4 cups water
1/4 cup baking soda

1 package veggie dogs (I used Tofurkey dogs)
coarse salt

In a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, yeast, salt, sugar and margarine. Stir in the 1 cup bread or all-purpose flour. Let sit until mixture bubbles, about 15 minutes. Add the whole-wheat flour and wheat gluten. Knead in mixer for 5 minutes or knead by hand for 10.

Put dough into an oiled bowl and allow to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

In a non-aluminum pan, bring baking soda and water to a boil and then reduce to low while you prepare pretzels. Preheat oven to 450 F.

Divide dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 16-18 inches long. Oil a baking sheet.

Flatten one of the ropes to about 1/4 inch thick and cut in in half to make it easier to handle. Wrap the veggie dogs with the flattened dough, pinching off any extra. Set aside on the baking sheet. Add the extra dough to the next piece and continue wrapping the dogs. In all I used two ropes for five dogs. If you need a bit of extra dough, pinch some from another rope. If you have some extra, add it to a rope. This is not science.

Form remaining ropes into pretzels. Pick up a rope and let it stretch a few more inches, holding in a U shape. Resting the middle of the U on your work surface, twist the ends around each other one complete turn. Bring the ends toward you and press into the bottom of the U. Don’t worry if your shapes are a bit wobbly – they’ll smooth out before the pretzels are done.

Okay, this part is science. SCIENCE! Bring the water and baking soda mixture back up to a boil. Boil each pretzel or pretzel dog for 30 seconds. Remove with a large, slotted spatula and place back on the baking sheet. Sprinkle each pretzel or dog with coarse salt.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until dark.

Makes 5 dogs and 6 pretzels, more or less.

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