Pretzels Are My Kryptonite

Soft Pretzels 27

There’s a certain fast food establishment at the mall to which I am inevitably drawn, every time.  And they make glorious sweet and salty pretzels, fresh all day.  The fact that if you buy three you get one free does not help.

Soft Pretzels 31

A few years ago, before I started this blog, I tried my hand at recreating the pretzel I knew and loved.  The result was rather a disaster, but, undaunted, I figured I’d try again, seeing as it’s too cold to walk to the mall at present.

Soft Pretzels 13

So I did my research, and the results below are a combination of about four or five different internet sources.  In addition to that, the amount I made was half what I will present to you now, because most batches make twelve pretzels and it was a huge feat for the Pie and myself to eat three each.

Soft Pretzels 1

This is the recipe for 12 soft pretzels.  BEWARE: results may be habit-forming.

Soft Pretzels 30

Start with a wee bowl, and plop in 1 1/4 cups warm water (I use the hot water from my tap, which is pretty hot, and it seems to serve me well, especially in a frigid kitchen where everything cools down mighty fast. Plus yeast is a much more forgiving organism than many realize). Dissolve into that 1 teaspoon granulated sugar.  Sprinkle over that 4 teaspoons active dry yeast, give it a stir, and leave it for 10 minutes to get all foamy.

Soft Pretzels 2

At one point mine started trying to be the Thing from the Black Lagoon and went all BLOOP!  BLOOP!  BLOOP!  I tried to get a picture but it didn’t work out.

Soft Pretzels 4

Nevertheless it’s fun to watch science (biology!) in action.

Soft Pretzels 5

In a larger bowl, stir together 5 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar (more if you like your pretzels sweet, less if you like ’em saltier), and 2 teaspoons salt (again with the more or less business, but reversed — though don’t go too crazy).

Soft Pretzels 3

Make a well in that flour and pour in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, followed by all the yeasty water.

Soft Pretzels 6

Stir and stir and stir until you form a rough, shaggy dough and most of the flour is incorporated into this stuff.

Soft Pretzels 7

I find that when you halve bread recipes, for some reason the moisture amount never turns out quite right.  So if your dough is too dry and refuses to stick to itself, like this:

Soft Pretzels 8

Then simply add a few tablespoons of warm water until it gets to the desired consistency.

If your dough ends up too sticky, like this:

Soft Pretzels 9

Then it’s a simple matter to add more flour by kneading it in on a clean and lightly floured work surface.

Soft Pretzels 10

Do your kneading for about 8 minutes, until you have a sturdy little ball.  It will feel quite dense.

Soft Pretzels 11

Soft Pretzels 12

Oil a bowl and plop the ball of dough into it, turning it once to coat the whole surface of the ball in oil.  Cover that loosely with plastic wrap and set it somewhere warm for about an hour, until it’s doubled in size.

Soft Pretzels 14

When it’s all ready to rock and roll, preheat your oven to 450°F, line several baking sheets with parchment paper, and set a pot on the stove.  Into that pot pour 4 cups water and 4 tablespoons baking soda and bring it to a low boil.

Boiling the pretzel is key to the browning process, or so the internet told me.  The last time I did this, I ended up with pretzels that tasted so heavily of baking soda that they were inedible.  So this time I used a relatively small amount of the stuff.  Some of the sources I read suggested adding sugar to the boiling water as well, and I think that might countermand some of the saltiness of the baking soda, though it would definitely make the pretzels a little stickier.  I will have to try it next time.

Cut your dough into a dozen separate pieces (mine is six, remember, because I halved it).

Soft Pretzels 15

Using no flour this time, roll out each section into a snake measuring about 24 inches.

Soft Pretzels 16

Form the snake into a pretzel by bringing the ends together, twisting twice, and smooshing the tips into the body of the pretzel.  The Pie and I tried to do it the fancy lift-and-twist-and-magically-it-all-works-out but obviously that didn’t work.  Amateurs.

Soft Pretzels 17

Working one or two at a time,  slide your formed pretzels into the boiling water and submerge them for about 30 seconds.

Soft Pretzels 18

Soft Pretzels 19

It was kind of hard to remove them with tongs, so we plopped each one on this deep-frying spoon and did it that way and it was way easier.

Soft Pretzels 20

Soft Pretzels 21

Let those pretzels drip a bit before laying them on the parchment-lined baking sheets.

Soft Pretzels 22

For a taste comparison, I left one of my six pretzels unboiled, just to see what would happen.  It’s the one on the left in both of these shots.

Soft Pretzels 23

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown, but still soft to the touch.

Soft Pretzels 26

You can see that the unboiled one didn’t brown at all.  It still tasted just fine.  You could always do an egg wash on the unbaked pretzels if you’re not keen on the distinctive pretzel-y taste that the boiling in baking soda brings.

Soft Pretzels 25

Soft Pretzels 33

Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, and then make sure to eat them all while they’re still warm.

Soft Pretzels 24

You can put whatever kind of stuff you like on your pretzels.  People seem to like mustard (blech) and barbecue sauce (blech), but our favourite is a brush of melted butter

Soft Pretzels 28

… and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Soft Pretzels 29

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go lie down.  I might be dying.  Or at least gravely weakened.

Soft Pretzels 32

Practical Alcoholism: Cutting Glass Bottles

Cutting Glass

This was actually a project that Cait came up with as a guest post eons ago.  Obviously, she took too long to do it, I got impatient, and now I’m going to go ahead and do it myself.  Because that’s what I do.  I do it myself.  It’s kind of the point of this here blog.

The City of St. John’s has just this past year instituted a city-wide curbside recycling program.  Yes, we are about twenty years behind the times on this one, but we’re making progress.  What the city does not recycle, however, is glass.  I’m not entirely sure I understand why, but that’s the way it is.  We previously employed a private recycling plant that would take absolutely everything, including glass, but they of course disappeared once recycling became free.  As a result we’ve now started tailoring our grocery shopping to buying items that come in cans and plastic containers, rather than glass.  But some of that stuff sticks around.  I re-use glass jars as much as I can, especially when it comes to the contents of my spice cabinet.  Even so, we still have a lot of glass that goes in the garbage.  And let me tell you, for a girl who has spent the last 25 years of her life recycling, it feels some weird, b’y, to chuck glass in the trash.

Light Box Tests

So how can we re-use it some more?  You can only deal with so many spare bottles and jars lying around.  Their function is practical but limited.  So let’s create some other sorts of vessels from these things by learning to cut glass.

I purchased Ephrem’s Deluxe Bottle Cutting Kit from Artistry In Glass, based in London, Ontario, for you Canadian shoppers.

Cutting Glass

This kit has been around, pretty much unaltered, since the seventies.  In fact I don’t think they’ve ever bothered to change the photographs in the little projects book that comes with it.  But why mess with something that works so well, right?

Cutting Glass

You need some glass for this project.  Anything that is round, really, with smooth sides will work for you.  Bottles, jars.  You name it.  The reason I bought the “deluxe” kit as opposed to the regular kit is because it comes with an adapter so you can work on the curved parts of bottle necks and stuff, instead of just the straight sides. But I haven’t gotten to that skill level yet.

In any case, you’ll need to clean and dry your glass thoroughly first.  This means soaking off the labels and rinsing the containers out well.  If you can’t get some of the glue off the glass, try peanut butter.  It works really well, I promise.

Cutting Glass

So now I’m all set.  With my little kit at the ready, I wanted to make sure I did this right.

I watched the video about how to do it the way the cutting kit company tells you to in the instructions, with a candle and an ice cube.

And then I watched another video about a slightly easier and more efficient way to do it with boiling and cold water.  I will show you both.

This is the result of my first attempt to cut beer bottles.  As you can see, it’s not perfect, but it’s not bad, either.  I needed more practice.  You are not going to succeed at this on your first try either, so make sure you have lots of practice glass around before you start getting into the stuff you actually want to use.

Cutting Glass

Beer bottles are the best to practice on, because generally beer is cheaper than the more expensive wines that come in the nice bottles.  Plus you can get several tries in if you buy a six-pack.  The other bonus of practicing on beer bottles is beer glass is thinner and more prone to shattering (unlike jars of preserves, beer is cold-canned, and the bottles are not designed for temperature shock).  So because the bottles break easier, you have to be more careful in your practice.

Light Box Tests

Scoring the Glass:

So this is how you do it.

The kit has all sorts of knobs and screws that you need to adjust first so the cutter is perpendicular to the cutting surface.  This is important. Follow the directions and diagrams in the kit carefully.

Cutting Glass

Now, exerting firm, even pressure (you don’t have to press very hard either) and without stopping, roll the bottle or jar under your hands.  You will hear the cutter making horrible gravelly noises as you do this.  It is scoring the glass.  Keep going all the way around, until you hear a distinct click.  This is you hitting your original score mark.  Now you can stop.  Don’t score over the same spot twice.

Cutting Glass

If you don’t hit your original score mark, then you’ve messed up that particular cut.  I do this often.  I guess the pressure from my hands is uneven or something so the cutter and the bottle don’t stay where they are supposed to.  This is where the practice comes in. Also make sure all your screws are tightened all the way so stuff doesn’t shift.

Once you’ve got your cut, you can start shocking the glass.  We want to do this slowly and evenly.

Water Shocking Method:

I put a towel in the bottom of my sink, just to provide a bit of a cushion should some glass happen to drop. It will also catch the hundreds of tiny flakes of glass that fall off your bottles, so make sure to wash it thoroughly afterwards.

Cutting Glass

I have one jug of water in the fridge, the other boiling away on the stove.

Starting with boiling water, slowly pour a small stream over your score mark.  Turn the bottle so you get all sides of it.  Keep going until you can feel the bottle warm in your hands.

Cutting Glass

Now, pour on the cold water in the same way.  You’ll start to hear some cracking — that’s the glass breaking along its score line.

Cutting Glass

Keep going, alternating boiling and cold water.  There will be more cracking.  Don’t try to force the two parts of your bottle apart.  If they’re going to come apart they will do so on their own.  Just keep alternating your water and it will eventually happen.

You can see here how I etched lines in parallel rings on this jar.

Cutting Glass

And then this is how it fell apart.

Cutting Glass

They didn’t fall apart completely evenly, but as I was only seeing if cutting multiple lines at once was even possible (as the book and the ‘net both tell you to do them one at a time), I wasn’t paying that much attention to my scoring.

Cutting Glass

Fire and Ice Method:

Cutting Glass

For argument’s sake, I also did the candle method as espoused by the kit itself.

Cutting Glass

Carefully hold the bottle just above a candle flame, so the flame nearly touches your score mark.  Rotate the bottle slowly to evenly heat all the way around.

Cutting Glass

When the bottle is heated, take an ice cube to the score lines and rub it all the way around.

Cutting Glass

You will find that you have to do more repetitions for this method, but it’s slightly more accurate.  Because the bottle is more gently treated your cuts will open straighter more times than not.

Cutting Glass

Of course, if you’re cutting rings, like I was here, the fire and ice method is very slow, as you have to do each ring individually.  The water shock method is much better for cutting rings, but I would use the fire and ice method for the lips of drinking glasses and the like, where a completely straight edge is important.

Cutting Glass

Finishing:

When you have finally achieved an edge on glass that you like, you will need to grind down the edges, because this is broken glass — it’s super sharp.

The kit comes with this silicon carbide powder, which you can pour on a sheet of glass that you don’t need to use for anything else, add a drop of water, and rub away until all the sharp edges on the glass are gone.

Cutting Glass

It’s a little messy though.  I prefer emery cloth, which is basically fine sandpaper, just the silicon carbide powder is glued to a sheet of paper.  You can still add a few drops of water to it (this keeps the glass dust down), and grind away!

Cutting Glass

Make sure to get the inside edges as well as the outside edge.

Cutting Glass

You can always dip a small piece of paper in water and sand down the inside by hand.

Cutting Glass

So my first successful efforts of today produced this lovely wee glass.

Cutting Glass

Which I filled with juice.  And which I plan to later etch and give to someone.

Cutting Glass

And these rings, which I will be making into another gift for someone else.  They’re not perfect, but they’re not bad.

Cutting Glass

Stay tuned for some gift ideas and things you can do with your upcycled cut-glass projects!

Cutting Glass