Pretzels even better as breads, burger buns

Pretzel bread has caused some swooning in a few past posts to this blog. And as mentioned in my latest podcast, pretzel buns for hamburgers have finally found their way into Southern Oregon’s supermarket mainstream.

I urged the purchase of pretzel buns for summer’s bountiful burgers. We all know, of course, that packaged buns, rolls and other breads are poor imitations for fresh-baked counterparts. After all, if you’re going to spend time perfecting your burger recipe, you should serve it on the very best bun, according to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

Try to approach this with the same enthusiasm as mixing up the patty, rather than thinking about the additional time in the kitchen. Recipe testers even sanction skipping the lye wash, brushing the buns with egg for coloring and sheen, then topping the finished product with coarse sea salt.

For fresh-baked pretzel buns, I would be much more likely to consider it time well spent. The Los Angeles Times estimates an hour and 20 minutes for these buns, not including rising time. If you’re a baking enthusiast, that may seem like very little. If you’re crazy for pretzel bread, like I am, better make it a double batch.

Tribune News Service photo

Pretzel Buns

1 (1/4-ounce) package active-dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

2 teaspoons light-brown sugar

5 cups bread flour, divided

1/2 cup rye flour

2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Pretzel wash, such as lye (see note) or beaten whole egg

Coarse sea salt, for topping

In bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over 1 3/4 cups warm water. Stir in the sugar and 1/2 cup of the bread flour. Set aside until yeast begins to bubble, for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together remaining bread flour with the rye flour and salt.

Beat the melted butter into large bowl with yeast. Using dough hook (if using a stand mixer) or a fork or wooden spoon (if mixing by hand), slowly mix in remaining flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, until all flour is added and a firm, thick dough is formed.

Move dough to a lightly floured board. Knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, for 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove dough to a large, oiled bowl. Cover and set aside in a warm place until dough is almost doubled in size, for 45 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the pretzel wash and heat oven to 375 F.

Divide risen dough into 8 pieces, each weighing about 5 ounces. Form each piece into a ball, pinching seams together at base of each one. Flatten each ball so it’s about 1 inch thick.

Coat dough with wash. If using lye, dip roll in wash (wear rubber kitchen gloves and goggles) for 15 to 20 seconds, turning roll over halfway to coat evenly. Remove round to a greased, nonreactive baking sheet and top as desired (if using an aluminum baking sheet, line sheet with parchment before greasing). If using the beaten egg, brush egg over buns.

Use a serrated knife or razor blade to make a crosswise slit into top of each roll about 1/2 inch deep. Sprinkle over the coarse sea salt. Set rounds aside until puffed and risen, for about 15 minutes.

Bake pretzel rounds, 1 sheet at a time, in center of oven until puffed and a rich golden-brown (color will vary depending on wash), for about 20 minutes. Rotate sheet halfway through baking for even coloring.

Remove baking sheet to a rack, and set aside until pretzel buns have cooled completely before slicing and serving.

Makes 8 buns.

NOTE: Food-grade lye is the classic wash for pretzels. It can be found at some cooking-supply stores and online (do not use common lye; it is not food-safe). To make enough wash for one batch of buns, dissolve 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) food-grade lye in 1 quart warm water (add lye to water, not the other way around) in a glass bowl. Wear gloves and goggles while using this wash; lye can burn if it comes into contact with skin or eyes.

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