While writing one of my restaurant articles, I came across a French word I’d never seen despite 10 years of studying the language and a quarter century’s living in Canada: malicette. Well, of course, it was easy enough to find out that malicettes, or mauricettes, are buns made of pretzel dough. Or, maybe, pretzels shaped like buns. The whole thing bothered me a little, because I didn’t know what, if anything, made pretzel dough any different from regular bread dough. And if you just make bread dough into a bun, what connection does that have with pretzels?
When pretzels came up as our food focus here on TT, it was time for me to find out. It turned out what makes soft pretzels different from bread, apart from the shape, of course, is that they get dunked in an alkaline solution before they’re baked. (Bagels are often cooked this way too.) This is what gives them their distinctive chewy crust. The alkaline solution commercial bakers use is food grade lye, not something you can usually find at the store. But there are alternatives, like baking soda dissolved in water.
For the dough, I went with this recipe from Wikibooks, cutting the quantity in half and using a bread machine instead of kneading by hand. That makes my version Creative Commons too, I guess . . .
The solution caused me trouble the first time around. I had read in this New York Times article that you could get an effect closer to lye by baking your baking soda for an hour in a warmish oven — so I did that. It didn’t say to boil your solution, as other recipes do, just to dunk the buns in it before baking. Well, I thought, if boiling them in a weaker solution is good, boiling them in a strong solution is even better. I was wrong. They looked nice, but the crust was impossibly sour and left a weird feeling in my mouth. The second batch, boiled just seconds in a mild solution, looked just as nice and tasted way better — and the pretzel taste was great.
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 cups flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoon quick yeast
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 2 cups water
- Put the dough ingredients in a bread machine in the order given.
- Run the dough cycle.
- When it’s done, preheat the oven to 425℉.
- Dissolve the baking soda in the water and bring just to a boil in a small pot.
- Roll the dough into a long log.
- Divide into four pieces.
- Roll them into bun shapes in your hands.
- With a slotted spoon, put them, one by one, into the boiling solution for a few seconds each.
- Using the same spoon, put them on a greased baking sheet as they finish boiling.
- Make 2 or 3 slashes in the top of each.
- Bake for about 5 minutes (check on them at this point, they may need a few minutes more.)
- You can make these more pretzel-ish by sprinkling with coarse salt before baking.