Friday, January 11, 2013

January #LetsLunch: Trying Something New



This month, our #LetsLunch host challenged us to try something new in the new year. Many of us will be posting recipes we've tried for the first time, or something we've always wanted to tackle.

My parents came to visit over the summer and we went to a Washington Nationals baseball game. My dad got super excited when he saw the concessions stand was offering up gluten-free soft pretzels.


I decided to try and recreate those pretzels for my dad when I was home over Christmas last month. He seemed to really enjoy them, and mentioned how much he used to love soft pretzels when he was younger.

I adapted this recipe from Serious Eats, using the homemade blend of gluten-free flours my dad uses for baking. The original author calls for a blend of white rice flour, brown rice flour and tapioca starch. I used a blend of white rice, tapioca starch and potato starch and thought they tasted delicious.


What I liked about these pretzels was how simple they were to make. The biggest pain with them is the hour and a half of dead time while you're waiting for the dough to proof. The other downside is that you get a fairly small yield. The recipe calls for 12 pretzels, but they would be pretty tiny. I went with splitting the dough into 8 pieces.


When you shape the pretzels, I found it's better to make them a bit fatter and smaller, like the near one in this photo. You can see a skinnier, larger pretzel in the background there. Most of those were difficult to remove from the soda bath because the pretzels broke off into pieces (see below).



The other place I diverged from the original Serious Eats recipe is in brushing the finished pretzels with a little melted margarine. It gives them that extra layer of flavor you'll get in the ballpark -- a little buttery, a little sweet, a little oily.


You can see my experimentations with the sizes and widths of the pretzels here. The second batch I made were much more uniform in shape. Also, for a gluten-free snack, they were very delicious! I was tempted to eat some of these but decided it was best to save them for my dear-old-dad.

Overall, I would say this was one of my more successful attempts at gluten-free baking for dad. In the past treats have had that characteristically gritty texture or generally haven't held up well (the cinnamon rolls debacle of Christmas 2011 comes to mind). I think for one, the use of xantham gum in this recipe is a huge help in binding the dough and giving it some stretch. Secondly, I think my dad really has perfected the homemade blend of flours and starches. I had much better luck with his blend than using a store brand "gluten-free baking mix"for the cinnamon rolls last year.

RECIPE: Gluten-Free Pretzels -- adapted from seriouseats.com
3 3/4 cups homemade gluten-free flour blend (combine white rice flour, tapioca starch and potato starch)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup warm water plus 2 tablespoons
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 large egg
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons melted margarine

* In a small bowl, combine 1 cup warm water and yeast and stir until foamy. Allow to stand for three minutes while you whisk together flours, salt, xantham gum and baking powder. Add the egg, corn syrup, vegetable oil and yeast mixture to the flours and mix until a dough forms.

* Knead dough gently for five minutes until it becomes smooth. You may need to put a little white rice flour down to knead the dough (the kitchen I was working in had granite countertops and I didn't need it). Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 90 minutes or more.

* Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and preheat the oven to 425. While the water is coming to a boil, split the dough into eight pieces and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel while you work. Take each ball one at a time, roll into a long skinny log, about 14 inches long. Twist into a heart-shape, then press the ends to the bottom. You may need to rewet the bottom edges and press firmly in order make them stick during the boiling process. (Serious Eats has a good photo slideshow of the shaping process)

* Add baking soda and sugar to the water bath. Boil pretzels one at a time until they float. If a pretzel looks like it is beginning to break, remove it immediately. Place boiled pretzels on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher or pretzel salt.

* Bake for about 25 minutes, rotating your baking sheets about halfway. Brush the hot pretzels with the melted margarine immediately and serve while hot. You can also freeze the cooled pretzels and reheat in a toaster over later.

Yield: 8 pretzels

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LetsLunch is a monthly meetup of food bloggers from around the globe. We post themed recipes on the first Friday of each month and share via Twitter and Facebook.

Want to join us? Send us a tweet using the hashtag #letslunch and say hello. I'm @emmacarew

Take a look at what everyone else has posted for this month's new recipes for the new year:




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