When it comes to breakfast sausages my most favourite of all would have to be weisswurst, so it was not a question of whether, but how soon could I get there when the opportunity to spend an afternoon learning how to make them with the crew from Melbourne Meat Up recently came up.
A traditional Bavarian smallgood, weisswurst are typically made from a mixture of minced pork and veal, and flavoured with onion, lemon, parsley, and a good sprinkling of both mace and cardamom; and there is no better way to eat them than poached, accompanied by a soft pretzel, good dollop of sweet mustard and of course beer, should you be on the unch side of brunch.
Our little meaty gathering had a fantastic afternoon and the sausages we made outclassed their market-bought counterparts by a country mile, but despite the good vibes I couldn't help feeling that I'd perhaps let the group down. You see, the farmer had brought her own meat, the German his most amazing, utilitarian 1960's mincing contraption that had the envy of everyone in the room... I as the baker, however, did not bring pretzels, and the fact that I'd never made them before seemed a pretty poor excuse. To be fair I'd also just dashed straight from work, but this failure to bring the goods was a shortcoming I felt should be remedied post haste.
Pretzels are a knot-shaped bread with a distinct deep-brown skin and unique flavour that comes from pre-treatment in lye solution before baking. This submersion of the dough in an alkaline bath "sets" the outside of the pretzel through the gelatinisation of starch, preventing it from springing in full as it bakes, and creating that signature dark and chewy crust. Lye is also classed as a hazardous chemical and therefore reasonably hard to come by for any home baker, but I'd read you can get reasonably similar results by substituting a mix of bicarb soda and malt barley syrup so it was time to stop procrastinating and actually give these pretzels a crack.
The dough in this recipe is reasonably straightforward and nice to work with, and while next time I'll ease up on the sprinkling of salt flakes and play around a bit more with the shaping, I was really happy with how these turned out. The crust was nice and chewy, they had a dense-yet-soft crumb and, most excitingly of all, actually tasted like pretzels. As the doubter in me was expecting pretzel-shaped white bread, that this non-traditional approach captured their unique flavour so beautifully was a genuine surprise, making it a most adequate stand-in should you have trouble finding the proper ingredients. I wonder, how difficult would it be to make your own sweet mustard?...
PRETZELS (Based on a recipe by Sebastien Rouxel in Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery)
For the stiff levain:
- 113 g baker's flour
- 57 g water
- 11 g white levain*
For the dough:
- 490 g baker's flour
- 5 g instant yeast
- 12 g salt
- 245 g water
- 60 g butter, at room temperature
For the dipping liquid:
- ¼ cup bicarb soda
- 1 Tbsp malt rice syrup or dark brown sugar
- 1750 ml water (about 8 cups)
To prepare the stiff levain mix together the flour, water and white levain, cover loosely and leave at room temperature to ferment overnight.
The following day, combine the flour, dry yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix briefly to combine. Make a well in the centre, add the stiff levain, butter and water and mix on low speed, using your dough hook, until smooth; approximately ten minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, loosely mould and leave to rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Fold the dough and again rest for 15 minutes. Repeat the fold and rest step once more then divide the dough into 90-gram portions, pre-shape into rounds and rest for 10 minutes.
Line two baking trays with paper and lightly grease. To shape the pretzels*, roll the dough out into lengths, overlap to create a loop (as if you were about to tie a bow), and then lift the strand that runs underneath over and across the top strand. Lift the two ends up and fold over onto the loop to form a pretzel shape and push down until you can feel the work surface so that the ends are firmly attached to the loop. Arrange on the baking trays and refrigerate for 3 hours so that the dough forms a skin.
Pre-heat your oven to 180°C. Prepare your dipping liquid by combining the water and syrup in a large pan and bringing to a rapid simmer. Add the bicarb soda (make sure you're using a deep pan as it will foam up a lot at this stage) and stir to dissolve, then reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Dip the pretzels 2-3 at a time and keep in the liquid for around 30 seconds, making sure to keep them moving so that they don't touch, and flip them over once or twice so that they're fully moistened. Remove from the liquid using a slotted spoon and place on a lined pan. Sprinkle liberally with sea salt and then bake for 25-30 minutes, until a rich golden brown. Let cool completely on a rack.
** I just used the sourdough starter that I maintain at home. Rouxel's recipe also includes instructions for establishing a liquid levain, if you need further guidance.
** Keller's book provides a more comprehensive (and far better) description of how to do this, and there are plenty of clips on the internet if you're interested.