Spring picnics in Switzerland are kingly spreads. Basel leckerli cookies and chocolate. Alpine cheese accompanied by beer. Chocolate. Pretzel rolls spread with fresh butter. And, of course, chocolate…
To pay homage to this region, and to use up leftover beer from Saint Patrick’s Day, I decided to create a soft chocolate pretzel. Several websites suggested that pretzels were a perfect Lenten food, since pretzels originated as treats given to children for mastering their prayers…but these may put the sin back in.
I was disappointed by the assortment of recipes I found for chocolate pretzels online, as most were folded butter cookies with chemical properties that would lead them to crumble. Perhaps they taste good, but they are not actual pretzels.
A pretzel depends on two main things for its characteristic chew and golden crust: gluten development in the bread, and a quick bath in an alkaline solution to enhance browning during baking.
To achieve a chewy texture, you must use a high-gluten flour, like bread flour. This will also create a subtle egg-like flavor in your soft pretzels. Kneading the dough is also essential for a springy bread crumb. The act of stretching and elongating the gluten forms networks with an end-to-end bond that are very strong. As a result, the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
To achieve the characteristic golden hue, the pretzel needs to be bathed in an alkaline solution. This causes a Malliard reaction — the same chemical process that colors your toast and browns your roast. The reaction creates a depth of color and flavor in your food, similar to caramelization. You may use a food-grade lye, but it can be dangerous and cause caustic burns. Instead, I opted to use baking soda mixed into a solution of sugar, water, and beer.
My chocolate recipe folds finely chopped chocolate into the prepared pretzel dough, so that the baked pretzel become fragrant and airy, while avoiding an overabundant sugariness in the dough itself. I replaced some of the vegetable oil with coconut cream, to deepen the chocolate flavor and help tenderize the dough.
My ordinary recipe left out the cocoa powder and the chocolate. That is the only difference.
As convention dictates, please enjoy chocolate pretzels with a beer. I’d recommend a Belgian framboise lambic to offset the cocoa flavor even more.
Makes one dozen
For poaching liquid
8 cups water
1/4 cup beer
2 tablespoons rice syrup or malt syrup
1/4 cup baking soda
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 cup water between 100 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit or 48 degrees Celsius
2 cups bread flour or high-gluten flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dutch cocoa powder
2 tablespoons rice syrup or malt syrup
2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 teaspoon coconut cream
1/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt thinned with milk
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips or grated high-quality dark chocolate
Egg, beaten, and thinned with 1 tablespoon water
Coarse salt for sprinkling
1. Combine yeast and water.
2. Whisk dry ingredients together (bread flour, brown sugar, salt, cocoa powder). Add to water.
3. Add liquid ingredients (syrup, butter, coconut cream, buttermilk).
4. Stir with a wooden spoon until a shaggy lump of dough forms. It should take about 5 minutes.
5. Cover with plastic wrap and wait for 15 minutes.
6. Lightly oil hands. Knead dough until it is mostly smooth and slightly stretchy. This should take 10-15 minutes.
7. Return to bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot in your kitchen. Wait 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.
8. Take inflated dough and divide into 12 pieces with a sharp knife or a pastry cutter.
9. Shape dough into a short flat log. Take 2 teaspoons of chocolate chips or chocolate shavings and place them in a straight line across the diameter of the log. Fold the log over the chocolate and pinch the edges to seal it in.
10. Now create a pretzel shape. Using your hand, push the dough logs into long ropes, about 1 foot long for mini-pretzels and 18 inches long for full-sized ones. Spread your fingers outward as you push the dough forward with your hand, and this will help stretch the rope.
11. Create a “U” with the dough. Place one end of the rope over the other, crossing about halfway up your U, and flip the ends toward you. Alternatively, do two simple knots. Repeat for all pretzels.
12. Place finished pretzels into freezer until they harden.
13. Take frozen pretzels out of the freezer. Combine ingredients for poaching liquid in a large pan. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium.
14. Place the pretzels carefully into the softly boiling poaching liquid. Immerse them for 30-60 seconds, depending on how dark you like your pretzels. Flip them halfway through their poaching time.
15. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pretzels, and place them on a cooling rack for about 1 minute.
16. Place the pretzels on a cookie sheet that has been greased or lined with parchment paper.
17. Brush each pretzel lightly with the egg wash. Sprinkle salt on your pretzel.
18 Immediately place into the oven. Cook for 450 degrees F or 232 degrees C for 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through the cooking time. Check for the desired color and remove from oven.
19. Place pretzels on rack and allow to cool to handling temperature. Add glaze (see recipe below) and sprinkle with pearl sugar.
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup good-quality dark chocolate
Pearl sugar or white sprinkles
1. Chop chocolate into fine pieces. Melt in a microwave safe bowl for 1 minute and stir. If necessary return to microwave for 20 second intervals until chocolate has melted. Be careful not to let it burn.
2. Add in your cream and stir until combined. For stability, shine, and smoothness, add a small amount of rice syrup. Stir to integrate.
3. Pipe over your pretzels using a pastry tube or drizzle. Sprinkle your pearl sugar or sprinkles.