I knew I wanted to make a chewy, tasty version of a pretzel the minute we decided to open our small and bustling little restaurant on Beverly Blvd. After playing around a bit, I came up with a recipe clearly influenced by “Good to the Grain,” a cookbook written by my friend and mentor Kim Boyce. We like to call them “spretzels” because they’re made with spelt flour in addition to all-purpose flour. Along with giving the dough earthy and nutty undertones, spelt allowed me to obtain the rich mahogany hues one expects in a pretzel without using lye (a corrosive alkaline substance commonly used in the commercial production of pretzels.) To achieve that “pretzely” flavor that lye can impart, we poach the spretzels in an alternative alkaline solution made with baking soda. And when we’re really feeling it, we add beer to the poaching liquid in order to give the spretzels a more authentic Germanic taste. Many recipes suggest that you brush pretzels with the alkaline solution and skip the step of poaching them altogether, but for us a pretzel (like a bagel) is not a pretzel unless it has been poached.
I’m proud to say that we’ve made spretzels every single day that Cooks County has been opened (274 days and counting) and serve them piping hot with a side of mustard sauce. And every night, soon after the doors close, we have what we called “spretzel-time” and the staff eats the leftover spretzels (if there are any!)
Makes 14 to 15 spretzels
For the spretzel dough:
2 ¼ teaspoons dry active yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup spelt flour
2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
1 tablespoon kosher salt
About 2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup baking soda
12-ounce bottle pilsner or blond ale (optional)
Coarse salt to garnish such as Maldon or fleur de sel
For the mustard dipping sauce:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pour 1 ½ cups lukewarm water into a bowl, and rain the yeast over it. Sprinkle the sugar on top and stir. Set aside to activate for 5 minutes.
In the electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the yeast mixture with the spelt flour, all-purpose flour and salt on very slow speed. Turn the speed up to medium and mix for 2 minutes. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and then mix on high speed for another 2 minutes. The dough should be uniform and soft but not sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead into a tight ball. Brush a bowl that’s large enough for the dough to double in size with a bit of the canola oil and place the ball of dough in it. Place the bowl in a large plastic bag, tie it loosely, and set it aside in a warm place in the kitchen for about 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 400°F and place an oven rack in the middle position of the oven. Brush two cookie sheets with the remaining canola oil and set them aside.
While the dough is rising, make the mustard sauce. Put the yolk, mustards, sugar and salt in a blender. Remove the cap from the lid of the blender, and with the blender running on medium speed, add the oil in a slow and steady stream (the oil has to be incorporated slowly in order to produce an emulsified mixture.) Once all the oil has been added, refrigerate until ready to use.
Turn the risen dough onto a table and pinch off 15 nuggets, about 2 ounces each. Take each nugget and roll into a rope about 20 inches long. Shape each pretzel by forming a loop then twisting the two ends together a couple of times and finally pinching them in the middle. Put the pretzels on the oil cookie sheets and let them proof for 20 to 30 minutes or until the pretzels start to look puffy.
Meanwhile prepare the alkaline solution: Bring to a simmer 4 quarts of water (or 3 quarts of water plus one bottle of beer) in a non-reactive medium-sized pot, and add the baking soda. Poach the proofed spretzels for 30 seconds on each side and transfer them to the prepared baking sheets. Before baking the spretzels make sure to garnish them with coarse salt. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the spretzels turn a rich golden brown. Let them rest for 10 minutes and remove from the tray. Serve immediately or reserve for later, in which case you may want to reheat for a few minutes before enjoying.
~ Roxana Jullapat
Make sure you send us pictures and posts of your finished Spretzels!