I wanted to make soft pretzels and caramels for my coworkers.
Pretzels, because I've been wanting to make them anyway, and caramels, because I've made them before and everyone really seems to enjoy them. I've even had a few people ask to buy a batch! But I don't have the time or the equipment to make more than a single batch at a time, unfortunately.
I made one batch of caramels Tuesday night to get a head start.
Here's a little video sequence of how that goes. Since this is Instagram you have to click on the little arrows to the right of each video to see the next video in sequence.
It starts with sugar, water, a tablespoon of corn syrup, and a little lemon juice in a saucepan. The lemon juice helps to keep sugar crystals small or something, idk. Then you just put that on medium high, do NOT stir it, and watch it until it starts to turn a nice amber color. People like their caramel at varying degrees of darkness, and I lean more dark; if you like yours lighter you can stop the caramelization process when your sugar looks the color of pale honey.
Anyway, Once it's the color you want you carefully pour in the cream, and from this point on you've got to stir continuously to avoid burning and crystalizing and scalding and all that. As water boils off from the sugar mixture, the temperature increases above the boiling point. This time I was trying for 264.
Once my candy thermometer reached 264, I took the caramel immediately off the heat and poured it into a large bowl. Then I added a little butter, vanilla paste, and sea salt. Mixed it all in and poured it in a nice foil tray to cool. Tadaaaaa.
The decorative salt tends to melt down here in FL, I assume because it's so stinkin humid. It was nice to get a picture where you could see it just this once (taken on Wednesday, after the caramel had cooled in the fridge overnight). The touring company manager saw this photo and said, "We've got to get you a hotel room with a kitchen!"
On Wednesday morning I got up earlier than usual because there was just so much to do. I ate a quick breakfast and immediately made a second batch of caramels. While they were cooling I cleaned up, then mixed up a batch of pretzel dough. Once it was kneaded and resting I made a double recipe of the same dough. That batch went straight into the fridge where it will stay overnight to develop flavor, but mostly just to save me time on Thursday.
Also, I can't do three batches of pretzels at once because the fridge isn't big enough.
Also, if I mess up the first batch I've got two more tries with the other two batches of dough.
When my counter-risen dough was ready, I divided it into eight little balls and rolled each one out into a rope. Shaping these was kinda difficult, but I got better at it as I went along. No pictures of any of this process because I didn't want to have to worry about it, and I wanted to complete this quickly without having to continually stop for photos.
Once the pretzels were shaped it was time for the lye dip.
I've been so nervous about this...everything I've read online makes it sound absolutely HAZARDOUS. And I'm sure it is. But with the proper care, it was very easy to do. I put on long dish gloves, and goggles, and filled a plastic tub with four cups of water. I made sure that my trays were ready with a silicone mat to protect them from the lye. I carefully picked up each pretzel and dropped them individually into the lye, 5 seconds per side. Then they went to the silicone-protected tray until I had dipped them all.
I sprinkled them with salt, then transferred them again back to their original trays with parchment paper.
Then straight into the oven.
While I waited for the pretzels I wiped everything that had been involved with the lye in vinegar (it neutralizes lye) and washed it thoroughly.
The pretzels only took 12 minutes to bake. Yay!
Gosh! They came out better than I expected, that's for sure!
Jameson taste-tested one for me and said it was delicious. I didn't eat one yet because I want to be sure that the other batches turn out well and there will be enough for everyone. I also want to let tomorrow's batch sit longer in the lye, to get a darker "crust" and a chewier texture. Some people will like the lighter pretzels, but personally I want to try them darker! I salted half and left the others plain.
While the pretzels were cooling I ate a quick lunch, then made beer cheese dip for the pretzels.
It didn't take that long, but cleanup afterward takes forever.
Then I brought out the first batch of caramels and cut them up (see earlier pic), then had about an hour to really clean up all of the dishes, package the pretzels and caramels, and eat a snack.
And then it was time for dinner, followed by 1.5 hours of steno class.
Followed by two hours of anti-racism training for my new employer.
So my day finally ended at 9pm, with putting away the clean dishes and getting a shower and watching LEGO Masters with Jameson, which was the first time I'd gotten to actually sit down all day.
Thursday, I got up early again because I was anxious about the pretzel dough in the fridge.
It did look like it had collapsed a little bit, and it was stiff and difficult to work with.
But I still managed to roll it out and shape it, giving it longer rests to warm up and relax the gluten.
This time I left the pretzels in the lye for 12 seconds. They did turn out somewhat darker, but not DARK like commercial soft pretzels. I suspect if I want to get a real dark mahogany color I'll have to boil the lye solution and dunk the pretzels in that. For now it was a lot easier to just dip my gloved hands in the lye solution to manipulate the pretzels.
And at this point I've spent an entire weekend working on pretzels, and just wanted it over with.
I also did not salt these pretzels because when I checked on yesterday's batch, the salt had melted into the skin overnight.
Which meant I now had the chore of packaging 20-some tablespoons of pretzel salt to go along with each pretzel.
I used strips of plastic wrap and just twisted the salt up in that. This must be what it feels like to package drugs, lol.
I'm just so happy the pretzels turned out well!
Listening to The Peanut Gallery always makes me doubt myself. People telling me to just quit and use baking soda. People telling me I'm doing it wrong, I'm kneading it wrong, why didn't I do it THIS way instead of THAT way, why am I making pretzels at all.
Well I'll tell you why. BECAUSE I WANT TO.
And if I wanted to spend all day creating the Mona Lisa out of foccacia I would, and that's my G-D business.
And I certainly don't want to hear criticisms from people who very likely spent their day on their butts in front of a screen.
If y'all want to see something done "differently" or "better", from pretzels to politics: how about get off your ass and do it yourself.
In the meantime I'm the one who actually made and enjoyed beautiful, chewy, fluffy homemade pretzels today.
Ok ok. Sorry. My threshhold for Peanut Gallery criticisms was reached this week, and it overflowed into this post.
The rest of Thursday was spent packaging the beer cheese into little condiment containers, chopping up the second batch of caramels and packaging those, and finally getting to enjoy one of my pretzels with lunch before crashing in front of my computer. Gotta have my quality Lazy Millennial time, gotta fit the stereotype.
I received an email from the TOOTSIE production team asking what size show jacket I'd like. We're all going to get show-logo jackets on opening day, how cool is that?? Makes me feel like part of this team, even if I'm not there yet.
I also got some health care paperwork to fill out, so did that, and then practiced trombone while Jameson had a school meeting.
We had Bento for dinner (Bento is a local sushi/poke bowl place) and Jameson enjoyed playing Hades while I wrote this blog and watched To Your Eternity, which is the saddest, darkest anime I've seen in a while, but I can't stop watching. We watched an episode of Nailed It! together as well.
I notice that Jameson is being more affectionate, or attentive, or something lately.
I'm sure it's because I'm leaving soon, and he's showing that he'll miss me.
I'll miss him too. A lot.
But, I keep reminding myself, people do this all the time, all over the world. Truckers and military folks and flight attendants and travel nurses. And other musicians and actors and crew. I'll get to see him every two months. That's going to be great.
I'll still miss him, though.
After a few hours of relaxation, Jameson had a sound check at Epcot and I had...well, I should have practiced steno, but was definitely still wanting to chill. I did a lot this weekend, it felt very non-stop with all the pretzels and assembling the cheese dip and making caramels and attending trainings and classes and such...I just wanted to relax for one night.
Two more days of work left, and then I've got ten days to do whatever I need to do.
Practice trombone, practice steno, pack, clean up the house, make my final arrangements, make a few good meals for Jameson and I.
And then I'm off.