It's been tough serving customers at the bakery the past couple of Thursdays. Thursday is the day we made traditional German Pretzels. Dipped in baker's lye, lightly salted and baked to a deep, dark brown. Crunchy, chewy and oh, so tasty.
People were happy and we sold all the pretzels we could make each Thursday. So why did we stop?
Quality Matters. All Day Long.
When we're baking pretzels, the entire bakery smells amazing. And the snap and chew you feel when biting into a warm pretzel is unlike anything else we make. It's a real treat to have a fresh pretzel in the morning.
But the great taste of a fresh pretzel is also part of the problem. To me, the same pretzel that tastes great right after we bake them just isn't the same after lunch, or just before suppertime. The snap becomes a crunch and the chew becomes a really hard chew. Not as much of a treat by then.
So we either need to figure out a way to make the pretzels stay fresh longer (without resorting to artificial preservatives), bake them throughout the day (very difficult with all the steps involved), or take the pretzels off sale at noon.
Now, we have pretzel fans who swear that they take a dozen pretzels home, freeze them and re-warm them one at a time. That may work (I'd never doubt the word of a pretzel fan), but I still have another problem.
Traditional Pretzel Making Is Dangerous.
To me, what makes a pretzel a Real Deal Pretzel isn't the shape, it's the quick bath the pretzel takes before baking. The bath is in a diluted solution of food grade lye, the same lye that is used in traditional soap making.
Lye is a strong base (the opposite of a strong acid) and does a wicked bit of damage when it gets on your skin. It can cause a chemical burn if not handled with care.
Our makeshift dipping station isn't working as well as it should. Twice this spring I've had lye solution get inside my gloves when dipping pretzels and got nasty burns on the ends of my fingers. And I'm worried about an accidental splash in the eyes doing more damage. It's got so I now insist on doing all the dipping because I don't want one of our staff getting injured.
I'm pretty sure there is a safer, more effective way to dip pretzels, but I haven't figured that out yet.
Fear Not, Pretzel Fans. There Is Hope!
Hopefully we will have a solution to both problems within the next few months. Cindy and I are both going to WheatStalk (three days of bread baking put on by the Bread Baker's Guild of America) and Cindy will be attending a session on making traditional bagels, bilays and pretzels.
We're excited to talk to other bakers, including some German Masters, about both keeping quality and dipping safety. We will also be experimenting with a baking soda setup (not quite lye, but an option) to see what that's like.
We're hopeful that we can find a breakthrough with our pretzel problems and once we find a solution, we can bring you even better pretzels on Thursday. But until then, I hope you'll be patient and give our Flax Currant Rolls a try. They're not as salty but are delicious in their own way. Have your say! Let us know your take on our Pretzel Predicament in the comments.