So! Today was the day of baking.
I made three things: German Christmas Pretzels, Black and Tan cookies, and merangues. The pretzels are an annual thing that my mom and I started about ten years ago; we opted for a more savory tradition because we got sugared-out with everyone we knew giving us sweets at holiday time. They’re a metric butt-ton of work, and I almost didn’t do them this year — Instead of my usual three batches, I only made one regular-sized batch, and we got maybe five dozen smallish pretzels. Paul helped immensely, rolling half the pretzels and helping me stage the pans for each baking.
Here’s the dough on its second rise, right before we started rolling:
I learned a while back to split the dough into two containers for the second rise — otherwise it’ll try for a takeover of the kitchen.
Here’re the rolled pretzels. For those of you keeping score at home, this is their third rising time:
Now, on to the sooper seekrit ingredient:
Yes, that’s right. The secret to German Christmas Pretzels is poisonous caustic drain opener! Seriously, though. A quick dip in a lye bath is what gives the pretzels that nice, shiny brown skin. Plus when you dump the stuff down your sink, it clears those pesky clogs right the heck up.
For those doubters amongst you, here’s the recipe, lovingly written in the family cookbook by my own mother, as it was passed down to her by my Gram Irwin’s cousin, Margaret Grieb, a Gute Tcherman Vuman if there ever was one.
Skipping the lye bath is not an option. We’ve tried it; without the lye, the pretzels just don’t taste right.
After their dunk in the lye bath (if you try this at home, make sure to use ONLY A NON-REACTIVE VESSEL — use corningware or an enameled butcher’s pan and stainless steel spatulas), the pretzels are then transferred to a NON-TEFLON cookie sheet that’s been heated, then lightly rubbed with a cake of beeswax. This, like the lye, is an unskippable step. Mom and I have experimented with just spraying the cookie sheets with oil, and the results were less than spectacular. The wax makes the pretzel-bottoms set up into this lovely, honey-flavored skin of goodness, and anything else is unacceptable.
Oh, a brief note on the cookie sheets — we tried this last year with cheapo teflon sheets and it appears that either the beeswax or the lye (I’m guessing the lye) dissolved the teflon and made it come off attached to the pretzels. Considering that overheating a teflon frypan can kill a parrot in an adjacent room, I must implore anyone trying this at home to use only stainless steel pans.
Anyway. Here’s how they look once we’re past the poison step:
And there you have them: German Christmas Pretzels.
Now on to some of the less lethal entries for the day, Black and Tan cookies:
How to? Make a double batch of this recipe and a double batch of this recipe, leaving out the chips and nuts. Put a bag of chocolate chips in the peanut butter cookies, and a bag of peanut butter chips in the chocolate cookies. Drop 12 half-size balls of peanut butter dough on to a sheet, then drop a half-sized ball of chocolate dough next to each one. Press them together with your fingers. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.
Lastly, here are the merangues. I used this recipe. I had no piping bag, and so I used a ziploc bag instead. They’re really yummy, and look all pretty and swirly. I’m very, very glad that I didn’t opt to add cocoa to the recipe, considering their shape.
So yeah! Big Day o’ Baking here at Clockwerk Haus. Thanks again to the luvverly husband, who helped out a ton. Having him help roll cookies and pretzels made the work go about twice as fast — we got all this baking done in about five hours, start to finish.