Marje's Sourdough Pretzels (Bavarian style) (20 pretzels)
- 1-1/2 cups sourdough starter (that's a whole separate recipe)
- 2 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup beer
- ¼ cup hot water
- 1-1/2 cups white flour (King Arthur brand)
In a large glass bowl, stir together well, cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight on the counter.
Put sponge in heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook attachment. Working with ½ cup at a time, incorporate 2 cups flour into dough. It should be quite firm but flexible; if you slap your hand against the dough, it should not stick to your hand. When you shape this, you shouldn't have to use any extra flour.
Turn into a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 3 hours.
To prepare for baking:
Put 2 quarts water into a ceramic bowl; wearing powder-free latex gloves and eye protection, add 2 Tablespoons food grade lye, and let it dissolve. Set aside. Rinse the gloves off with water, dry them on a kitchen towel, and remove them. It doesn't matter if they turn wrong side out; you can reverse them easily by starting to turn them, then blowing into them like a balloon.
Working without gloves, reach into the dough and pull off a piece the size of a jumbo egg. Re-cover the bowl. Roll the dough between the palms of your hands, working wherever it is thickest, until you have a fairly even strand about 18 inches long. Now, working over a cutting board or counter top, lay the strand out flat. Pick up one end in each hand, lift up the strand and flip around, so it twists once. Flop it down on the counter, and bring the ends and twisted section towards you, pulling the twist into the circle of dough. Lay the ends down across the circle at the 4 o'clock and 6 o'clock positions, and press lightly. Lay on a metal cookie sheet that has non-stick spray on it. Repeat with remaining dough (9 to a sheet). Let them rest for 20 or 30 minutes.
Decide how many you'll bake; these do not keep well, and are best fresh. Put whatever you'll save for later into the freezer. Put what you will bake now into the refrigerator and chill for half an hour; this makes them easy to handle without distorting the shape.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and put one rack into the top position. In your sink, arrange a draining rack to hold the dipped pretzels for a couple of minutes. Take the pretzels out of the refrigerator and remove them to a plate. Put your gloves and glasses on, pick up a pretzel and gently lay it in the lye bath. When you have 3 or 4 in the lye, start timing for 90 seconds, turning them over midway through. Pick them up one at a time and lay them on the draining rack. Put the next batch in the lye, then move the drained pretzels to the cookie sheet. When the sheet is full, salt them liberally with Kosher salt. Bake for 14 minutes, eat while they're warm. Oh, wow, are these incredible. Treat the frozen pretzels the same way; you don't need to thaw them.
Don't use coated bakeware; it will peel; don't use cast iron, it will peel; don't use glass, the pretzels don't brown evenly, and the crust gets too thick. When you're done with the lye mixture, run cold water and pour it into the sink. After all, it IS drain cleaner!