Ah, the Pretzel. So soft, so salty, so delicious. Aside from a cheese and cured meat platter, it’s one of my favourite companions with beer.
So it was a thrill to be invited to Kitchen Canada and attend a workshop on how to properly make an authentic, German pretzel, with suggested beer pairings by the folks at Great Lakes Brewery here in Ontario.
Said to be originally created around 610 AD by an Italian monk who used them as rewards for children who learned their prayers, the Germans, like cars, went with the original idea and perfected it. Of course though, there are many varieties of Pretzel out there from all different parts of the world.
Some fun Pretzel facts:
– Spelled and pronounced “Brezel” in Germany.
– Pretzels were a very common Easter gift. They would be hidden along with Eggs.
– The famous shape of pretzels are believed by some to be the shape of hands in prayer.
– The Pretzel was the symbol for South Germany’s Baker’s Guild. I like to imagine they were a kind of illuminati, but with more cupcakes and pretzels.
– The “skin” of soft pretzels is made by dipping the unbaked pretzel in a solution of water and lye (yes, the stuff from Fight Club). A substitute of baking soda can be worked with as well.
– Thanks to its heavy German population, Pennsylvania is the pretzel capital of the US. And here I was thinking the state was just the birthplace of the Crayola Crayon.
– You can put anything on pretzels. Chocolate, cheese, chili flakes, pudding. The only limit is your imagination.
– Famous former children’s entertainer Buggy Ding Dong likes his pretzels heavily salted.
The workshop, put on by Kitchen Canada at their lovely event space in Etobicoke, was taught by resident Bakers Marc Richter and Franz Dimplemier with Renee Navarro from Great Lakes Brewery providing beer samples. We learned about the ingredients that go in to making a pretzel dough, the importance of the lye or baking soda dip, and most importantly, how to properly roll and twist a pretzel (which the ever-patient Richter and Dimplemier retaught us several times when we attempted it). But more than that, as a group, we had fun. Figuring out the proper roll, teaching each other on how to knot the pretzels, talking about what other ingredients we wanted to stuff in to our dough for pretzel buns…these were fun things that made the workshop something worth going to. There were also a nice supply of mustards available for dipping and purchase (I may have bought a couple of bottles to add to my ever-growing mustard collection).
The beers were mostly a showcase of Great Lakes’ flagship beers (Red Leaf Smooth Red Lager, Crazy Canuck West Coast Pale Ale, and Devil’s Pale Ale), which was perfect for the crowd, many of whom had never even heard of craft beer. Like all events like that, it was fun hearing people discuss which ones were their favourite and asking questions to Renee, who was only too happy to answer. It should be said that a real crowd-pleaser were the cans of Harry Porter at the end. Although a version that includes Bourbon Soaked Vanilla Beans will be coming out to LCBOs next month, this version was the very tasty regular batch that I think turned a lot of people on to the idea of a dark beer beyond Guinness.
By the end of the evening I left the kitchen with two boxes of my own pretzels and stuffed pretzel buns, two bottles of mustard, and a full stomach. I have to say that it once again reminded me to go to these workshops/classes more often for myself. Although sometimes the recipe could be an easy one, the hands on experience, along with the fun social interaction with your fellow students, makes them a lot of fun to do with a friend or solo. That alone is often worth the price.
If you’re in the Toronto/Etobicoke area, The Kitchen Canada have another one of these Pretzel and beer workshops coming up in March. Apparently tickets go fast.
And because I don’t want to stop at just an event review, I’m going to include a recipe from David Ort’s Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook, which I wrote about last year. No, this isn’t his fantastic no-knead pretzel recipe, but instead it is my favourite condiment to have with pretzels: mustard. IPA Mustard, in fact. It goes without saying that this can be used in things that are decidedly not-pretzel and it is strongly encouraged to mess around with the different beers and variety of mustard seed. Either way, after first reading this recipe I now keep a mason jar filled with my homemade mustard in the fridge at all times. Here it is:
American-style India pale ale
Boneshaker India Pale Ale, Amsterdam Brewery (Ontario)
India Pale Ale, Southern Tier Brewing (United States)
makes 1 cup (250 mL)
preparation time 10 minutes, plus at least 4 hours to soak
scant ½ cup (125 mL) mustard seeds
½ cup (125 mL) India pale ale
4 tsp (20 mL) vinegar (your own beer vinegar is best, but cider or white vinegars are fine substitutes)
1 Tbsp (15 mL) brown sugar
½ tsp (2.5 mL) kosher salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) nutmeg
1. Soak the mustard seeds in the ipa for at least 4 hours or overnight.
2. Reserve a quarter of the soaked mustard seeds. In a mini food processor or blender, combine the other three-quarters of the soaked mustard seeds with the vinegar, sugar, salt and nutmeg. Blend for 1 minute or until most of the seeds have lost their individual texture.
3. Fold the reserved seeds into the mustard.
4. Pack into a scrupulously clean Mason jar, seal tightly and store in the refrigerator.
The mustard is ready to use right away, but will only get better with a few days to rest, and should last for at least 4 to 6 weeks.