Congratulations to Frances Quinn on winning the BBC’s Great British Bake Off for 2013. The Technical Challenge in the final was to produce half a dozen pretzels, using only an outline recipe from Paul Hollywood – and to do it against the clock.
So how hard is it? I thought I would have a go.
I didn’t have access to Paul Hollywood’s recipe, so looked up a few on the internet and found a couple that seemed closest to the stages included in the programme. Both the recipes used only plain flour, but I used 25% strong bread flour to give it a bit of lift. I resurrected dried yeast in dark muscovado sugar and malt extract, then mixed it with the flours and the salt. I added 25g of butter to enrich the dough a touch.
The Technical Challenge famously does not include details on all the steps and I found that the two recipes I had varied radically on whether or not proving was necessary. I dediced to prove for an hour, then shape and dip into the water and soda bath. I had 1.5 litres of water and 2 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda, that fizzed away enthusiastically.
My first major problem was: what shape, exactly, is a pretzel? Without a picture, I found it impossible to visualise! After a few experiments, I rushed upstairs and looked them up. Ah … so that’s it! I made a big batch – sixteen – and they took ages to prepare. Once in the water, however, they each floated to the surface in seven seconds, so it was easy to fish them out and put them on a baking tray, slash the thick middle, dust with salt and put in the oven.
What I did find is that I needed to make the oven hotter than either recipe suggested – about 230 degrees C proved the most effective – and that the second batch, that had proved for an extra half an hour, were a much better shape.
In the end, I was satisfied with my first attempt. But, if I had to do it blind, in the Great British Bake Off tent, without access to the internet, I’m sure I would have ended up as happy as Ruby!
Pretzels – a technical challenge