Lardo & Smoked Salt Pretzels

I got my days all skewed last week. Why did I squander a balmy Friday evening slaving away in a humid kitchen when Sunday was so miserable? Oh well, with our unpredictable weather, these things can’t be planned, and I had prosecco to keep me chilled so don’t feel too bad.

My Friday baking session was prompted by an insatiable craving to make pretzels. I’m guessing this stems from my booking a trip to Berlin paired with a highly suggestible nature. Pretzels, the soft kind, have never held any sort of appeal to me. I mean, neither have the little hard ones, but thats a given due to my ambivalence towards hard snacks. I felt like I *ought* to like the soft kind, I mean – bread, but couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for a plain twist of it, neither deep fried, filled or doused in sugar and spices.

Then I found myself with several hours to kill at Berlin airport with very little food options other than pretzels and/or sausages – I’m convinced these are the mainstays of a German diet – this was my moment. Crestfallen my pretzel came with no accompaniment than the paper napkin it was wrapped in, it’s safe to say I had low expectations.

Imagine my surprise then as I pulled off a piece. I tore through chewy skin into soft, yeasty bread, spiked aggressively with nuggets of salt. I couldn’t fathom how it could be so delicious or taste so uniquely of ‘pretzel’. Yet I continued to eat until there was none of the knotted bread left and my mouth stung from salt’s bite. Such a revelation was it that I immediately purchased another for my dinner when I went through to departures and cursed myself for discovering this new love just as I was leaving the country.

I knew I needed to make them myself. I also knew that despite having never made them before, a basic recipe would never inspire me and so I devised a, not too complicated, spin on a classic. That overwhelming saltiness paired with deep yeasty flavour notes had my head in a spin and was something I wanted to push further. Lardo leaves behind the same aggressively salty kiss but with porky silky sweetness, so I’ve added this in place of butter to enrich and push saltiness through the dough, topping with smoked salt to build layers of flavour.

I’m going to be honest here, I couldn’t be faffed to deal with the whole knotting technique, so little batons were good enough for me. I served them for dinner that evening with bratwurst and then again for breakfast with fruit, labne and a little truffle honey for pre gym indulgence – a versatile bread I’ll certainly make again.

Having not made them before, I stuck fairly strictly to the instructions on the BBC Good Food website for German Soft Pretzels 

Lardo & Smoked Salt Pretzels –  Makes 8 batons

500g plain white flour

130g luke warm water

130g luke warm full fat milk

40g rendered lardo (or butter)

half a tablespoon dark muscovado sugar

1 sachet fast action dried yeast

1 teaspoon salt

1 litre water

3 tablespoons baking soda

Halen Môn smoked salt

Put 100g of flour in a bowl with the yeast and water, cover with cling film and leave for 5 hours to develop a deep yeast flavour.

Finely dice a good chunk of lardo or fatty prosciutto and put into a pan in a medium heated oven until it renders down. Drain off and reserve the fat and also the remaining lardons.

Add remaining flour to yeast mixture with the sugar, salt, milk, rendered fat & lardons and knead until you get a firm and smooth dough. Leave covered for around an hour until doubled in size.

Knock back the dough and divide into 8 equal sized balls, then roll each into a sausage shape. Leave uncovered in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise again.

Boil water in a large saucepan and add the baking soda.

Place the risen pretzel batons near an open window with a cold breeze, or do what I did and blast them with a fan for a couple minutes, this helps them develop their skin and unique texture.

Drop the pretzels, one at a time, into the boiling liquid and fish out after around 5 second.

Lay them straight onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, sprinkle with smoked salt then cut deep slashes into the top of the dough.

Place into an oven pre heated to 200 degrees for around 15 minutes or until a deep brown.

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