The best bread in Paris isn’t made in any Parisian boulangerie, it’s made chez Christoph, the home of an affable German fellow who stunned me at a party a few months back when I savored more than my share of his excellent, hearty, homemade multi-grain bread.
He told me that each Saturday, he bakes just two loaves of multi-grain bread to last him through the week in his tidy Parisian kitchen, overlooking the Pantheon. A biologist during the day, I envision Christoph tinkering in the kitchen until he got his bread just right (he said it took him years). Although I offered to come by on next week to buy bread from him, he brushed me off with a hearty laugh.
(Hey, I wasn’t kidding. I never joke about anything as serious as my pursuit of great bread.)
Working as a pastry chef for 25 years, eating all that chocolate and butter and sugar, I crave all-things salty. And I can’t think of any better vehicle for crunchy grains of coarse salt than chewy, puffy pretzels.
Luckily I was invited to come, roll, and twist away!
When I arrived, he’d already made the dough (very sneaky, presumably guarding the recipe!) So we kneaded the mixture a bit, then divided up little rounds of the soft dough, rolled and pulled them into snake-like ropes, making sure to keep a moderate bulge in the middle, which he said would help them keep their shape better during baking
Once the dough is rolled, he swiftly gathered the two ends, twisted them twice, then folded them over the chubby dough, creating the classic pretzel.
The dough rested for a while, then was refrigerated.
Afterward, he told me to be careful, as he took a suspicious little vial from his cabinet, which contained milky-white little pellets.
“It’s sodium hydroxide”, he said. “It will eat a hole in your clothes.”
…and we’re going to eat this?”, I’m thinking.
He dissolved a handful of pellets in water by stirring briskly, then floated the unbaked twists in this solution, apparently this is what gives pretzels that familiar shiny coating.
A few large grains of salt are sprinkled over, and into the oven they went.
For some reason, we had to wait a while to eat them.
I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was my American urge to have-it-all-and-have-it-now. It was torture.
After about 30 minutes of watching them resting on the counter (and about 10 unsubtle hints from me…) he finally got the hint and let me sample one. Still slightly warm, yeasty, with that inviting little crackle of salt, they were the perfect pretzel.
Then I had another.
Soon the other guests arrives (I’d already consumed 3 pretzels beforehand, since I have a habit of eating more than my share) and we had a big feast of German food: sauerbraten, Hax’n, Cucumber-Feta Salad (which a woman from Norway brought. It wasn’t very German, but it was tasty), and Alisa’s Mandelbroten.
And I brought a towering German Chocolate Cake for dessert, attempting to navigate through the crowded buses and hectic sidewalks of Paris. I didn’t have much success, but no one seemed to mind. There wasn’t a crumb left, and when no one was looking, I got to lick the lid.
Homemade Soft Pretzel Recipe (Alton Brown)
Pretzel Croissants (City Bakery)
Soft Pretzels, Refreshed (Smitten Kitchen)
Chocolate Pretzel Recipe (Derby Pie)