It seems as if I have now robbed you of baby carrots, tilapia, and now pretzels! I heard more grunts and groans about these three items than I have heard of any other foods that I have written about. I was certainly completely unaware of how many people had this great love for pretzels. Since we’ve received many phone calls and emails regarding this beloved snack item, let me continue to burst your bubble and further disappoint by explaining, in detail, the process on how pretzels are made. Here goes…
The pretzel dough is made by factory compounders in large stainless steel tanks. The flour and warm water are stored in bulk and transferred to the tanks automatically. The yeast is added and the three ingredients are blended with high-speed horizontal mixers. When these are adequately blended, the rest of the ingredients such as sugar, sodium bicarbonate, vegetable shortening, salt and flavorings are added. Compared to many dough products such as bread or crackers, pretzel dough is relatively under mixed. This allows the dough to withstand the punishment of machining without becoming too sticky or misshapen. The dough is then allowed to ferment and rise for about 30 minutes.
The fermented dough is then transferred to the hopper of the shape-making equipment. Traditionally, pretzels were made by rolling the dough and twisting it into the familiar pretzel shape. However, today most companies have extrusion devices in which the dough is forced through an opening and stamped into shape with a wire cutter. The excess dough is recycled. The dough is mixed in large vats by factory compounders. Once fermented, the dough is transferred to a hopper, which feeds the shape-making equipment while the stamped pretzels are transferred to a conveyor. They are passed under rollers to ensure a flat surface and uniformity of size.
Dipping and salting
The raw pretzels are next conveyed on a wire mesh belt to an alkaline bath. It generally takes several minutes for the pretzels to reach the bath. This slow transport is deliberate as it allows the pretzels to undergo another short fermentation or rest period. The alkaline bath is filled with an aqueous solution of either sodium carbonate or lye. The resulting bath has an overall 1% concentration of sodium hydroxide. It also is held at a temperature of about 200° F (93.3° C). The pretzels are dipped in the bath for 10-20 seconds and typically float when they are finished. This process gelatinizes the starch on the pretzel’s surface making it gummy and sticky, allowing the salt to adhere more readily. After the pretzels leave the hot bath, they are passed under a machine which delivers salt crystals to their surface. Modern pretzelmaking lines use a vibrating salter, which consists of a vibrating plate driven by a series of small motors and magnets. The salt is evenly distributed on each pretzel with the excess falling through the wire mesh belt and being recycled. Generally, the aim is to add about 2% salt to each pretzel.
The in-process pretzels are next transported to long, gas-fired, convection tunnel ovens. The cooking temperature varies from 350-550° F (176.7-286.1° C) and this baking step takes from about 4-8 minutes. In the front of the oven, the temperature is significantly higher than at the end. The initial high heat caramelizes the gelatinized starch, which produces the characteristic dark brown pretzel color. The temperature is gradually raised at the start because if heated too fast, the structure of the pretzels will be weakened which could cause cracking and breaking during shipping. At the end of the oven the temperature is cooler to allow moisture in the pretzel to be released. During this entire baking cycle, the moisture content is reduced to about 15%. In the next baking phase, the pretzels are kiln dried or oven dried at about 250° F (119.4° C) for anywhere from 20-40 minutes. This further reduces the moisture content to below 4%.
From the ovens, the pretzels are passed along varies conveyors and allowed to cool. They are then moved along to the packaging machines. Here the pretzels are weighed and the correct amount is placed in the packaging. They can be put in many different types of packages including trays, boxes or bags with cellophane or polyethylene protected coatings. It is important that this packaging be air tight to prevent the uptake of moisture by the product. Excessive moisture would cause them to become soft. The package must also have consumer appealing graphics, which help it stand out on a store’s shelves. Most major bakeries distribute products to all of the largest cities in the world. Consequently, there are very few people who are unfamiliar with pretzel snacks.
So, did you get the visual about the lye bath? Let’s see – let me quote one of my favorite lines from a movie – Jack Nicholson from Terms of Endearment: “I would rather stick needles in my eyes!”
I know you are not happy about a lot of the information I send you regarding food – in fact, your favorite foods. But my mission in life is to get you to live to 100, free and clear of pain and suffering. So, in an effort to leave you on a good note, you might have to give up your beloved pretzel but here’s a tasty treat that takes minutes to prepare, gives you far more satisfaction than a pretzel and you can even sprinkle salt on it.
- 2 large bunches kale, washed and dried thoroughly
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Tear apart large potato chip sized pieces of kale, some still on stalk, some not.
3. Place enough kale on large baking sheet so most don’t overlap and lightly drizzle with olive oil (about a tablespoon). Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss well.
4. Spread kale out evenly and bake for 10 minutes, shaking pan bake and forth a few times after 5 minutes to ensure they don’t burn.