Guest Blogger: Helen Boltson, Proverbial Foodie

Today’s guest Blogger is Helen Boltson a self-styled foodie who has studied cooking and baking in the US, Thailand, and France. She started a cookie business while in college and worked at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, volunteered for charity events such as Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation and the Food Bank of NYC. She has eaten her way through over thirty countries and in addition to having lived in California, Colorado, and New York, she has also resided in France, England, and Brazil.

I actually met Helen’s homemade marshmallows before I met her. She gave some to Soo at the gym. They were delicious and she tells a funny story about how upon the first attempt of the Francois Payard recipe these same marvels of fluffiness came out like soup. Maybe she’ll share that story next time.

RYE NOT? by Helen Boltson

I am the proverbial foodie. I love to cook, bake, read cookbooks, food blogs, recipes on the Internet, from magazines and yes, I even love to grocery shop.
My cookbook collection is vast. Stacks of books are piled on the floor but my ceilings are 15’ high, so I still have plenty of space to expand my collection.

I recently acquired the book “Good to the Grain”, by Kim Boyce, a former pastry chef at Spago and Campanile. What attracted me to the book was its focus on using whole grain flours. There are entire chapters on barley, kamut, quinoa, teff among the 13 grains covered.

I decided to try to make something I had never made before, something familiar, yet with a twist: soft pretzels. The recipe in this book uses rye and all-purpose flour. Reading though the recipe it sounded like it would be fun to make.

Yeast and honey with a little water, I added some rye and all-purpose flour and was soon ready to knead. Worked out my upper arms for a bit, and then the dough was ready to rise.

The next steps were fun: cutting the dough into pieces, rolling each piece into a long snake-like shape, forming them into pretzels, and letting them proof. Here’s what they looked like after they had this second rise:

So far, so good and we are on to boil the pretzels. A very innocuous looking paragraph states “fill a large pot with 10 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Once the pretzels are proofed and the water is boiling, add the baking soda [1/2 cup] to the water.” I follow the instructions to a tee, and then BOOM, Mt. Vesuvius erupts and the 10 cups of water and ½ cup of baking soda from my 5 ½ quart Le Creuset are now on my oven, under my oven, under the wine rack, under the kitchen stool, and around the olive oil bottles, tool chest, tin of tomatoes, empty mason jars, and vacuum cleaner, all of which, due to lack of sufficient storage space, reside on the floor of my kitchen. Let’s just say that chemistry was not my strong suit and the words “boiling water” and “baking soda” did not cause alarm. Pause here for clean-up.

Eventually, the pretzels made it into and out of the pot, were sprinkled with some lovely chunky gray salt, and placed into the oven.

The pretzels had a lovely crunch on the outside and were chewy on the inside. You might not guess that there was rye flour in the recipe…at first taste you may think that they were made with whole wheat flour.

I still find evidence of some dried baking soda from time to time, but I would definitely make this recipe again, I think I’ll put my 12 quart pasta pot to good use!

Photos by Helen Boltson for making SundaySauce…

Soft Rye Pretzels (makes 12)

(Adapted from Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood)

For the proofing bowl and for the baking sheets:

2 TBL unsalted butter, melted

For the dough:

1-1/2 cups water

1 package active dry yeast

1 TBL honey

1 cup rye flour

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 TBL kosher salt

For the water bath:

10 cups water

½ cup baking soda

For finishing:

Course sea salt, such as Maldon or chunky gray salt

In a small saucepan, heat the 1-1/2 cups water over low heat until it is warm to the touch (approximately 100°). Put the yeast in a large bowl and add the water. Add the honey and stir to combine. Add the rye, all-purpose flour, and salt and stir again.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead. Add up to 1/2 cup all-purpose flour as needed, until the dough is tacky, but not sticky. Knead until soft and supple (approximately 12 minutes).

Lightly brush a large bowl with melted butter. Using a dough scraper, scrape the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and let rise until doubled in size (approximately 1-1/2 hours).

While the dough is rising, place two racks at the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 450°. Brush two baking sheets generously with melted butter.

Once the dough has doubled in size, place onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into 12 even-sized pieces. Roll each into a snake about 17” long, with thinly tapered ends. Form each snake into a pretzel shape by folding one-third of the left side over the center of the snake, and then one-third of the right side over the left. Place the shaped pretzels onto the buttered baking sheets. Let proof for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill the largest pot you have with 10 cups of water and bring it to a boil. If you have a tall wide pasta pot, that would be best. When pretzels are proofed and water is boiling, slowly add the baking soda to the water. Caution: if your pot is not tall enough and you add too much baking soda too quickly, the liquid may erupt out of the pot.

Place 2-3 pretzels at a time gently in the water. Boil one side for 30 seconds, and gently flip over and boil the other side for 30 seconds. Use a strainer or large slotted spoon to remove the pretzels, pat any excess water with a towel, and transfer onto the buttered baking sheets. Boil the remaining pretzels. Sprinkle with salt to your taste.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through (sheet on top rack to bottom rack, and turn front of sheet so that it is now in the back). When ready, they should be dark mahogany in color. Original recipe notes they are best eaten the day they are made, but I had great success refrigerating them and reheating them in a toaster. I even froze some and thawed them for a short while in a microwave and then toasted them. I know microwave plus bread product is usually not a good idea, but in this case, it worked quite well.


Filed under cookbooks, Food Writing, With Recipes

7 responses to “Guest Blogger: Helen Boltson, Proverbial Foodie

  1. Ken Trout

    Thanks for a great post. I laughed my ass off at your experience, but ONLY because I have recently gone through a similar ordeal. While making plum jelly (from the 1st step of climbing the tree to pick the plums plus hours & hours of stewing & straining), I turned my attention from a boiling pot of beautiful clarified juice & sugar for less than 5 seconds. In that brief time I, too, suffered a stove-top eruption of almost a gallon of “sticky goo” that drained through the holes under my burners and into every pot & pan below my island cooktop, and all over the floor. I DO FEEL YOUR PAIN!! …But your pretzels look beautiful and I can’t wait to try them! Thanks again for a beautifully-written post of your experience!

  2. Sounds like it was a fun experience, except for the Mt. Vesuvius part!

  3. I loved giggling over your little mishap, and so happy to know I’m not the only foodie that might have failed chemistry 101. Pretzels look yummy!

  4. Living in the bush in Oz we have never heard of all those grain flours let alone get them! We get Corn Flour, Wheat Flour and Rye Flour.

    Thanks for sending the interesting recipe Helen.

  5. Greetings from Florida! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to browse your site on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the information you present here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m amazed at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, great blog! – karen millen watch karen millen watch

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