I have a minor complaint to file against Hannah’s Bretzel. I can get over their hipster/yuppie-friendly “organic” marketing plastered everywhere because they do make some pretty good sandwiches, albeit at a premium due to the organic hype machine. What really annoys me is the slogan on their signage: “Twisted and tasty since 1477.”
Now to most people, I would imagine that translates to something like “founded in 1477 and operating ever since.” Well at least that’s what I thought, but I was skeptical that a German sandwich shop (I assumed it was of German origin) of such longevity would bother opening up an outpost in the Chicago Loop. I googled and found out from their website that 1477 actually corresponds to the year that their style of bretzel was founded, and not the actual shop. I’m not really sure how you can “found” a bread, but apparently you can. Misleading marketing if you ask me. I liken it to if I opened up a Chinese restaurant that served grilled meats and had the slogan “Peking and primitive since 400,000 BC.”
In any case, I’d never had bretzel before going to Hannah’s, but after my first bretzel sandwich, I became a fan. The flavor and texture are much like a soft pretzel, but the form typically takes the shape of a roll or baguette. My coworker’s attempts to replicate bretzel as good as Hannah’s inspired me to give it a shot as well, following the same recipe with the intent to use the bread for banh mi.
As part of my ongoing experimentation with bread, I departed from the recipe a little and decided to allow for delayed fermentation of the dough and added salt directly into the dough. Obviously from the picture, I could’ve done a better job storing it in the fridge. I wrapped it way too tightly, and as it slowly expanded overnight, it busted out of the plastic wrap and formed a funny, monster-looking shape (the 2 small balls are the eyes and the big ball is the nose).
Similar to bagels and soft pretzels, the dough is boiled slightly before baking to give it a dense and chewy interior. The recipe called for boiling the dough in baking soda, and I made the mistake of dumping the baking soda in boiling water all at once, which produced a huge overflow of bubbles.
The bretzel came out with great texture. Dense, chewy, and soft on the inside with a yielding crust. The flavor, while still pretty good, was no match for Hannah’s. For one, I don’t think I added enough salt to the dough and had to add salt to the bretzel on the outside to bring out more flavor: something I wanted to avoid since I was going to use the bretzel as a sandwich vessel. Also, the delayed fermentation did little to add any flavor. Hannah’s is simply tastier than what I could produce on my first try.
On the plus side, it made a good vessel for the banh mi that I made. The natural sweetness of the bretzel did well to compliment the general banh mi flavors, and the yielding crust of the bretzel alleviated my main gripe against banh mi: the hard crust of a baguette tears up the roof of my mouth when biting into it in sandwich form. I’ll definitely be playing around with baking more bretzel in the future as it’s pretty tasty, even when baked by a novice like myself.