When I was six or seven years old, I asked for a baking kit for my birthday. Maybe it was a cartoon I saw about the Pied Piper kidnapping a baker’s son, but nothing looked better to me than the piles of steaming bread that baker pulled from his wood-fired oven each morning with a large flat wooden peel. For a couple years of my young life, I desperately wanted to be a baker. What could be better than forming a living from football-shaped pieces of dough and crust, not to mention the multi-faceted benefits of doughnuts and pastries? Once obsessed with in all ways possible, that dream was smothered by my Mother when I was informed so matter-of-factly what hour of the morning I would have to begin each day if I pursued this baking career; somewhere between three and four-thirty.
“You’d be stressed-out and fat too,” She added for punch.
So, after years of wise thinking and sobriety, why do I possibly think it will be a joy to make hundreds of doughy things and sell them at the Waverly Farmers’ Market on a chilly morning starting way before sunrise? Well, the childhood dreaming caught up to me again, except not inspired by a cartoon this time. After a few iterations of homemade soft pretzel making, I adopted the grand idea of selling the delicious and fun-to-make novelties to supplement my volunteer work in Kenya. Unfortunately, I believe that after tomorrow, I will no longer list soft pretzels with the the few true pleasures of life (at least for some time into the future.)
Yesterday, Alyssa and I slaved well into the night to make three dozen of the chewy twisted delights. All that work and only 36! That number represents roughly one 5lb sack of flour, some sugar, yeast, butter, baking soda, a gallon or two of water, salt and sweat! Why so few in such a long amount of time?
Have you ever rolled this cabin chinking “dough” into 18″ long x 1/2″diameter snakes? It’s not as easy as your preschool days with play-doh. In fact, I’m inspired to find or invent a machine to make this meticulous task more efficient if we’re going to get into any kind of production mode. Every other step is a snap compared to the “snake making.” Due to this fact, Alyssa and I broke into a competitive midnight battle to crown Pretzel Royalty. I concede that she won, despite my whining: two votes to nil. I can mix, knead, boil and bake second to none, but she is the Queen of the Snake Roll. My pretzels continually deformed, fell on the floor, were lumpy and generally too small or too stringy and stiff to fetch gourmet snack status. Her’s had a quality control I just could not master.
After spending a few too many hours only producing 36 pretzels, I have to bite the bullet and spend the majority of a critical Friday workday doing nothing other than snake making, twisting, boiling and baking. Otherwise, my commitment to sell lots of these fantastic natural, hand-formed pretzels this Saturday morning will be a fool’s promise. I really should sit down and crunch the numbers to know if this idea is logical from a business viability standpoint-even with free labor. To tell the truth, other than ambitious support from friends, I have no good reason to work so hard to make so little.
On that note, what would you be willing to pay for a steaming and chewy dough-friend, freshly warmed in a Dutch Oven buried in charcoal on a cold February morning in the city? Especially for a good cause?