Sunday, October 30, 2011

Giant Soft Pretzel Skeleton

I used to be a massage therapist (seems like another life, really).  In my course of study, I learned all the bones of the body.  Well, I actually learned them in high school and then learned way MORE about them in massage school, but that makes me sound like too much of a nerd...  So when hubby came home a few weeks ago and asked if I could make him a snack to take to his office Halloween party, I immediately longed for an anatomically correct skeleton.  I am so tired of seeing incorrectly formed skeletons casually on display.  And I love eating and making soft pretzels.  It seemed like a match made in heaven!

I am not a total idiot, and I know that I will have to make some compromises on the anatomical accuracy.  For example, I am not going to make a hyoid bone.  (Look it up.)  Or a crapload of tarsals and carpals.  No one would recognize them in dough form anyway... :-)  But I can do better than the leg bone is connected to the other leg bone. The skeleton at least deserves to have a tibia and a fibula and a femur separated by a patella, right?

To make the skeleton somewhat proportional, Hubby and I looked up some art charts to see what the ratios are between body parts.  We found that 8 heads is about right for height, and the shoulders are about 3 head heights across (although not anatomically correct, the 8 head height looks better to the human eye, so we ran with that.  In reality its more like 6.5-7 heads, or so I read).  We wanted to fit the skeleton on 2 large cookie sheets that were 16" long each, so we used 4" as our "head height" and then used that as the basis for everything else.  I drew up a quick sketch of what the bones should look like so I had something to follow, and went to town on the pretzel dough!

my foot looks lame, but I ran out of room and can't really draw worth a darn...
Soft Pretzels
2 1/4 t yeast (one packet/envelope)
1 1/2 c water at about 110 degrees
1 t salt
1T sugar
4c flour
1 egg
coarse salt
extra flour for kneading and dusting

Combine yeast, water, salt, and sugar in a small bowl or measuring cup.  Allow the yeast to activate (bubbles should form).  Add yeast mixture to flour and knead.  Add flour until dough is not sticky, but still is a little tacky.  Knead until dough is silky.  Put dough in a bowl or leave on counter, cover it with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes.  If you do not let the dough rest, it will be harder to roll out and will spring back on itself a LOT, so don't skip this step unless you want to fight with your shapes.  It will puff up a little from the yeast, but knead it a little and it will deflate again.

Kneading dough is therapeutic!
For the regular bones, I rolled the dough into ropes and cut it up, then shaped it as I wanted.  To roll the dough into ropes, start with your hands in the middle and roll them outwards away from one another.  If the dough is not tacky, it will not stick to the counter and will not roll nicely.  If this is the case, dampen your hands and continue to roll it.  Make sure you do NOT flour the surface you are rolling on or it will not work, either. :-)  My counter still had flour on it from kneading, so don't be confused!

Some of the bones, like the femur and humerus, I left very thick and created knobby "dog bone" ends by splitting the ends with a knife about 1 cm in and shaping each bit into a knobby ball.  The other bones I made of varying thicknesses as was appropriate and shaped them as needed.  Tip: use a butter knife to cut off the tapered ends after you roll the dough into ropes to keep more uniform thickness to your pieces.  

For the solid bones of the hip and skull, I rolled the dough out with a rolling pin and cut out the shape with a butter knife.  Once it was on the cookie sheet I smoothed the shapes a little with my hands.
I traced one hip bone to make the other so they looked kind of symmetrical.

For the patella, the "carpals" and "tarsals" I pulled a piece of dough out, rolled it in my hands, and flattened it into an appropriately shaped disc.
most of the upper skeleton and the hips


feet... only marginally better than my drawing... if even that.
Brush the pieces with egg, sprinkle with salt (if you want salt) and bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.  You may want to bake the larger bones together and the smaller bones together on separate sheets and then rearrange them later, so you do not over or underbake certain ones.  Keep in mind that your bones will puff a little in the oven so you may want to space them a little farther than you will in the fully assembled skeleton, and you may want to adjust your dough shapes to make sure the puffing doesn't affect the overall look.

Much puffier now than before baking.  But much more beautifully golden!
I wanted to make a spicy cheese dip to go with this, but I was too sick this weekend to mess with it.  I am sending hubby with mustard instead.  All in all, this took a whole afternoon, but it was totally worth it because it was so fun and looked so cool!  We had a bit of dough left, so I baked that up and snacked on it while making dinner.
Originally I wanted the hips on the top sheet, but the hands took up too much space so I added some vertebrae and moved it to the bottom.  The feet STILL look lame.  Oh well.  I tried.

Of course, you could just make pretzels and forget the whole skeleton thing... They still taste just as good!

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