The Inspired Plate Challenge | September |
Food Photography enhanced with Digital Texture

I am always thrilled for this time of the month when my photography group “The Inspired Plate” shares our monthly challenges. Each month we dare to stretch ourselves with a theme, topic or technique that is widely used in the field of photography, but may not be a regular in our own genre or style.

This month we introduce to you Texture Overlays in Food Photography. 

I have to say, I am a little jealous of the food photographers who use this technique of “Texturizing” with such mastery. I’m proud of the fact that one of our own TIPpers, Caroline from "Nowordz Photography" is one of those professionals who use it with ease and subtlety. Her work is beautiful! 

You may not see texture overlay’s on food often. It’s not really an editorial type style. Usually in publications vendors want their food to look clean, crisp, appetizing. Good enough to eat! But it does have it’s place, and with a delicate application the photograph takes on a very artsy expression.

This month was a challenge in using my time wisely! Which I have to say, I was NOT very successful at. Of course like many of us do, I waited almost till the last day to even think about my photograph. I did play with textures on other food photo’s and sought out textures of variation.. but when it came time to actually plan out and style my photo for this challenge.. I came up a little short. Sans a bowl of cereal! I did have some fun props though. I have been keeping these old magazine advertisements encased in plastic for YEARS now! I love them and have planned on framing a whole series of them for my kitchenette.. which I don’t seem to have much wall space for. But I was so glad to take them out of my prop box and use them in this simply styled shoot. I even tried to recreate what is happening in the photo. A bowl of cereal with a side dish of fruit.. And some vintage silver ware. I wish you could see the actual texture on the jar.. It is beautiful and has this elaborate cross hatch finish on it. It doesn’t look like it here, but it has a very pretty aged patina on it.. And the lid that came with it. 

There is one more bit of news that I am excited to share.. The Inspired Plate now has a Facebook Page! We have all been talking about it for awhile now, and I finally set it up Saturday.. Just in time for this months challenge post. I invite you to share and join in on the conversations there, take part in some of our on line events and even tell us what you would like to see in Food Photography! So please click on The Inspired Plate FB link and we’ll see you there!

Please take the time to visit my sweet and talented friend Jennifer Grant | Metro Detroit Photographer to see how she used textures in this months challenge!


Jono Vengo and his "Amazing" African Safari Animals!

Jono and Kat.. my oldest kids setting up the giraffe
Worthy of a blog post.. my son Jono's amazing art work! I am so proud of this boy. He has been working for our cities planning and events department as a team co-ordinator and one of his duties is to paint murals for their special events. 

This event.. African Safari Animals. His talent get's better and better. He even sings and was awarded a position to sing the National Anthem at our cities 9/11 remembrance ceremony. I see big things in his future!! :) 

Jono and giraffe
Kat holding up the tallllll beastie! She's so petite! :)
The end.. or should I say "the beginning"! 

Bavarian Style Soft Pretzels

I'm always trying to figure out how to post a fabulous recipe without taking an hour to write it all out. Unfortunately.. I have a  r-e-a-l-l-y  hard time just putting up the ingredient list and directions without a short recap.

And then there's the recipe reviews.. of about 3 to be exact for this weeks Bavarian Soft Pretzel's.   Yes.. I wasn't satisfied with the 1st, 2nd, or even 3d! So my recipe is a culmination of what I liked from all three and an "ixnay" (nix, nada, zip) of what just didn't work for me.

First pretzel batch. Great risen dough and egg washed shiny!
The 1st. pretzel batch was definitely bready and rose beautifully! With a little.. ok, a lot.. too much egg in the egg wash, and the sugar was your everyday plain white table sugar. Sweet.. but no POW! My family LOVED them straight out of the oven, but by the second day they didn't have the same texture from straight out of the oven. hmmm, kinda eggy!

The 2nd. batch was SO interesting! It was straight from a German Octoberfest web site that I thought would be fool safe. The first indication that this was going to be intriguing is that it called for NO rise time. NONE!! Not even a rest. Another "hmmm". But hay, no rest or rise time means my family can expect pretzels sooner and I can get on to the rest of the activities during my busy day.  Also had no fat.. just yeast, water, flour, salt and brown sugar. I loved the flavor of the brown sugar. Come to find out, it was supposed to replicate the barley malt syrup flavoring that many original recipe's call for. This recipe also called for a lye water bath. One day, when I get up the nerve, I will order lye and give my german pretzels a proper water bath. But loe, this was not going to be the week. As I did more reading on the lye solution, I came to understand that it gives the pretzels their dark color characteristic with a more crunchy exterior and soft interior. I like the soft_soft.. so the baking soda solution suited me fine. This pretzel came out of the oven "tasting" very similar to the pretzels I remember on Hoffman St. in Philadelphia when I was a young girl. But the similarities stopped there. It quickly became hard and chewy and the least favorite among my kids.

The 3d batch of pretzels was so much closer to what I wanted from a true Bavarian Soft Pretzel.
It called for a dough rest and rise. The soda solution was weaker only 2 Tbsp. compared to the stronger solutions in the other recipes. White sugar instead of brown, a fat added by way of margarine (which you will NEVER catch me using), and it called for NO egg wash. Yay!! It clarified in the recipe that the lye or soda water bath was also the glazing step. Most of the german recipes omitted any egg wash in the recipes. So, I also omitted it.
Umm, I'm not sure the pretzels had that shiny glazing that I liked with the first one, but I was thrilled with the taste.. other than the malt or molasses flavor I would have preferred with the brown sugar.

My conclusion, this recipe I have adapted from what I thought to be the best of ingredients and prep styles to get just the right chewiness and texture for an original soft pretzel.
I hope you enjoy this recipe..  and If you do make it.. PLEASE come back to tell me how you fared!!

For leftovers.. which I hope you don't have, they say you can store them in a plastic bag and re-heat for 15-20 seconds. I prefer the no-leftover rule, because pretzels always taste the best right out of the oven.. dipped in mustard or your favorite cheese sauce!

xo Laurie m. Vengoechea

Bavarian Soft Pretzel’s
yield one dozen pretzels
By Laurie M. Vengoechea

1 cup warm water between 105° and 110°F 
2 ½ tsp. active dry bread yeast or 1 packet
2 Tbsp. melted butter brought to room temperature
2 3/4 cups bread flour
½  tsp. Sea or Kosher salt
1 Tbsp. barley malt syrup (if possible) or 1 Tbsp. Brown sugar

5 Tbsp. baking soda 
7-8 cups water

Coarse Grey Sea Salt
*I use Sel Gris De Gue’rande that I buy at my local spice merchant

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup warm water and packet of yeast.
Let stand for a few minutes till it foams up. Add 1 ½ cups of flour, 2 tbsp butter, ½ tsp salt and 1 tbsp barley syrup or brown sugar.  Mix well for around 3 minutes.

Slowly mix in the remaining 1 1/4  cups of flour, knead dough until all of the flour is mixed in and dough loses its stickiness.

Set aside in bowl and let it rise until dough doubles in size.

Divide dough into twelve equal pieces. Using the palms of your hands, roll each piece into about 12”-18” length coils. The original Bavarian pretzel has thinner ends and a thicker middle. Twist and loop the lengths into pretzel shapes and place on greased or parchment lined baking sheets. Put a horizontal slit on the bottom thickest part of the pretzel. Allow pretzels to rise again for 20 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 425°
Have a pot of boiling water with baking soda for the alkaline solution ready. With a plastic spatula, carefully place 1 pretzel at a time into the boiling baking soda solution for 15-20 seconds. It will float around the top of pot. This solution adds a glaze to the pretzels as well as gives them there soft texture. Take out and drain on wire rack and then transfer to pre-pared baking sheets.
Sprinkle with course sea salt or pretzel salt.

Bake in pre-heated oven for approximately 18 to 20 minutes. Enjoy hot with mustard or cheese!