Ah... soft pretzels. They are delicious and reminiscent of high school breakfast fare. (Well, if you went to my high school, at least.) Warm out of the oven they are an absolute treat! So let's get baking, shall we?
I chose Jeannie Yee's Mall Pretzels recipe (which I found on Allrecipes.com). I liked this recipe because the instructions were for hand-mixing, which is how I prefer to make my breads. I did make a few changes by poaching my pretzels in boiling liquid, rather than just dunking them in a baking soda mixture, and by applying an egg wash before baking. But before I get too far ahead of myself, let's assemble our ingredients:
Ingredients for the dough:
- 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 teaspoons seas salt (or 1 1/8 tsp table salt)
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup bread flour
- 4-6 tablespoons baking soda (1 Tbsp per cup of water used - see below)
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
- margarine (to grease bowl)
Then knead your dough on a floured surface for about 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
In the picture below I have just begun kneading - this is not what "smooth and elastic" looks like. If you are a beginner, like me, you might want to check out Sourdough Home where they have posted some very helpful videos about kneading. In the videos they show the poke test, and they describe the windowpane test here; both good ways to make sure that the gluten in your dough is developed enough for the dough to rise well.
Next, use your margarine (or butter, oil, or whatever) to grease a bowl - plop your dough ball in it when you've finished kneading, and turn to coat the dough. Now cover and let it rise for an hour. Meanwhile take your dog on a walk or read your favorite magazine. Don't you love baking bread?
After the dough has risen, divide it into 12 pieces. Roll each one out like a Play-Doh snake. The original recipe, which is aiming for those big pretzels you buy at the mall, suggest making them 3 feet long and pencil thin. But that seemed a little unmanageable, so I made mine short and squat. Even so, my dough ropes were easily 2 feet long each.
At this point, I took a hint from Smitten Kitchen's pretzel post and formed them on a non-floured surface. That little bit of tacky-ness helps them stretch. Also, let the first ones rest while you are forming the others, then roll them a bit more and they will stretch further.
Now we form our pretzels into shape, just like Martha Stuart does. (Not a big Martha Stuart fan, actually, but her little pic is worth a thousand words on how to form pretzels.)
I must admit, things got a little frantic at this point, so I am going to quote this portion of Martha's recipe (see if you notice what I missed at first):
"Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda. Reduce to a simmer; transfer 3 to 4 pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached." (emphasis added)
The trick here is to use a slotted spoon or slotted pancake-turner to remove your precious pretzels from their soda bath. I guarantee that if you attempt to use tongs and run them across your kitchen (no matter how small) to the baking sheet, it will induce stress. Please do not attempt. [wry smile]
Fortunately, I caught on and these were more delicately handled:
Now it is time to make up a quick egg wash. Crack the egg...
Add a tiny bit of water and stir it with a fork...
Then brush it on top of your pretzels.
Sprinkle some of that irresistable Kosher salt...
Bake at 450* for 8 to ten minutes, and wa-la! Beautiful,
...or maybe not so beautiful (but still tasty) pretzels await your consumption.
On the off-chance these are not consumed immediately, they can be stored for up to two days, uncovered on the counter and then reheated in the oven for a few minutes. Or, if you'd rather, you can store them in a paper sack. Avoid using a plastic bag, because "the salt on the crust will leach out moisture from the crust if kept in a plastic bag" and the result with be pathetically soggy.
I made these for New Year's Eve and they were quite a hit. We only had a few people over, so I was lucky enough to have some left-over. I ate the last one this morning for breakfast with a homemade uncheese dip. It was very highschool.