At the top of my list of universal truths is this one: outside of the farmers' markets, no tomato beats a home grown one. Some foods are worth the effort to grow at home, and some aren't. I put carrots in that second category. Mine seem to come out too small, gnarly, and bitter.
Soft pretzels are the culinary equivalent of the homegrown tomato.
Dissolving the yeast and setting the dough aside to rise.
The homemade versions are much better than the standard soft pretzel from a food truck or a ball game. This recipe comes with a warning, then: once you make pretzels at home, you won't want to eat them anywhere else. Fresh out of the oven, with a crisp shell and chewy, doughy, middle, they are divine.
Rolling, rolling, rolling.
An added bonus is that they are fun to make. Dough is always great for children to manipulate, and this dough gets rolled into long cylinders and formed into pretzel shapes. It's like rolling and shaping clay or play dough, but this dough is okay to eat. In fact, when you think about it, we should all get rid of the play dough and keep a stash of pretzel or pizza dough in the refrigerator for play time. It offers the same amount of fun, but at the end of the process, we can cook it into something delicious.
Shaping the pretzels and dropping them into their boiling water bath.
This recipe came into our lives from my brother-in-law, one of many great recipes he has shared. Now we make pretzels to accompany soup for dinner, as an appetizer, or as a stand-alone snack. There really is no bad time of year for them but I think fall is the best time. As the weather gets cooler and we start to hunker down for winter, they are perfect to eat in front of the fire, or while snuggled in front of the TV. As Olivia says, "They're warm and soft, and melt in your mouth. And they're very comforting on a cold day."
I probably don't need to say this, given that pretzels are essentially a bread product, but the children all loved them. In fact, we brought them to a neighborhood party this weekend and they were devoured immediately. I admit that I strolled around with the basket of hot pretzels telling everyone that they really should eat them right away because they were best hot. But nobody seemed to mind.
Second Helping: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip After School Cookies
Homemade Soft Pretzels
These pretzels are best eaten while they are hot, fresh out of the oven.
Makes 1 dozen pretzels
2 hours preparation time (including the rises)
about 15 minutes baking time
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 cups unbleached white flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
8 teaspoons baking soda
large-grained sea salt or Kosher salt for sprinkling
Measure the yeast into a large mixing bowl and add the warm water. Stir with a wooden spoon until the yeast has dissolved. Add the flour, sugar, salt, and butter, and mix with a wooden spoon to combine. Using your hands, mix a bit more to incorporate the butter. Don't worry if the butter doesn't mix in completely; some small lumps will give the pretzels a delicious buttery flavor.
When everything is incorporated, knead the dough until it is smooth and no longer sticks to the bowl. Cover the bowl with a dishcloth and let the dough rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. (I admit that I have cut this rise short -- to about 30 minutes, and the pretzels were still delicious.)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
After the dough has risen, punch it down, and cut it into 12 roughly equal-sized pieces. Sprinkle a bit of flour onto the counter to keep the dough from sticking and roll each piece of dough into a long snake. Form each snake into a pretzel shape and set it onto the cookie sheet to rise. Be sure to pinch the dough together at the meeting points to keep the pretzels from unraveling when you cook them. When you have formed all of the pretzels, cover them with the dishtowel and let them rise again for 15 to 30 minutes.
While the pretzels are rising, preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Fill a large, non-reactive pot with water and bring it to a boil. Add the baking soda.
After the pretzels have risen, add a few at a time to the boiling water and let them boil for about 1 minute. As you take each pretzel out of the water, shake it a bit to remove the excess water and place it back on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the coarse salt on top. After you have boiled and removed all of the pretzels, bake them for 12 to 15 minutes until they are golden brown.
Jobs for children: This entire process is child friendly. Children can measure and mix the yeast, measure and mix the flour and butter, knead the dough, and prepare the baking sheets. Most fun of all, though, is for them to cut the dough, roll it into long snakes, and form it into pretzel shapes or any other shapes you like, really.