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Soft Pretzel Lust

 Shaping the pretzels

I never cease to be amazed at the endless varieties of bread-type items you can get when you combine flour, yeast, water, salt and some type of shortening. Depending on how you vary those simple ingredients, you can get so many types of breads, rolls and other yeast doughs, it is still dazzling to me.

Yes, my cookie sheets are THAT disgusting! Sorry, they get lots of work around here.

The magic of yeast is just so wonderful to me. I love starting with what looks like nothing to get excited about, and then wham, you have bread dough. The best part, you look like a total rock star when the stuff actually looks and tastes GREAT. Huge bonus!

I have a long-standing love affair with soft pretzels. My mother used to buy us these frozen ones and make them for us on occasion. They are good, but can get horrible freezer burn and can taste a little flat.

I have been making my own for awhile now and the results are nothing less than earth shattering. They are so much tastier than any pretzel you can buy (frozen, fresh or anything in between). They are lighter and have a satisfying crispness on the bottom. You don't need any exotic, special ingredients, so you can make them when you are having a craving.

The results

Ready for their close-up

The only bit of fussiness is the poaching, but believe me, the results are sooooo worth it!

Mr. Smith prefers to consume his pretzels with Trader Joe's Whole Grain Dijon Mustard. I am more of a traditionalist, plain old French's Yellow Mustard suits me just fine.

As soon as you taste it, you are instantly transported to the last baseball game you attended, the mall, the New York street corner...any spot where you would normally have a soft pretzel. The coarse crunchy salt. The tangy bite of the mustard. The crisp, golden brown outside and the soft lovely inside. Perfection.

These embody my childhood in a way very few foods really can.

The secret to perfect soft pretzels

Today we may try using them for sandwich rolls. I am unnaturally excited about this! I will let you know how it works out.

This recipe came to me from Martha Stewart via Smitten Kitchen.

Soft Pretzels

Makes 16 full-sized or 32 miniature

2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt
Vegetable-oil cooking spray

1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and stir to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.

2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten times, or until smooth.

3. Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

4. Heat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each) or 32 if making miniature pretzels, and wrap in plastic.

5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip.  Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; eight will fit on each sheet (you may need a third sheet if making miniatures). Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.

7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.

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