We’re buckled down here in New England, and the radar shows that most of the East coast is doing the same. I’m happy to have our snug and cozy family time back after two whole grueling days of being back to ye olde work-and-school routine. Whew. Time for a break!
As long as the power stays on, I’m definitely up for a baking project, and these pretzels are pretty great when you actually want something that will occupy the kids for a while. Instant gratification they’re not—I actually didn’t even mention them until the dough had risen and was ready to shape. But they’re worth it. “So much better than the ones at the mall,” says Soph. Most definitely.
We made these a lot when I was a kid, and I remember spending tons of time trying to make letters, dinosaurs, even fortune pretzels. When you’re shaping, keep in mind that they need to hold up through the poaching process, and that they’ll rise and expand quite a bit more as they bake. But they won’t need to be beautiful to be delicious.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 16 full-sized or 32 miniature pretzels
2 c warm water (100 to 110 F)
1 T + 2 tsp sugar
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 T salt (kosher or table salt here)
2 tsp olive or canola oil
1/4 to 1/3 c baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse salt or pretzel salt (I used Baleine coarse sea salt because I already had it hanging around)
Mix the dough:
Combine warm water, 1 T of the sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl if you’re doing this by hand, which is not hard, since there’s not a lot of kneading involved). Let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Add 1 cup flour and combine thoroughly. Add the regular salt and 4 more cups of flour, and mix until combined plus another minute or two. Add 1/2 cup flour and do that again. Is it still very sticky? You might need the last 1/2 cup of flour. If it’s winter and your house is dry as a bone, I doubt you’ll need it (we didn’t). Give it one more whack, a/k/a knead it about 10 times on the counter. Scrape out your mixing bowl, then add oil and spread to coat the inside. Put your dough back in, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and put it in a warm spot for an hour.
Shape the dough:
Punch down your lovely dough and divide it into 16 equal pieces. I love a bench scraper for this job. Put the pieces under plastic so they don’t dry out while you’re shaping. Now you can let the kids have at it.
Roll each piece out to about 16-18 inches long on a lightly-floured board or counter. Now you can braid it, shape it traditionally (make a loop, cross the loop over twice, pull the ends down the center of the circle and you’ll wind up with a loop on each side and your nice little twist in the center), or go to town with your imagination. Place the shaped pretzels on a parchment-covered baking sheet.
Right about now, you want to preheat your oven to 450.
Poach your pretzels:
This is what makes them taste like pretzels! But this part is definitely an adult’s job. Bring 1 1/2 inches of water to boil in a wide, shallow pot. (I used my biggest saute pan.) Make sure you have at least an inch of pot above the water level. When your water is boiling rapidly, add the baking soda and remaining 2 tsp. sugar—things will foam up! Put the water at a simmer and add 3 or 4 pretzels. You may have to turn up the heat again to keep the water at a simmer, especially if your pot is good and wide. I use a fish turner to move the pretzels into and out of the water, since they need delicate treatment and good straining. Poach for 1 minute, then flip over in the water and poach 40 seconds to a minute longer. Drip dry them slightly as you move them back to the baking sheet, and repeat with your next batches.
Glaze and salt:
Beat the egg with 1 T water, then brush the pretzels with the glaze. Sprinkle with coarse salt. If you like sweet pretzels, switch out the salt for cinnamon sugar here.
at 450 for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are golden to deep brown, depending on how crispy you like your pretzels. Cool 5 minutes on a rack. These are best eaten the day they are made, which is not a problem over here!