Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Soft Pretzels

 He's a fatty, the little Brando, but I love him anyway

I have a confession. Come closer.

Closer. I don't want anyone else to hear.

Ok, here it is. I love soft pretzels, and for years...

I bought the frozen kind in the big blue box. You know the ones.

I'm ashamed. Deeply. But I've changed! Repented! I have seen the light (inside my oven. Before it burned out). I've been making my own soft pretzels for about a year now, and could never, ever go back to "those" pretzels.

These are very similar to that iconic pretzel you can buy in the mall, the one that goes perfectly with a large Orange Julius (and I have the recipe for that, also! Thank you FN magazine).

The key to the recipe is the baking soda bath. Really crucial. Skip it, and you'll have nothing more than plain white bread twisted into a pretzel shape. And that's no fun. And your children won't love you as much anymore if you try to pass it off on them. You'll get evil looks, I promise.

Don't skip it.

You know what else I love about these? You can freeze them. You can make up a big batch, wrap them individually, and then freeze them for later.

I love freezing delicious things for later.

Soft Pretzels
(makes a dozen)

1 1/2 cup warm water (about 115 f)
4 tsp yeast*
1/2 c plus 1 Tbsp sugar (divided)
5 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil

For baking soda bath:
1 qt hot water
1/4 c baking soda

Kosher salt (optional)

In a large cup or bowl, proof the yeast with the 1 1/2 c warm water and 1 Tbsp sugar for 10 minutes. While that's proofing, sift together the flour, salt, and 1/2 c sugar. Add the yeast mixture and oil to the dry ingredients and stir until the dough comes together. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth, about 6-8 minutes.

Put the dough into a lightly greased bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap until doubled, 1-2 hours (the warmer it is in your home, the faster the yeast will rise).

Once the dough has doubled, preheat your oven to 450 (f) and start the quart of water barely simmering in a pan on the stove. Turn the dough out to de-gas it. Cut into 12 equal pieces (cut in half, then each half in half, then cut those four pieces into three equal pieces). Roll each piece into a thin rope (about 20" long), and then shape into a pretzel. Prepare racks for drainage (I use cooling racks). Add the baking soda to the water and give it a quick stir. Add each pretzel to the water (1-3 at a time, depending on the size of your pan) and let soak there for about 15 seconds (they'll float to the top). Remove and let drain for a few minutes on the rack.

Place the pretzels on a parchment lined baking sheet, sprinkle with kosher salt, and bake for 8-9 minutes, until golden brown.

*I always fail to mention that when I list yeast as an ingredient, I use the standard Fleischman's active dry yeast (not instant).

Notes: You can do quite a lot with these. Melt some butter and then brush it on the tops of the pretzels when you take them out of the oven (you'll never look back). Sprinkle on some rosemary, or some cinnamon sugar. Go nuts.

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