The Astronomer and my mother have one very interesting thing in common—a compulsion to buy soft pretzels while shopping at the mall. Whether sweet or savory, Auntie Anne’s or Wetzel’s Pretzels, the two most important people in my life always seek out this warm and carby pick-me-up whenever I’m focused on expanding my wardrobe.
While my mom and I were trolling the shops at Fashion Valley last weekend, she paused for a pretzel break in between our requisite stops at Banana Republic and J. Crew. Craving something on the savory side, she chose a plain pretzel slicked with melted butter and sprinkled with coarse salt. Maybe I was malnourished from shopping so intensely this afternoon, but the pretzel tasted incredibly good. Its texture was soft yet toasty, while its flavors were rich and satisfying. I stole more than half a dozen bites from my mama.
Several days later, I was still thinking about that darn pretzel. Rather than drive to the mall for an easy fix, I headed to the supermarket for yeast and kosher salt. Homemade pretzels are far and away more laborious than forking over $3 to the lady behind the counter; however, I found the entire process fun, challenging, and quite delicious.
The pretzels taste best fresh out of the oven, so go ahead and eat four in one sitting. It’s the right thing to do.
- 1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
- 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided (about 14 1/2 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Cooking spray
- 6 cups water
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon water
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water in a large bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 3 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes). Add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly sticky).
Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 40 minutes or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425°.
Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), roll each portion into an 18-inch-long rope with tapered ends. Cross one end of rope over the other to form a circle, leaving about 4 inches at end of each rope. Twist the rope at the base of the circle. Fold the ends over the circle and into a traditional pretzel shape, pinching gently to seal. Place pretzels on a baking sheet lightly coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 10 minutes (pretzels will rise only slightly).
Combine 6 cups water and baking soda in a nonaluminum Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer. Gently lower 1 pretzel into simmering water mixture; cook 15 seconds. Turn pretzel with a slotted spatula; cook an additional 15 seconds. Transfer pretzel to a wire rack coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining pretzels.
Place pretzels on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Combine 1 teaspoon water and egg in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until smooth. Brush a thin layer of egg mixture over pretzels; sprinkle with kosher salt. For cinnamon and sugar pretzels, omit the salt completely.
Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until pretzels are deep golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Paint with melted butter for extra richness if desired. For cinnamon and sugar pretzels, paint with butter and sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
Makes 12 pretzels.