It's such a soul-satisfying pleasure to indulge in soft, warm pretzels, fresh from the bakery. Mmmmm, what a treat, and how those coils of dough bring back wonderful pretzel-filled memories of a trip to Bavaria. I spent two weeks with friends who were working there, and I ate with enthusiasm the entire time, everywhere we went. I reveled in the opportunity to experience first-hand the food of my Bavarian roots, comparing each dish to Mom's or Grandma's version of the same. But the memory of warm pretzels, grainy mustard and a pilsner of cool beer also reminds me you can enjoy comfort food and good company in any locale.
A neighborhood shop, Columbia City Bakery, offers fresh pretzels and pretzel knots every day, and I'm tempted more often than I care to admit. What's my excuse for not making my own soft pretzels very often? No excuse, they're easy and don't take long from start to finish. However, I think they're best eaten warm and fresh and there are only two of us to enjoy eight pretzels. That becomes an issue for the waistline. Now that I have pretzels on my mind, this could become a multi-batch week where I lure friends and neighbors in to enjoy an afternoon snack. Pretzels, mustard, cheeses, cured meats and pickles with beer - let's just call it happy hour or pre-supper event.
Pretzels rolled, dipped, salted and resting before baking
Butter-Brushed Soft Pretzels
Based on a recipe from King Arthur Flour Co., yields: 8 pretzels
2 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) regular instant yeast
about 1 cup warm water (aim for a soft dough)
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons baking soda
coarse, kosher or pretzel salt or sesame or mixed seeds
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
You can use a stand mixer or choose to work the dough by hand. Place all of the dough ingredients into a bowl, and beat till well-combined. Knead the dough, by hand or machine, for about 5 minutes, till it's soft, smooth, and doesn't bounce back when you poke it. Lightly flour the dough and place it in a plastic bag; let it rest for 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 500°F. Prepare two baking sheets by spraying them with vegetable oil spray, or lining them with a silpat or parchment paper.
Place the dough on a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into eight equal pieces. Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. While the dough rests, mix the 1/2 cup warm water and the baking soda in a shallow bowl. (Be sure the baking soda is completely dissolved, it's important!)
Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin rope (2 to 2 1/2 feet long) and twist each rope into a pretzel, shape. Dip each pretzel in the baking soda wash to give the them a golden-brown color, and place them on the baking sheets. Sprinkle them lightly with a coarse salt or sesame or mixed seeds. Allow them to rest, uncovered, about 10 minutes.
Bake the pretzels for 8 to 9 minutes, or until golden brown. It helps to reverse the baking sheets halfway through.
Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter. Keep brushing the butter on until you've used it all up. I know , I know, it seems like a lot of butter, but it makes all the difference to the taste. Trust me.
Eat the pretzels warm, or reheat them in an oven or microwave. Store them uncovered, or in a paper bag (not sealed in plastic) if you have any left. Want to nibble on a smaller bite? you could aim for tiny pretzel knots, but pretzel holes or knobs (think donut holes) are an easier solution. You might reduce the oven temp and cooking time a bit - experiment and keep an eye on them so they don't over brown.