Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Special Pretzels

"As early as 610AD, at a monastery somewhere in Southern France or Northern Italy, the monks used scraps of dough and formed them into strips to represent a child's arms folded in prayer. The three empty holes represented the Christian Trinity.

The monks offered the warm, doughy bribe to children who had memorized their Bible verses and prayers. The monks called it a Pretiola, Latin for little reward. From there, the pretzel transformed into the Italian word, Brachiola, which means little arms."

This was in an article my grandma sent me when I was about 12 years old. It was around the time I really wanted to start cooking on my own. My parents always nurtured my interest in cooking- from the time I was old enough to help stir, I was in the kitchen if there was something to be done.

I remember my mom helping me make the soft pretzel recipe my grandma had included with the article. And if memory serves, it didn't go well. (laughing at myself right about now...) I was 12, I didn't have the patience or respect for dough that I do now. I remember some funky shaped dough and some very dark, um, "pretzels."

I haven't attempted to make another batch since. Until today. Let me tell you, time and additional cooking experience paid off.

Look at these golden shapes of happiness!

They are so good. They have that ball park pretzel feel to them- a shiny, slightly crisp outer crust and a soft, airy, satisfying center. Top them with some mustard. Oh yea, it's a perfect food for this girl!

I used to wonder how in the world pretzels and bagels got that "snap" and shine on the outer crust. It's very unique. It's a baking soda and water bath.

Here's the pretzels before I gave them their 30 second bath in simmering soda water.

After the bath they get an egg wash and salt (I recommend pickling salt, but I didn't have any on hand). Then, bake them for 12 minutes. Super easy!

So, thank you Grandma S. for the inspiration so many years ago. And, thank you to Cooking Light for putting this recipe in your book so I'd have to give pretzels another go.

Here's to you and your culinary adventures, friends. Cheers!

Soft Pretzels
Makes 12
141 calories per

1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided (about 14 1/2 ounces)
1 tsp salt
Cooking spray
6 cups water
2 TBS baking soda
1-2 TBS cornmeal
1 tsp water
1 large egg
2 tsp kosher or coarse canning 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 non aluminum 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. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until pretzels are deep golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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