PHILADELPHIA SOFT PRETZELS
Here are some fun facts about pretzels. They were supposedly invented by an Italian monk in the 7th century as a reward for children who learned their prayers. Folded to represent arms crossing the chest, they were called “pretiola” or “little rewards”. They have been the emblem of the bakers guilds in southern Germany since at least the 12th century. And they used to be hidden on Easter morning just like eggs are hidden now, for children to find. They came to America with the first settlers, were used to barter with the Native people, and colonial American children would make a wish on a pretzel, just as if it were a wishbone; whoever got the bigger half could expect to have her wish granted.
Folks in Philadelphia eat nearly half of all the pretzels made in America. I can vouch for the fact that the soft pretzel, with yellow mustard, is available on practically every street corner in the city and reason enough to hop a train and head downtown. But we are far from Philly, so let’s make our own!
Philadelphia Soft Pretzels
You can cut this recipe in half or make them all and freeze them on the baking sheet after the boiling water step. (I’d put them on a towel to absorb the excess water before freezing.) When they are frozen hard, put the sheet on a kitchen towel you wet with hot water so the bottoms release from the metal. Pop them into a gallon baggie and take out as many as you want to bake whenever you like!
1 cup warm water
2 packages active dry yeast
2 Tablespoon sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
Measuring cups and spoons
Large mixing bowl
Large shallow pot
2 baking sheets
Table knife (not sharp)
Spatula or slotted spoon
Put the cup of very warm - not hot - water into the mixing bowl and add the yeast. Stir until yeast is dissolved.
Add the sugar and stir. Gradually add the flour and stir. As you are adding the last of the flour, the dough will become stiff and dry. That’s the way it should be. (But still, you may not be able to use all the flour -- it depends on your flour, the kind of weather…. So don’t worry if it doesn’t take all of it.)
Sprinkle some flour on the counter top and flour your hands. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. Knead this way: Press the dough flat pushing away from you with the heels of your hands; then fold the flattened dough in half, turn it 90 degrees and press it out flat again. Keep doing that.
Form the dough into a ball, put it back in the bowl, cover with a dish towel and put the bowl in a warm place for a half hour or more. The dough should double in size.
While the dough is rising, heat the oven to 400 degrees with the rack in the middle. Fill your pot half full of water, add the baking soda and bring it to a slow boil. Butter the baking sheet.
When the dough has risen, put it back on the lightly floured countertop. Flour the rolling pin and roll out the dough gently into a square, about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Using the dull back edge of a table knife, cut the dough with a back and forth sawing motion into strips as wide as your fingers. You don’t have to be too exact.
Twist each strip into a pretzel shape. Lay the strip longways in front of you. Roll up each end toward the middle -- like a double headed candy cane -- but keep coming around and when they meet in the middle, bring one side over and the other side under, then twist, and make the very ends of the dough to the bottom and pinch them together. Try not to stretch the strips too thin.
When you have all the pretzels made, put one pretzel at a time on the spatula or slotted spoon and lower it into the boiling water for about 10 seconds. Then remove the pretzel with the spatula or spoon and place it on the buttered baking sheet.
Beat the egg well in the small bowl and use a pastry brush to coat the top of each pretzel. Then sprinkle the salt over the pretzel.
Bake the pretzels for 12 to 15 minutes or until they are golden brown. Enjoy them while they are warm and try some yellow mustard on them.
Hint : If you are having trouble getting the ends of the strips to attach to the bottom of the pretzel, use a bit of the beaten egg to help it stick.