Big, soft, homemade pretzels are always a hit, but they’re even more so when instead of twisting them into a traditional pretzel shape, I turn them into hearts. (It doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day to spread a little lunchbox love in the form of a chewy heart-shaped pretzel!) Boiled, then baked, the technique that gives them that chewy texture, pretzels are easier to make than you might think, and make a fun activity with the kids. Sprinkle with coarse salt – or any other toppings you like – after boiling and before baking until they’re a crisp golden brown.
The dough is simple to make – knead until it’s smooth and elastic, then let it rest until it doubles in size. When you’re ready to shape your hearts (or pretzels), roll ropes of dough fairly thin, keeping in mind they will swell again on the countertop, and then again (significantly) in the pot of boiling water. Lowering them in gently on a slotted spoon will ensure they keep their shape.
Big, Soft Pretzels
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (one package)
3/4 cup lukewarm water
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
2 Tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
4 – 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
For the boiling solution:
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking soda
Pour a bit of the water into a large bowl, stir the yeast into about half of the water (measure it, then just pour a bit into the bowl to make sure the yeast is active); let it sit for about 10 minutes. If it’s not foamy, toss it out and buy fresh yeast.
Add the rest of the water, milk and canola oil to the yeast, then stir in about 3 cups of flour and the salt. Add about a cup more flour, and when it becomes too difficult to stir, turn it out onto the counter top and start kneading. Once all the flour is incorporated, keep kneading, adding extra flour if it’s too sticky, for about 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for an hour.
Cut the dough into 10 pieces and roll each into a rope, and shape into pretzels or hearts, pinching the ends to seal. Let them rest on the countertop for 15 minutes while you bring 2 L of water to a rolling boil with the salt and baking soda. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Boil about 3 at a time, so you don’t crowd the pot (they will swell) and bring the temperature down, and simmer for a minute per side. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and place on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. Sprinkle with coarse salt as soon as they come out of the water, so that it sticks.
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden. Makes about 10 pretzels.