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Hot Soft Baked Pretzels

We haven’t had much in the way of summer yet – plenty of rain, cold temperatures and even slushy snow last weekend. Which means coming up with interesting projects for the kids. Making pretzels is a great way to fill an hour, or an afternoon.

The process is amazingly easy – it’s funny that we are expected to build our own decks and do our own taxes, and yet the thought of making things like pretzels from scratch seems daunting. I can’t think of a better recipe to make with kids – the stirring together and kneading of a simple yeast-raised dough – watching it rise to double its size like a science experiment – shaping it into pretzels (or letters, numbers or any shape, really) then boiling, scattering with coarse salt or sesame or poppy seeds and baking until deep golden. Kids adore them. It makes a big batch – perfect for a party – or to stock up the freezer for quick lunches.

The boiling step is what gives them the dense, chewy texture typical of a good baked pretzel – if you shape the dough into a circle and boil, then bake them the same way, you’ll have bagels. From scratch!

To make pizza pretzels, spread boiled pretzels with thick tomato sauce on the baking sheet; scatter with grated cheese and bake as directed.

Hot Soft Pretzels

1 pkg. active dry yeast (or 2 1/2 tsp.)
1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (105 – 110 degrees .)
1 tsp. salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, or 2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat
Extra flour for dusting work surface
Coarse sea or kosher salt or sesame seeds for sprinkling

In a large bowl combine yeast, half the brown sugar, and 1/2 cup water and let stand 5 minutes until foamy. Add remaining sugar and water and stir well. Add 1 cup of flour and salt and stir until well blended. Add the remaining flour 1 cup at a time, mixing by hand until incorporated. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 5-7 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a tea towel and let stand for 40 minutes in a warm place.

Dust your work surface with flour or cornmeal. Divide dough into 12 pieces and roll into long, 1/2″ thick ropes. Shape into pretzels, pressing ends to secure the dough. Cover with a tea towel and let rise on the countertop or on a baking sheet for 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450° F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and stir in 1/2 tsp. baking soda if you have it. Drop pretzels into the boiling water a couple at a time and cook for 1 minute, then flip and cook on the other side for a minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pretzels to a baking sheet and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden.

Makes 1 dozen pretzels. Serve warm, on their own or drizzled with mustard.

Per pretzel: 158 calories, 0.4 g total fat (0.1 g saturated fat, 0.1 g monounsaturated fat, 0.2 g polyunsaturated fat), 4.6 g protein, 33.2 g carbohydrate, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g fiber. 2% calories from fat.

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