The Pretzel Problem

One of my fondest food related memories is eating a pretzel for the first time.
I was 12 and we were on holiday. After a day of fun rides at Disney, we decided to get a little snack and ended up buying soft pretzels and root beer from one of the adorable, little stalls. It smelt incredible, the scent of freshly baked, warm bread wafting out of the little yellow cart and the minute I was handed the buttery, sesame-studded pretzel, I ate it and washed it down with a swig of root beer.

And it was love at first bite.
That pretzel was insanely delicious and since then, I have been a pretzel-lover. It should be noted, however, that being the bread lover that I am, I would eat any carbohydrate, no qualms whatsoever.

The issue at hand however, was that upon my return to India, I haven’t eaten a single pretzel that I’ve loved. Nothing ever came close to the buttery, incredible deliciousness that I feel in love with and I’ve been obsessed with perfecting the art of pretzel making ever since.
The issue with all the pretzels I’ve eaten weren’t that they weren’t delicious but instead that they lacked that fantastic, chewiness and that TASTE that makes pretzels so different from regular bread. I needed a good pretzels and a couple of months back I decided to sacrifice any social interaction (and my waistline) till I baked the perfect pretzel at home.
My sanity depended on my ability to find that perfect pretzel.
And a few months back,
I struck gold.

The secret, it seems, to making delicious, chewy pretzels as opposed to bready ones is this:

It’s dunking the pretzels in boiling water with baking soda.

This recipe is perfection and shall deliver you to pretzel heaven.
Thank me later.

Soft Pretzels
Adapted from Martha Stewart, Smitten Kitchen and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Makes 16 full-sized or 32 miniature
2 cups warm water (not hot!)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons fat (I’ve used both butter and canola oil)
1/4 cup baking soda (not powder!)
1 large egg
Coarse sea salt (pretzel salt if you can find it)
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and stir to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy. If you don’t have a standmixer, you can do it in a bowl.
2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another ½ cup of flour and let the machine knead it for 30 seconds. Keep going and keep adding ½ a cup of flour till 4/12 cups are up. Then if needed , ie: if the dough is still very wet and sticky add a ½ cup more. Then transfer to a lighty floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes/10 times or till smooth and elastic.
Note: If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can knead it by hand. Follow the same steps but knead for a 2-3 minutes everytime it says 30 seconds. Also note that you don’t have to knead for 2 minutes by the clock, it may take more time or less. Just knead till the dough feels smooth and elastic.
3.Grease a large bowl with the fat. But the dough in and cover with clingfilm/a damp tea towel and leave in a warm draft free area till about doubled in size.
4. Heat oven to 450°F/200 C. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove any air bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead gentlty. Split the dough into 16 pieces and cover with a tea towel.
5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. Twist into pretzel shape; and place on the greased/lined baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels. Cover the tray with wrap/a towel.Let the pretzels rest in a warm spot so that they rise a litte, this should take about 15 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, fill large, wide pot with 2 inches of water. Let it boil and add baking soda and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar to it. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Then take them out with a slotted spoon and transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached ON BOTH SIDES.
7. Beat egg with a spoonful of warm water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt and the sesame seeds. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Eat them warm, served with honey mustard and something cold to drink, preferably Root beer.
Note: the pretzels are best eaten the same day they are made. Do not store them in a container/cover them, they will get soggy.


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