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Soft Pretzels (hold the mustard)

September 16, 2011

Many moons ago (read that as months), my husband and I had a wedding celebration luncheon with some of our friends and family here in Southern California.  We (read that as I) put together a wedding registry.  One of the items on the registry was a bread machine.  One of our guests was actually nice enough to purchase the bread machine for us (thank you Dave!).

For months, that bread machine sat in its box on the floor next to shelving unit where we keep all of our kitchen appliances.  It was looking sad and lonely and probably wondering if it would ever get used.  The reason I had wanted a bread machine to begin with is that I had read that a bread machine is actually one of the best and most economical kitchen appliances you could purchase because ultimately, if you make your own bread rather than going to the store and buying bread, it’ll not only be healthier for you, but you’ll save a ton of money.  Well, with the machine on the floor in its box, it wasn’t really doing me any good.

One night, for some reason, my husband and I were talking about the bread machine and all the possibilities it held.  And the topic of conversation turned to soft pretzels as that’s something we both enjoy.  The next day, I looked up some recipes and surprisingly, it seemed like making pretzel dough was quite simple.

That evening I went to the grocery store, bought myself some active dry yeast for the bread machine and I went to town.  It turned out that making pretzel dough using the bread machine really was easy.  As long as you put the ingredients into the machine as instructed, and let the machine do its thing, you don’t really have to do anything at all.  The bread machine mixes the ingredients, kneads the dough and also allows it to rise.  I only used the machine to make dough, but you can also have it make bread where it will actually bake the bread for you.  Now, how much more simple can it be?

In order to make soft pretzel dough all you need is one package of active dry yeast, a tablespoon of sugar, 3 cups of flour, 1 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of oil.  My bread machine instructions call for the liquid ingredients to be put into the bread pan first, followed by the dry ingredients on top covering the liquid.  You leave the active dry yeast for the last ingredient always.  Once the ingredients are all in the bread pan, you’re supposed to create a little well on top where the dry ingredients are, and pour the active dry yeast into the well, making sure that the well you create doesn’t go all the way down to the liquid ingredients.  You don’t want your liquid ingredients coming into contact with the yeast in advance or else it causes the yeast to bloom and your dough won’t come out correctly.  Once the ingredients are in the bread pan, the pan goes into the machine, the cover goes on, and then you set your bread machine to the dough feature.  Press the start button and then sit back and let it do it’s thing.  I will watch the machine and make sure that the ingredients combine the way they are supposed to in forming the dough.  I’ve noticed that when I use a dough recipe, the recipe doesn’t seem to call for enough water, and when the ingredients start to combine, the dough is too dry and the flour sticks to the bread pan.  So you do have to watch your dough a little bit, and add water if you think your dough is too dry, or add flour if you think your dough is too wet.  I’ve also had to use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bread pan to help the kneading tool grab all of the flour and form the dough.  Once your relatively certain that your dough consistency is fine, just let the machine do its bit.  Sit back and watch TV or find something else to do because in total it takes 90 minutes for the dough to cycle through the machine.

Once the bread machine is done, you’ll see that your dough has started to rise and is resting.  Here’s where the real work and magic happens.  Take the dough out of the bread pan and put it onto a light floured surface.  Divide your dough into 4 parts.  Divide each quarter into 3 additional pieces.  You should now have 12 pieces total.  You want to roll each piece into a rope about 18 inches in length.  Here’s where the fun and creativity come into play.  Each rope needs to be shaped into whatever design you want your pretzel to be.  You can make a traditional pretzel shape, or you can have some fun with it and make all sorts of shapes.  I decided to make traditional pretzels as well as snails, musical notes and hearts.  But the possibilities are endless.  Once your pretzels are formed, place them on a greased cookie sheet.  Let the pretzels rise, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.

In a large saucepan, create a soda bath for your pretzels.  Combine 2 quarts of water with 1/3 cup of baking soda and bring the water to a boil.  Carefully, place one pretzel at a time into the soda bath, letting each side simmer for about 10 seconds.  Lift the pretzel out of the soda bath using a slotted spoon and place it back on the greased cookie sheet.  You’ll see that the pretzel dough really absorbs the moisture from the soda bath.  Let the pretzel dry briefly before you brush the top of the pretzel with an egg wash (lightly beat 1 egg white to create an egg wash).  The egg wash will really help the pretzel obtain it’s golden brown color as well as create a somewhat crunchy exterior while keeping the inside moist and soft.  At this point, if you want, you can sprinkle your pretzel with coarse salt or sesame seeds.  I chose to leave mine plain.

Now here’s the easiest part.  Place the cookie sheet into a preheated 425 degree oven.  After 4 minutes, turn the cookie sheet around and bake for 4 more minutes.  When the pretzels turn a rich golden brown color, you know they are done.  When you take them piping hot out of the oven, you can now also sprinkle them with a cinnamon sugar mixture or dip them into melted butter for added flavor.  Congrats, you’ve now got yourself some home-made soft yummy pretzels.  And the hardest part in this whole process was using your creativity to make the pretzel into the shape you want it to be.  You can eve serve your soft pretzels with mustard (yuck! double yuck! triple yuck!) if you wanted (but really, why would you want to ruin your pretzel that way?).  Come on, don’t be afraid.  If I can make soft pretzels, so can you!

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