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soft pretzels

did you know that people in philadelphia eat 12 times as many pretzels as the average american? if you’ve ever been to an eagles, sixers or phillies game, you’ve seen the guys on the street selling them on the median – and while it would probably turn off most people, anyone from the area knows you can’t go wrong with a street pretzel. go ahead, buy a few. you won’t be able to stop after the first one. pretty good, huh? maybe you should get a few more.

the $550 million pretzel industry can be traced back to german immigrants that settled in southeastern pennsylvania. they’ve been churning them out by hand since the 1800s. it takes a skilled hand to get it right, but with a little practice you can get close.

i’ll admit, my pretzels were pretty ugly, but they still tasted great. next time i might try a few different toppings, like cinnamon and sugar or almonds, but it’s hard to improve on perfection. in fact, i usually keep my pretzels plain – NEVER MUSTARD. i can’t be the only one who hates it.

are they as authentic as the soft pretzels you can buy from the guy under the overpass in center city philadelphia? not quite, but they’re a quick and easy solution when you don’t liveĀ  too close to the real thing. but rest assured that when i head home for the holidays, i’ll be replenishing my supply.

soft pretzels
makes about five pretzels. from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day [1].

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
6 1/4 cups flour
egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water)
coarse salt for sprinkling
extra flour for pizza peel
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cream of tartar

1. mix the yeast, salt and sugar with the water in large bowl. mix in the flour without knewading, using a spoon. cover and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (about 2 hours). you can keep the dough in the fridge for 2 weeks.

2. dust the surface of the refigerated dough with flour and cut off a 3 ounce piece. dust the piece with flour and quickly shape it into a ball. elongate the ball, dusting with additional flour as necessary. roll it back and forth with your hands on a flour dusted surface to form a long rope (about 12 inches long).

3. twist into a pretzel shape by first tying a knot, then looping the ends around and joining them back to the loop. repeat with the remaining dough. allow them to rest for about 20 minutes. preheat the oven to 450 F with a baking stone in the oven. place an empty broiler tray on the lowest shelf.

4. brig a large saucepan full of water to a boil. reduce to a simmer and add the baking soda and cream of tartar. drop the pretzels into the simmering water one at a time. they need enough room to float without touching. let them simmer for 2 minutes and then flip them over with a slotted spoon to cook the other side. simmer for another minute.

6. remove the pretzels from the water and place on a clean kitchen towel lightly dusted with flour. then place them on a pizza peel covered with flour. brush with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt. slide the pretzels directly on a hot stone or bake directly on a baking sheet. pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and bake for about 15 minutes, until the pretzels are deeply browned and firm. for crisper pretzels, bake for 5 to 10 minutes longer.