If you grew up close to Philadelphia, chances are you saw a drunken Mummer, got frost bite at a Thanksgiving Day parade, or booed the Eagles when Randall Cunningham’s pass was not completed (or when Santa Claus took the field. But I really think we’ve moved past that). And while you were doing these things, chances are you had a soft pretzel in your hand. The pretzel probably came from a concession stand at the Vet, a hot dog vendor near the art museum, or even from (and I’m disinfecting with hand sanitizer as I write this) a metal shopping cart on South Street.
I relish those days of crazy fans, parades and soft pretzels. Sure, I love a good Philly cheese steak, but the soft pretzel holds a special place in my heart…right next to Rocky movies and water ice.
Making soft pretzels at home is easy. It takes basic ingredients and a little patience. I had both this weekend; I also have a spouse that worked at a popular pretzel shop (which will go unnamed) and he was able to share with me a roll-snap-cross-uncross-pinch technique to give the pretzels there shape, which no doubt made him very popular with certain mall-dwelling teenage girls in the nineties.
You know who you are.
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons baking soda
In a small bowl, mix 1 teaspoon of sugar into 1/4 cup of warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over it, and let this stand for 10 minutes. If the mixture is separated, you can stir it a bit to dissolve the yeast.
Combine 1 1/2 cups warm water, flour, and salt in large bowl, then stir the yeast into the mixture in the large bowl.
Knead for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and stretchy. If the dough is really sticking to your hands, you can add a little more flour. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray, and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel, and place the bowl on a warm surface, like on a rack in a warmed oven with the oven door open. (Or in an oven with the light on and the door closed.) The dough should rest for about an hour, and should be about twice its original size when it’s done.
Gently punch dough down and roll it into a log. Depending on how big you want your pretzels to be, separate the dough into portions. (This recipe will make as many as 12, but we like larger, puffier pretzels, so our dough made 6).
Roll each portion into an inch-thick rope (you can go as thin as 1/2 inch). Pick up the ends of the rope, then cross your hands so that your arms make an X. The dough will be in a circle. Then un-cross your arms (crossing the ends of the dough) and pull the ends of the rope down and pinch the ends to the bottom of the dough circle, making a pretzel shape. Place the pretzels on a greased baking sheet.
Mix together 2 cups of warm water and the baking soda. Dip each pretzel into the water completely, shake it off and place it back on the greased cookie sheet. Repeat with each pretzel, and then sprinkle with the kosher salt.
Bake at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes.