“Step right up. Step right up, one and all. Five cents for a million thrills, my dear. You will see the most amazing tightrope walker. Swawollee! He’s the most famous sword swallower, of all time. And it’s all right here for you…”
You enter the red and white striped tent with such excitement and anticipation. Crossing through the opening flaps, you are automatically transported back in time. Back to the early 1900’s when Circuses were at their prime. You forget about all your troubles and are in awe; mouth agape, of all that is around you. Hundreds of people sitting neatly and looking intently onto the three ring circus performance in the middle of the stage. They, and you, have all paid good money to enjoy yourselves and get lost amidst the marvels that the circus holds. Elephants, lions, tigers, giraffes, tightrope walkers, fire breathers, jugglers, and unicyclists all perform such precise movements that work so perfectly together. Intertwined into somewhat of a dance, you start to believe that anything is possible. A woman, elaborately dressed is perched on top of a grand elephant and you’re automatically impressed, as how they’ve managed to train such an enormous wild animal, is beyond you. Applause raptures the entire tent, people begin to stand, few are crying, some are laughing, but everyone is having a great time.
You exit the main tent, and as you walk around the circus, enjoying the music, the sideshows and admiring the other guests, you suddenly stop in your tracks. Something has caught your attention. It isn’t a bearded lady, that has captivated you. Nor a tattooed man, or even a contortionist. No, this is something much more mesmerizing than a circus performer. This is something that even you can’t resist, and are willing to pay an arm and a leg for. The smell of warm pretzels fills your nose and instantly makes your stomach growl. It wouldn’t be a trip to the circus without a “carnival” snack. You make your way through the crowd, searching for the vendor with the treasure you seek. By now nighttime has fallen, the circus’ music is playing all around you, and the white light bulbs hanging on strings up above are the only form of illumination. The crowd is thick and tricky to maneuver through, you feel like you can’t breathe as smoke fills and burns your lungs. All you want is a warm pretzel and somehow you can’t seem to find it. You continue to make your way through the crowd, more determined than ever. You search and search and see people dipping pretzels into mustard. Finally, some progress. You resist the urge to bite people’s pretzels.
You look up, and there in the distance you see a beacon of light. A tiny cart illuminated with heat lamps, emitting the most powerful and enticing smell of all; warm soft baked pretzels. A man in a striped shirt, a vest and a bow tie is standing behind it, inviting guests to buy. With the horrible thought of pretzels running out, you pick up your pace, dash for the cart, pushing and shoving people out of the way. Now is not the time for formalities, pretzels are on the line. When you finally get to the cart you ask for three pretzels. A stern look. “Oh my children are waiting for me somewhere.” A lie. You haven’t any children. No, the three pretzels are for you. You scarf down the first one in pure delight. The second one you take your time and even make an effort to dip each piece into a bit of mustard. You’re relaxed now. Slowly walking through the circus, enjoying the crisp cold air, the music, the lights, you slowly and meticulously eat your last pretzel. You’re not sure if you’ll ever come back. If you will once again have the pleasure to encounter such an enjoyable atmosphere. If the time came, you’re positive that you could live without the circus, if need be. But one thing is for sure. Never in a million years could you live without warm soft pretzels. With a smile on your face, a warmth in your heart, and a happy stomach you make your way home with nothing but pretzels on your mind.
The ingredients are as follows:
Sesame Seeds or Pretzel Salt
So the first question on every one’s mind is, “How do we get started?”
Well, its rather simple really. You start with a mixer fitted with a dough hook, and a clean bowl.
If you lack one of these, above, you can also just grab an empty bowl and a wooden spoon……Good Luck.
No, it’s really simple that way as well. A good workout.
But anyhow, I digress, pour the warm water into the bowl.
To the water, let’s add some sugar. A tad of granulated sugar.
Now, I know what you must be thinking, “Sugar Jonathan? Sugar? I don’t want sweet pretzels. I don’t want to add the sugar.”
But this little bit of sugar, doesn’t make the dough sweet at all. Its food for the yeast, to eat and grow. You won’t taste it.
Trust me, throw it in.
Okay, so now mix the water to dissolve the sugar.
It’s now time for the yeast.
You’ll need to toss in 1 package of active dry yeast.
But if you’re anything like me and you buy yeast in bulk, and keep it in the fridge; you’ll have no idea how much is in a package of yeast. Don’t worry, 2 and 1/4 teaspoons yeast roughly equals a package.
Allow the yeast to sit, untouched, for about 10 minutes or until foamy and frothy.
And the stages are:
Once the yeast is ready, its time to add some flour.
Add one cup of the flour.
Mix it on low, until combined.
Stop the mixer.
Add the salt.
And the rest of the flour.
Mix again. Start on low, and gradually raise the speed to medium-high.
Continue to mix the dough until it forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the bowl.
At this point, if the dough is too wet, add a 1/2 cup more of flour, a little at a time until it forms a semi-sticky dough.
Knead the dough on high for about 5 minutes.
The dough will be soft and slightly-sticky to the touch.
Once ready, you’ll need a wooden cutting board, or any other kneading surface.
You’ll also need some flour.
You wouldn’t want the dough to stick to the surface, would you?
Sprinkle the surface, lightly, with flour.
This will prevent the dough from sticking.
Spread it out evenly.
Let’s get back to the finished dough.
Turn out the dough onto the floured surface.
And sprinkle a bit of flour on top of it as well.
More kneading?!?! Yes, more kneading. Just knead by hand, five-to-six times until the dough comes together and becomes smooth and elastic.
Form the dough into a tight, smooth ball.
Grab a bowl. I have an extra mixing bowl now, so that’s what I’m using. Any large, preferably metal, bowl will do.
Drizzle the bowl with the oil.
Feel free to use a vegetable or canola oil. Don’t use olive oil, as it will flavor your dough.
You can also just use cooking spray, if you’d like.
This is just to prevent the dough from sticking as it rises.
Make sure to evenly coat the bowl with the oil. We mustn’t forget about the sides.
Drop the dough ball into the oiled bowl.
Smooth side down.
Turn the dough over. This will allow both sides of the ball to get coated with the oil.
Cover the dough, loosely with plastic wrap. Don’t tightly cover it, and smother the dough to death.
Cover the bowl with a damp cloth.
Place the bowl in a warm place. I generally like to place it in the oven, turned off of course. Allow to rest for about an hour, until it has doubled in size.
Lucky for us, we don’t have to wait a whole hour. With the magic of technology…….
Look it’s doubled.
Punch the dough down to allow the air to escape.
Turn out the dough onto a cutting surface.
It’s time to portion out the dough.
Using a dough cutter, or a knife, cut the dough in half.
And then cut each half in half, so you end up with four pieces.
Continue cutting the dough into even pieces until you end up with 16 small dough nuggets. Or 32 for mini pretzels.
I guess these aren’t really nuggets. They’re more the size of large rocks.
Let’s start rolling out some dough, shall we?
Roll each, one at a time.
Into a long thin piece.
Now its time to shape the pretzels.
Don’t know how to shape pretzels? Well let me show you how, that’s what I’m here for.
To help and teach you.
Grab two baking sheets, if making 32 you’ll need three sheets, and line them with parchment paper. This will make removing the pretzels a lot easier.
Place the shaped pretzels onto the baking sheets, 8 on each. Evenly line and space them.
Loosely cover the pans with plastic wrap. Pop them in a warm place and allow them to rest and rise for about 15 minutes.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Drop in the baking soda.
Be careful when you add the baking soda. Stand back, as the water will bubble rapidly.
Next, add the remaining sugar.
The pretzels should be done rising by now.
They’ll look like this.
Lower the heat and allow the water to come back to just a simmer.
Carefully drop in the pretzels.
Do not overcrowd the pot. Depending on the size, I would do about four at a time.
Allow the pretzels to cook for 1 minute.
Flip them over and cook for another minute.
Once both sides have cooked, scoop out the pretzels and let the excess water drain off. Place back onto the baking sheets, and continue cooking the rest in the same manner.
After all the pretzels have boiled, it is time to make an egg wash.
What will an egg wash do for these lovely pretzels? Well, it’ll give them a nice glossy, brown and crusty outer shell, as they bake in the oven. And it gives the sesame seeds something to stick to.
Grab a pastry brush.
Brush the top of each pretzel, evenly and liberally.
And now for the topping.
You can use pretzel salt, or a coarse salt if you’d like, as well. But I happen to really enjoy sesame seeds on my pretzels, so that’s what I used.
Sprinkle a pinch of the seeds over each pretzel, the egg wash will help them stick.
The pretzels are now finally done, and ready to hit the oven.
Bake them in a preheated 450 degree oven, for 12-15 minutes, rotating the pans half way through baking.
Allow the pretzels to cool, slightly, on the baking sheets themselves.
Transfer the pretzels onto a cooling rack and allow to finish cooling completely, or eat them at this point; slightly warm and still crusty.
Okay, so we’re ready to eat them right?
No!?!?! Why not? They look ready to me!
Well, no pretzel is complete without a little dipping sauce.
But I don’t just want some ordinary mustard to dip my pretzels into. No!
No, I want a honey dijon mustard sauce.
Have no fear, its the simplest thing ever. All you need is yellow mustard, dijon mustard and honey.
Squirt. Squirt. Squirt. Mix. Super easy right?
Okay, now we’re ready to eat pretzels right?
Plate yourself a pretzel.
Try a piece.
Let’s take a moment and enjoy this view.
Okay, that’s enough admiring. Go ahead and dip it into the honey mustard.
Give it a bite.
I’ll inevitably be asked, “Did you enjoy your pretzels Jonathan?”
To which my answer will be, “Yes. Yes, very much indeed.”
But they wouldn’t really need to ask; they could just look unto my plate.
So go on and make you and your loved ones some soft baked pretzels.
I do have to warn you though, they go away faster than it would take you to make them. With a blink of an eye, they’ll be gone. So eat as many as you can, as quick as you can. Don’t forget the mustard.
Taken and adapted from Martha Stewart.
Yield: 16 pretzels or 32 miniature
- 2 cups warm water, 100 degrees to 110 degrees
- 1 tablespoon sugar + 2 tablespoons
- 1 packet active dry yeast (2 & 1/4 teaspoons)
- 5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 teaspoons canola or vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons baking soda
- 1 large egg for egg wash
- Sesame Seeds (or course salt/pretzel salt)
Pour warm water into bowl of an electric mixer. Attach the dough hook. You can also just use a bowl and wooden spoon to mix it by hand. In a small bowl, combine water and sugar, and stir to dissolve sugar. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.
Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups 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 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low for 5 minutes. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour, a little at a time; knead until combined, about 30 seconds more. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about 5-6 times, or until smooth and elastic.
Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Drop the dough into the bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel. Leave in a warm spot, I like using a turned off oven, for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Punch down dough to release the air. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 even pieces.
Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. Twist into pretzels shape; transfer to prepared baking sheets. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda and sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer 3 to 4 pretzels to water. Poach for about 1 minute. Flip over the pretzels and cook for a minute longer. Use a slotted spoon to transfer pretzels back to the baking sheets. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water and brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds or salt, if using. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for 2 days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy. Enjoy.