Between the ages of four and six, my price was a pretzel. Seated comfortably in the front end of a metal shopping cart, mouth full and therefore silent, I ate while Mom hunted for bargains at Caldor.
Years later, I took a life-changing Home Economics class. In addition to the ins and outs of patchwork pillow making and a recipe for something called Quick Energy Pickups – powdered sugar and sweetened peanut butter rolled in chocolate chips – I learned that pretzels could be made at home. Mom and I gave it a shot one weekend. Our pale, misshapen pretzels came out of the oven steamy on their sheets. Underseasoned. Underproofed. Barely cooked through. But we all devoured them like animals.
While it would seem that even a bad pretzel is a good pretzel, this weekend I figured it was time to try again. KitchenAid® just sent me a lovely “Hot Sauce Red” KitchenAid® Artisan® Mini to play with, so I had the perfect excuse. If you read Love, Cake you know that I don’t usually endorse brands or products. But I use KitchenAid® equipment in my home and I love it. The KitchenAid® Artisan® Mini is exciting because it has the same motor as the KitchenAid® Artisan® Stand Mixer but in a smaller package. The size is perfect for a studio kitchen like mine but the motor is strong enough to handle a hearty bread dough. It’s just the combo I need.
I started with a basic white bread dough, enriched with a bit of butter. I let the dough get cozy and double at room temperature for a couple hours, then popped it in the fridge overnight for a second rise. That long second rise develops good yeasty flavor, and cold dough is also easier to portion and shape. A quick dip in a baking soda and brown sugar bath helps give the exterior that beautiful burnished color and quintessential pretzel tang. A lye bath would have been more traditional but rubber gloves and protective eyewear are not things I want to mess with on a lazy Saturday morning.
These fat Stanleys are not only heavenly dipped in mustard, but they’re puffy enough to slice in half and use as rolls. We made a couple of truly sublime egg and cheddar sandwiches. The custardy egg, gooey cheese, and chewy pretzel welded and melded together to create one heavenly textured, richly flavored stack. We both decided that we never needed to eat another egg sandwich again. We had reached the apex of all egg sandwiches ever and we were forever sated and happy. Then Sunday morning rolled around…
These pretzels were inspired by the recipe that Lina Kulchinsky of Sigmund's Pretzels shared with Martha Stewart. I was working in the Martha Stewart test kitchen the day that my friend Thomas Joseph was making Lina’s pretzels for a cover shoot. I was lucky enough to sample the delicious rejects.
My version has more of a pillowy bite, but I think they’re wonderful - especially with good mustard.
These are really best the day they’re made, but you can freeze any leftovers and reheat them in a low oven or the microwave. Don’t store them at room temperature or the salt will melt and make them soggy.
3 cups (13 1/2 ounces) bread flour
3 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
2 teaspoons coarse salt
3/4 cup warm water
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature, plus more for the bowl
8 cups water
1/3 cup baking soda
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
pretzel salt or flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the flour, brown sugar, yeast, and salt and mix with the paddle attachment until well-combined. Switch to the dough hook and with the mixer on low add the water in a steady stream. Continue to mix until a shaggy dough forms, about 3 minutes. Add the butter pieces, a few at a time, and continue to mix the dough until smooth and pliable, 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should be supple and smooth and not too sticky. Remove the dough from the bowl, butter the bowl, and return the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until doubled, 1 to 2 hours. Gently expel the air from the dough, knead it into a ball again, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
2. Line two baking sheets with silicon baking mats. On a lightly floured surface, cut the dough into 10 equal pieces, about 2 1/2 ounces each. Working with one piece a time, roll out to a 16 to 18 inch length. Form into a pretzel shape by first making a “U”, then twisting the ends around each other, and bringing the ends down to overlap over the bottom. Transfer to the prepared sheets and repeat with the remaining dough. Set shaped pretzels aside to puff for about 25 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 425° F on standard or 400°F on convection. Prepare the water bath. Bring 8 cups of water to a simmer in a large pot. (Make sure the water is at least a few inches below the rim of the pan as it will bubble furiously when you add the baking soda.) Add the baking soda and the brown sugar to the water and whisk to combine. Once the bubbles have mostly subsided, carefully add 2 to 3 pretzels to the pot. (I think it’s easiest to put the pretzel into the bowl of a spider or large slotted spoon and lower it into the water.) Cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side then transfer them to the prepared sheets with a slotted spoon or spider. Sprinkle with salt. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
4. Bake the pretzels until puffed and deep golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. They should feel crisp on the outside when you touch them. Transfer sheets to a rack to cool for a few minutes, if possible.