What could this amazing item be? Well, the title gave it away already but just pander to my whims.... drumroll please.... HOME MADE SOFT PRETZELS! (I wish I had taken time for a prettier picture but I could hardly stand to wait another minute before devouring one).
I learned about this process over at Pink Parsley and got some extra tips from Annie's Eats. It wasn't simple, but it also wasn't as hard as it might seem- it was definitely fun, and I think kids would love shaping the pretzels (I know I did!).
First, you need to make the dough.
--1.5 cups very warm water
--1 Tbs sugar
--2 tsp salt
--2¼ tsp instant yeast (= 1 little packet)
--4½ cups all purpose flour
--4 Tbs unsalted butter, melted (could likely substitute olive oil, but butter would taste better)
At this point, you should also put aside some things you'll need later:
--2/3c baking soda
--more melted butter (olive oil if you really prefer)
-salt/cinnamon sugar/garlic/herbs - whatever you want to top them with.
Put the water in a large bowl, and add the yeast and sugar. Leave a few minutes just to make sure that it starts to foam (so you know the yeast is active). Stir until dissolved. Then add the salt, melted butter, and flour. Mix until well combined, and stir/knead for about 5 more minutes until the dough holds together as a unit and stays away from the side of the bowl (add more flour if it's too wet). Put the dough in a clean bowl lightly coated in oil, flip a few times so it is coated, and then cover with a towel and let rise. (I usually turn on my oven for a couple minutes so it's a little warm, turn it off, and set the bowl in there). It'll have to rise 50-60 minutes, or until doubled.
Flip the dough out on to a clean surface. Then, divide it up into equal pieces- I cut mine into 12.
Take each piece and roll it into a snake- mine were about 12-14 inches long. Twist into a traditional shape, as below, or you can make pretty much anything else you can think of. I made about half of them like this, and then the rest I chopped up in to 1.5 inch pieces to make pretzel bites (which ended up like pretzel balls after baking).
Now, here comes the exciting part. After you have formed them all, you have to boil them, which is how they get their pretzel-like exterior instead of just being like bread.
Bring about 10c of water (or, just a big pan) and 2/3 cup baking soda to a boil.
One by one, gently place each pretzel into the water for about 30 seconds. (the soundtrack to the above picture is something like "faster! faster! take the picture take the picture! it's falling!". When I made the pretzel nuggets, I cooked them all at the same time.
Halfway through the boiling, flip the pretzel over- the outside will visibly change texture.
Gently take it out, and place on a cookie sheet lined with oil brushed parchment paper. I lightly brushed mine with butter (or the butter-like) product of your choice) and I think it was well worth it. These aren't something you're going to be making every day, might as well make them maximally delicious when you do! Put some coarse salt on top.
I also made (in the pretzel-bites) garlic and cinnamon sugar flavored versions. The garlic I made by brushing them with butter heavily laced with chopped garlic. The cinnamon sugar had some issues, I think if I did them again, I'd roll them in cinnamon sugar immediately upon coming out of the oven.
Cook them for about 12-15 minutes, until really nice and golden in an oven preheated to 450 degrees.
When they come out, be prepared to enjoy the deliciousness immediately, because seriously, they will never be more delicious than at that moment! If you want to reheat them later, I highly recommend putting them in a very hot oven for a few minutes, although some people say you can also microwave them as well.
This was definitely a process, but it was fun, and man, they were amazing!