We had friends coming over, all of whom have babies the same age as the mush, so it was kind of a play date for the kids and for the adults. We called it for 3:30, waaaay too early for dinner, but smack squarely in the middle of snacktime. So we had a potluck snacktime, and one of our contributions was a batch of these gorgeous homemade pretzels.
This was not only a project in the actual baking itself, but also in gathering a key ingredient: food-grade lye. Now, the very idea of food-grade lye seems odd to me (is that like food-grade rat poison?) -- but evidently lye is what gives pretzels their signature color and flavor, so off we went to The Brooklyn Kitchen to procure some.
At some point I'll have to get back to you on the wonder that is The Brooklyn Kitchen... but for now, I'm going to share the pretzel recipe, implore you to make them, and say goodnight :)
Bavarian-Style Soft Pretzels
(adapted slightly from the New York Times, recipe here)
1 Tbsp. barley malt syrup or dark brown sugar (we used 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar and 1/2 Tbsp. molasses)
2 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. instant yeast (we used active dried)
6 cups bread flour (we used 1/2 all-purpose and 1/2 whole-wheat)
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt
Food-grade lye, for dipping (according to the Times, you can get it at Amazon)
Coarse salt, for sprinkling
1. In a mixing bowl, stir together sugar, butter, yeast, 2 cups warm water and half the flour. Add kosher salt and remaining flour and stir just until dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Turn out onto counter and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and supple. Cut into 12 pieces and let rest 5 minutes. (We covered the pieces with a slightly damp paper towel while they rested.)
2. Roll out each piece into a 22-inch rope. Lift both ends, twist them around each other once, then bring ends back and and press them on either side of fat "belly," at about 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock. Then gently spread out "shoulders" of pretzel. Transfer shaped pretzels to a baking sheet lined with parchment. Let rest at room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 425ºF. In a large, deep bowl, wearing rubber or latex gloves, make a solution of 1/2 cup lye and 10 cups water. Dip each pretzel in the solution, turning it over for 10 to 15 seconds, and place on baking sheet (make sure you line your baking sheets with parchment -- otherwise the lye can discolor them).
4. Sprinkle pretzels with salt. Bake for about 15 minutes, until deep brown. Remove to a rack and serve warm.
NOTE: We made a few different shapes, they all baked in 15 minutes and came out delicious! We served them with horseradish mustard.