April: National Pretzel Day Puts Fun Twist on Family Cooking
A rather unexpected twist emerged in our search for a special dish to showcase during the month of April. The twist? A baked curlicue of dough that has become one of those all-time favorite snack foods: the pretzel.
Initially, my daughter, Anna, and I had intended to whip up some Easter or Passover favorites during our monthly kitchen klatsch. But, truth be told, we were a little ho-hum on the long lists of traditional springtime dishes, figuring many of you already had plenty of exposure to recipes for hot cross buns, matzo ball soup and the like.
Time for something a little different, we said. So, we turned to one of those funny food holiday calendars and found that April 26 happens to be National Pretzel Day. Who'd a thunk?
It was too great an opportunity to pass up. We love pretzels around our house. They look cool, and they have a long, distinguished culinary history, apparently dating back to medieval Europe, where these baked goodies were associated with various religious holidays or festivals because of their resemblance to praying hands.
Germany, at some point, became the hotbed of pretzeldom, and, by the 1800s, the popular snack food had leapt across the pond to the United States, courtesy of immigrants who knew a good thing when they ate it.
1 cup warm water
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour, plus 1/4 cup for rolling dough
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
8 cups water
2 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Non-stick cooking spray
Place warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the water, then let the mixture sit for 5 minutes so the yeast can proof. Sift together the 2 1/2 cups flour with the sugar and salt onto wax paper or into a medium bowl. Place the flour mixture, butter and yeast mixture in a food processor. Let the motor run until a sticky dough forms.
Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Place dough in a warm place and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or coat with cooking spray. Punch down the dough and divide it into 12 or 24 equal pieces. Roll out each piece with the palms of your hands until the piece is about a foot long, using the remaining 1/4 cup flour. Form each long piece into a pretzel shape.
Transfer pretzels to baking sheets, leaving a 1-inch space between pretzels. Set aside and let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450ºF. In a large stainless steel pot, bring water and baking soda to a boil. Carefully add a quarter of the pretzels, one at a time. Using tongs, flip the pretzels over after about 8 seconds, boiling for about 15 seconds total.
Carefully arrange the pretzels on the parchment-lined baking sheets, again spacing them at least 1 inch apart. Sprinkle each pretzel with sea salt. Repeat the boiling process with the remaining pretzels. Transfer to oven and bake until the pretzels are lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool briefly before eating. Serve with sweet mustard.
(Cook's note: We ended up omitting the dough-boiling portion of preparation. Chalk it up to operator error, but our first twists of dough collapsed as soon as they hit hot water. Additionally, having made pretzels probably 10 years earlier, using a different recipe, we decided to brush an egg wash onto the dough before adding salt. The egg wash gives the finished product a darker brown, glossier finish, more like what you'd expect from a traditional pretzel.)
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.