When I was but a young punk, wasting my time in the malls of Milwaukee, WI, I ate lots of junk food. McDonald's fries aside, my two favorites were Cinnabon and Auntie Anne's original pretzels (interestingly, those are also the things with the strongest odors...another mystery solved). Oh, those pretzels. So salty and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and oh-so-buttery. Even now, when I step foot in a mall just a few times a year, it's dangerous for me to go near Auntie Anne's. To a food junkie, that stuff is not unlike crack.
Well, the good news is that I can now make my OWN delicious pretzels, thankyouverymuchAuntieAnne's. And what's more, I can make them as big or as little as I see fit! I can also be as naughty as I want with them.....which I may have done when I made two big ones and stuffed them with sharp cheddar. :-/
Soft Pretzels (modified a bit from Paula Deen via The Village Cook)
-1/2 c warm water
-1 package active yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
-1/4 c melted butter (cooled)
-1 egg yolk (reserve the white)
-1/4 cup sugar
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 cup milk
-5 cups flour
-3 tablespoons baking soda, dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water
-Salt and pepper, or other spices for topping (oregano, garlic, red pepper flakes, sugar-cinnamon, etc)
-Optional: Cheese for stuffing!
1. Dissolve yeast in warm water and let stand for 5 minutes until bubbly. To the bowl, add melted butter, egg yolk, sugar, salt, and milk. Stir well.
2. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, add 1 cup of flour to the liquid, mix well, and add another cup. Keep doing this until you put in about 5 cups (or slightly less if the dough is getting too dry). Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead for 5 minutes. (**Note: My dough was VERY stiff. I tried kneading it by hand for awhile, but it was really difficult to do. I added more warm water to try to help the dough, but that just made a wet mess, so I ended up having to coat with more flour anyway. :p The moral of the story is that you will probably not end up with a silky smooth bread dough, and that is, apparently, OK.**)
3. Place dough in an oiled bowl with a cloth over the top. Let rise 1 hour. (**Note: Okay, so mine didn't "rise" at all. But, you do have over 6 cups worth of dough, so, it's not like you need it to.**)
4. Preheat oven to 425. Cut your dough into however many pretzels you want. I think I got about 15-18 of varying size. Roll each ball of dough out into a rope, of whatever thickness you want your pretzel to be (thinner ropes for thin, big pretzels, etc). Shape into a pretzel form.
--Note: If you want stuffed pretzels, form the ropes and then flatten them with your hand or a rolling pin. Put the stuffing down the center of the flattened rope, leaving room on the sides. Fold the edges over and then flatten again to make sure the filling is sealed in. Rub into rope shape again and form into pretzel shape. Whala! Cheesy pretzel!
5. In a smaller bowl, dissolve the baking soda and water by mixing well. Dunk each pretzel in the mixture after you're done shaping them (remembering to stir the mixture with a whisk before dunking). Place the finished pretzels on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat mat.
6. Mix the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon water. Brush the tops of the pretzels with the egg wash and sprinkle with whatever spices you want. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden-brown. I highly recommend eating them straight out of the oven.
Verdict: AWESOME. You should make these right now (so easy!) and enjoy them with a nice cold beer. These taste like soft pretzels that you get from Auntie Anne's or at stadiums...the bitter tang of baking soda mixed with sharp cubes of salt, and a buttery soft crumb make a truly great pretzel. Me? I'm imagining impressing my friends with these babies at our next get together. ;)