A week ago we were invited to our friends’ home for Sunday brunch.
When we are together the conversation always seems to come back to food in one way or another.
On one occasion my husband and I had shared with them our love of pretzels, especially warm soft pretzels.
Growing up in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, pretzels quickly become a staple of one’s diet. Good pretzels, we are talking about here… whether hard or soft, Bavarian or beer, in the form of rods, sticks, or nuggets, you cannot roam around this area very long without realizing you are in pretzel country.
Here is a little of what Wikipedia has to say about the subject…
In the late 18th century, southern German and Swiss German immigrants introduced the pretzel to North America. The immigrants became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, and in time, many handmade pretzel bakeries populated the central Pennsylvania countryside, and the pretzel’s popularity spread.
In the 20th century, soft pretzels became popular in other regions of the United States. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York became renowned for their soft pretzels. The key to success was the introduction of the new mass production methods of the industrialized age, which increased the availability and quantity, and the opening up of multiple points of distribution at schools, convenience and grocery stores, and entertainment venues such as movie theaters, arenas, concert halls, and sport stadiums. Prior to that, street vendors used to sell pretzels on street corners in wooden glass-enclosed cases.
In particular, the S-shaped soft pretzel, often served with brown mustard, became iconic in Philadelphia and was established as a part of Philadelphia’s cuisine for snacking at school, work, or home, and considered by most to be a quick meal. The average Philadelphian today consumes about twelve times as many pretzels as the national average.
Pennsylvania today is the center of American pretzel production for both the hard crispy and the soft bread types of pretzels.Southeastern Pennsylvania, with its large population of German background, is considered the birthplace of the American pretzel industry, and many pretzel bakers are still located in the area. Pennsylvania produces 80% of the nation’s pretzels.
To this day my husband and I have vivid memories of running out of elementary school when the dismissal bell rang and getting in line to buy a hot soft pretzel from the “pretzel man’s wagon”.
So when we moved to San Luis Obispo we were disheartened to see the dearth of good pretzels here on the central coast.
Here most stores seem to carry one, maybe two brands, where in the past we had been accustomed to practically a full aisle of pretzels.
Hot, handmade soft pretzels are still available in much of the area where we grew up…some baking and selling from their home kitchens.
So when our invitation to brunch included an opportunity for me to help the hostess make soft pretzels from scratch as a precursor to brunch I was excited.
This was also the recipe that won her a first prize ribbon in the Mid-County Fair here on the central coast a year or so ago!
It was a lot of fun…she had the dough ready to go when we arrived, so I helped her divide the dough into balls for each pretzel…
Then we shaped them, (and we definitely gave them a home made look)…
We dropped them into the boiling water…
and baked them (some sprinkled with salt and some with onion bits)…
It didn’t take long once they were out of the oven to smother them in some good brown mustard and eat them along with a glass of local champagne.
Now that is a delicious combo I’m pretty certain the Pennsylvania Dutch have not tried ! But they should!
Here’s the recipe…
Homemade Soft Pretzels (Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2007)
1 and 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approx 4 and 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top.
Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.
Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined.
Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4-5 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil.
Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50- 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Line 2 half sheet pans with parchment paper, and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-qt saucepan or roasting pan.
In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces.
Roll out each piece of dough into a 24 inch rope.
Make a u-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the u in order to form the shape of a pretzel.
Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.
Place the pretzels into the boiling water, one by one, for 30 seconds.
Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula.
Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt.
Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12-14 minutes.
Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.