Thanks to this winter’s intense cold and frequent snows, I’ve been doing a fair amount of armchair traveling, looking at trip photos, thumbing through travel books and imagining slightly warmer times. One book that’s especially piqued my interest is a biergarten cookbook. Picked up on a recent trip to Germany, it includes a recipe for something that I’ve long enjoyed but never made at home, soft pretzels.
I cannot recall the first time that I ate a pretzel. I can, however, remember my initial bite of German brezel. Purchased at a jam-packed Christmas market in Cologne, it was softer and more bread-like than what I habitually bought at home. Unlike the dry, chewy pretzels consumed at my office desk, this didn’t leave me parched or with an indigestible ball of dough in my stomach.
Unfortunately, the cookbook that I carted across the Atlantic does not contain a reliable pretzel recipe. What it offers contains too little liquid, too much flour and too few directions.
Starting from scratch, I came up with the following Bavaria-inspired recipe. Because I’m a sucker for sweets, I topped my soft pretzels with cinnamon sugar. If you prefer savory foods, replace the cinnamon sugar with either kosher or pretzel salt.
CINNAMON SUGAR PRETZELS
Makes 5 to 6 medium-sized pretzels
for the dough:
1 teaspoon dry active yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water, plus more if needed
9 ounces (scant 1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
for the topping
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons water
Put the yeast in a small bowl, pour the water over it and sprinkle over a pinch of sugar. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes or until the yeast has dissolved.
Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and, forming a well in the center, add the yeasty water and olive oil. Stir together until combined.
Using either your hands or a stand mixer with a dough hook, knead the dough until soft and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm place for 60 minutes.
Punch down the dough and knead lightly for 1 minute. Separate the dough into 5 or 6 equally sized portions and form these into balls. Place one ball in the palms of your hands and roll it out into a 16-inch long strip, leaving a little extra dough in the middle of the strip.
Bringing the two ends of the dough together to form a U, twirl the dough so that it twists around itself twice. Still holding onto the ends, lay the twisted dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Press the ends into the bottom loop of the twist, making a pretzel. See the photo below for clarification.
Cover the pretzels with a dish towel and allow them to rise for another 30 to 40 minutes. As the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bring 10 cups of water and 2/3 cup baking soda to a boil in a large stockpot. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil the paper. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk and water.
Using a slotted spoon, gently lower a pretzel into the boiling water. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, turning over once during the cooking time.
Slide the spoon under the pretzel, remove it from the pot, shaking off any excess water, and place the pretzel on the oiled parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining pretzels.
Brush the tops of the pretzels with the egg wash. Generously sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the pretzels. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden in color and firm to the touch. Remove and cool on a wire rack. For the freshest pretzels, consume these within a day of baking them.