Who doesn't love big soft pretzels? I tasted my first one in New York City from a streetside pretzel vendor: super velvety soft on the inside, chewy on the outside with sparks of saltiness from those big crystals. I haven't been able to find anything like them here. Auntie Anne's mall pretzels are too greasy, and frozen versions don't come close. So I jumped at the chance to make them when a woman named Carolyn invited me over. Carolyn is the wife of a dear patient Donald I'd been following at Dana-Farber for a few years. He was receiving chemotherapy, which hit him hard and made him lose his appetite so that he constantly struggled to eat and maintain his weight at 100 pounds. He never complained though, and would welcome my visits and encouragement to trial various foods and drinks to keep up his nutrition. Carolyn said that though he never really followed my advice, our friendly chats were his "food." She and I would often discuss her favorite recipes as she was an avid baker and was able to occasionally tempt Donald with her whoopie pies or casseroles. He lost his battle with cancer last fall and will be remembered.
This past week Jake and I got together with Carolyn to trial her favorite recipe for soft pretzels. She'd saved it from one of her children's home economics class. The recipe was faded and had been typed out on an old typewriter. She and her kids would often bake a batch after school and eat the whole thing. I've researched soft pretzels and they often require rising time and many steps. Carolyn's recipe is a one-bowl, no rise recipe. The instructions were super easy and Jake and I had fun rolling out the dough and twisting it into fancy shapes.
The nutritionist I am, I tried a super healthy version using white whole wheat flour, honey instead of sugar, and chia seeds on top (kind of like poppy seeds right?). Mine didn't come out nearly as soft and delicious as Carolyn's. The dough was drier so it probably needed a lower oven temperature...or maybe using some white flour to keep that desired softer interior. Anyway, I only included Carolyn's original recipe below. They taste best the first day (not as good frozen and then reheated) so plan to have some people around to help you polish off the batch!
CAROLYN'S SOFT PRETZELS
- Dissolve 1 package of yeast in 1 ½ cups of warm water (~110 F) in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes.
- Add ¼ teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of sugar.
- Measure 4 level cups of flour and blend into the first mixture with a wooden spoon.
- Place dough on a floured board and knead until smooth. Add flour as needed onto the board to prevent dough from sticking. (Note: This may take up to 50 kneads, or keep working it until it becomes elastic and less sticky.)
- Cut dough into cigar-sized pieces and roll into 18-inch ropes. Shape as desired.
- Place on lightly greased cookie sheet.
- Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse Kosher salt.
- Bake at 425 F for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.