Yes, indeed. In Bavaria soft pretzels are often eaten for breakfast – with sausage, beer and, of course, mustard. Here, we’ve been eating them as a midnight snack (mostly because they’re irresistible right out of the oven, and I’ve been starting them way too late in the day); then eating them again for breakfast, minus the beer and sausage. If you roll them shorter and thicker, they’ll rise in the oven until most of the holes have been filled in. Then they can then be sliced in two horizontally and used as the bread for a not-too-sloppy sandwich.
The recipe comes from Local Breads, an amazing book that has been batting its eyelashes at me from the shelf for nearly a year. Sure, I’ve opened it; drooled over the recipes, learned the photographs by heart. But I never found the time to bake from it until a few weeks ago. Since then I’ve made the pretzels three times, and I now double the recipe. (You should too – eight soft pretzels is just not enough unless you’re baking for one and don’t intend to share!)
It’s been lovely, really – Andy and I, plus an assortment of friends and house guests, all chatting about life, love, and literature around the stock pot, watching the pretzels boil, sinking into a tired and contented silence as they bake, then reviving for more on love and philosophy as we tear into the soft warmth of their flesh, our talk shepherding the night toward morning. It’s romantic, I know, but it really does happen, and it could happen to you if you bake these. No promises, but I tell you, late nights and soft pretzels create a kind of unanticipated alchemy (aside from the anticipated but still magical alchemy of baking.)
Bavarian Soft Pretzels
Yields 8 pretzels. Recipe can be doubled.
3 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour
3 tbs unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups tepid water
1 tsp instant yeast
2 1/4 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup baking soda for boiling (note: you needn’t double this amount for a double recipe)
Kosher salt and/or sesame seeds for topping
In a large bowl, mix flour and butter and work butter into the dough with your fingers until evenly distributed. Add water and mix until absorbed, then add the salt to one side of the dough and yeast to the other side and work in both. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter top and kneed for 10 to 12 minutes until firm and smooth. Round dough into a ball and allow to rise, covered, in a oiled bowl at room temperature until light and springy, about 1 hour (it won’t double in size.)
If you are doubling the recipe, divide the dough and cover one half. Proceed as for one batch, then repeat. Place the dough on a lightly floured counter top and from into a rectangle. Use a chef’s knife to cut into 8 equal pieces, form each piece into a ball, and allow to rest covered for about 5 minutes. Roll out each piece with your hands until it is about 18 inches long, tapering the ends slightly. To form the pretzels, grab hold of each end and cross the left end over the right with the looped portion nearest you. Now create a twist by crossing top piece under. Finally, lift the twisted ends and flip them over onto the loop. Press the ends down to seal.
Place the pretzels on a oiled baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2-24 hours.
When you are ready to make the pretzels, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the baking soda slowly and turn the heat down to a simmer. Place the pretzels into the boiling water one at a time, simmering on each side for 15 to 20 seconds. Remove from the water, draining well and return to the oiled baking sheet. Repeat until all pretzels are boiled.
Sprinkle pretzels with kosher salt and/or sesame seeds and bake until they are a rich brown, about 35 minutes. Enjoy warm or at room temperature with a good mustard. They are best fresh, but can be stored, well sealed for a couple of days.