In my long-time-ago, younger days, I remember how going to the mall seemed like more of a special occasion than an everyday destination. Perhaps it was because my parents rarely had a day off together in my youth and didn’t want to waste precious time surrounded by thousands of their closest friends at the mall, or maybe it was too much of a hassle for them to have to perpetually wrangle two small children who wanted nothing more than to stop every 50 feet and stare at all of the wondrous things in the windows.
Either way, when the decision was finally made to go shopping at one of two malls in the booming metropolis of my home town – I remember the trip filled with excitement and anticipation. Not because of the potential treasures to be bought and brought home – clothes, furniture, whatever. Nope. I was in it for the pretzels. Hot Sam Pretzels, to be precise.
No trip to the mall was complete without a stop at Hot Sam for a pretzel and a drink. We’d be walking around all day, and just when my little tiny legs didn’t think they could go any further, there…off in the distance…like a beacon…stood the Hot Sam pretzel place. As soon as I could smell the bread, I’d start tugging on arms and shirts begging to stop. My mother would pretend to protest, claiming we’d spoil our dinner, or dad would tease that they were probably already out of pretzels anyway…all the while we would be making our way to the counter. I was a bit short, so I couldn’t quite see the magic that was happening behind the curtain, but I could feel the heat and look up to watch the pretzels rotate in the warmer on the counter above me. Dad ordered and paid while mom collected and handed off the warm bag filled with soft twisted bread to my anxiously awaiting hands. Together we would all sit on the nearby bench; I’d tear into my pretzel piece by piece, chewing and savoring the buttery goodness while pieces of salt fell all around me. I remember the pretzels having just the right crispiness outside, but never too dense on the inside.
Flat out – they were really good pretzels.
Hot Sam is long gone, but for National Pretzel Day, I decided I would try to recreate the magical, mystical pretzels from my youth. Of course that also meant I would have to deal with my irrational fear of yeast…which I still have, no matter how much bread I bake. Yeast aside, this recipe is very simple. It is a bit time consuming – and there appears to be a lot of steps to the recipe – but once you get going, it actually moves very quickly, very easily. You could even bring in the kids to help with the shaping, basting and salt sprinkling.
And…you’re going to end up with really good pretzels.
Food and memories – I still find it amazing how they come together. One bite, one smell, or the reminder of a name and suddenly I’m in the middle of a childhood memory; sitting on a cool bench with a hot pretzel, surrounded by the white noise of a busy mall, blissfully enjoying a simple moment of rest during a day out with my family. Today, I put a little bit of time together with a few ingredients and now I have a whole new memory to add to the first. This time, it’s of me standing in my awesome smelling kitchen on a warm spring day with the smile of satisfaction on my face, proudly declaring “I just made pretzels” as my husband asks for another and another and another.
Told ya…they’re just darn good pretzels.
Soft Pretzel Nuggets
2 packages active dry yeast (approx. 4 tsp)
1 Tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
4 cups all-purpose flour – more if needed
1 tablespoon butter – melted
2 Tbsp sugar
4 cups hot water
¼ cup baking soda
1 egg white and 1 Tbsp water (for egg wash)
1/4 cup kosher salt, for topping
Warm your mixing bowl by rinsing it in hot water. Dry. Add 1 ¼ cup warm water (water hot from the tap will work), kosher salt and 1 Tbsp sugar. Measure temperature before you add the yeast….
…make sure you’re no warmer than 110 or you’ll “kill” the yeast…..
When you’re at 110, sprinkle in the yeast.
Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
To the mixing bowl, add the butter, 2 Tbsp sugar and flour. Mix to form into a dough.
Knead the dough until smooth, about 7 to 8 minutes. If the mixture still seems sticky, add one or two more tablespoons of flour. When the dough is well combined, remove from mixer and knead just a few more times until it’s nice and smooth:
Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn it to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 90 minutes (if it’s not a warm day, or cold in your kitchen, put it in oven and leave the light on).
When ready, your dough has risen to about twice its original size:
Right about now, dissolve 1/4 cup baking soda in a pot with 4 cups hot (but not boiling) water – keep warm on stovetop until ready.
Now (the fun part) – punch down the dough:
grrr…brute strength. 😎
Turn the dough out of the bowl onto your countertop and knead just a couple of times (*IMPORTANT – do not use a floured surface. If done correctly, the dough should lift and work on its own. If it’s not cooperating, cover your hands with a bit of oil and work through).
Cut off a piece of dough with a pastry knife (or regular knife) – and put the rest of the dough back in the bowl, recovering with towel so as to not dry out.
Working from the middle, roll the piece into a rope about the width of a quarter.
Cut them down to about 1-inch squares.
Bring your pot of hot water over and place on a safe surface near where you’re going to cut and shape your dough. Set a clean dishcloth nearby that the pieces can dry off on after they come out of the water.
Take the nuggets and drop them into the water for about 15 seconds (you can do about 10 at a time – just make sure they’re not too crowded). Stir a bit, fish them out and place on the nearby towel. Cover and go back to your dough bowl to work on the next piece.
Once all of your dough is cut and bathed in the baking soda bath, move the pieces to sheet pans lined with silicon or parchment paper. Cover with towel and let rise for 15 more minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Brush dough with egg wash and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Bake in preheated oven until browned, about 10-12 minutes (I baked mine at 10, but if you want yours a little browner, go for 12. Just keep an eye out because they brown up quickly)
When done, remove from pan, cool on rack and enjoy!!!!
Recipe adapted from AllRecipes.com…find the original HERE