To spend an afternoon in the kitchen, arms dusted with a powdery veneer of all-purpose flour, is one of the true pleasures of a weekend. Especially when yeast is in involved (building in pockets of time, like it does, for a brisk walk to get fresh air or a quick spell to put your feet up) and kneading is called for (a mindless task, satisfying in its physicality).
And all of this is pleasant enough when, in the end, as the late afternoon sun bends in golden through the windows, a tall loaf or a squat boule or a broad focaccia or a twisted challah emerges from the oven.
But when the day’s efforts yield, instead, a couple dozen soft pretzels, golden knots speckled with big salt cystals, it’s all just a little bit dazzling.
It’s enough to make me want to bypass Friday all together—a Jeans Friday at work, to be capped out with a lovely dinner out, no less—skipping straight to Saturday to do it all over again. But this Saturday, of course, holds a new list of recipes, of projects that will keep me busy in the kitchen, of afternoons dusted with flour.
And I can’t wait. Happy weekend (or, okay fine, almost weekend), everyone!
Food & Wine (Courtesy of Gale Gand)
[See below for step-by-step pretzel shaping photos.]
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
1/3 cup light brown sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
Kosher salt or pretzel salt
2 quarts cold water
1/2 cup baking soda
Mustard, for serving
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix 2 tablespoons of the warm water with the yeast and let stand until foamy. Add the remaining 1 1/3 cups of warm water along with the sugar and swirl to dissolve the sugar. Add the flour and mix at medium-low speed until a firm, pliable dough forms.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 2 minutes. Roll the dough into a 2-foot-long sausage. Cut the dough into 20 pieces. Cover with plastic and a damp cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.
Roll each piece of dough into a 12-inch-long rope. To form pretzels, shape each rope into a U; cross the two sides of the U over each other, twist and press the ends down on the pretzel. Arrange the pretzels on a lightly floured surface about 1-inch apart and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let the pretzels rest for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large stockpot, bring the cold water to a boil. Add the baking soda. Carefully slide 5 of the pretzels into the boiling water and boil for 30 seconds, turning once. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pretzels to a rack to drain right-side up; sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat with the remaining pretzels, in 3 batches.
Lightly oil 2 baking sheets. Arrange the pretzels on the baking sheets and bake on the upper and middle racks of the oven for about 10 minutes, or until browned all over; shift the pans from top to bottom and back to front halfway through if necessary, for even baking. Let the pretzels cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, with mustard.