I once took a memorable trip to Chicago with my family when I was 19 or 20. I’ve been to Chicago many, many times, mostly to visit my Aunt Suzy, whom I adore for too many reasons to count, including that she ALWAYS has M&Ms in her fridge. This trip was especially memorable though, because we (my parents, siblings and I, Aunt Suzy and Uncle Dan, Aunt Carol and Uncle John) played a game wherein we had to shock each other with facts nobody knew about us. Hilarity ensued.
My fact was that I love mustard so much that if it were socially acceptable, I would eat it with a spoon. Aunt Carol later made me prove it at dinner, which I did, happily and willingly. She was making it socially acceptable!!!! Hers was that she hadn’t read a book in 5 years. All Monaghans present during the game nearly died of horror and disbelief. She maintains to this day that it’s okay that she doesn’t read books because she reads many periodicals. (She does, too. I believe she reads the paper back to front, every single day. Probably even the sports section.)
Soft pretzels are, to me, a vehicle for mustard. A pillowy, tender, salty vehicle for mustard. I usually buy the frozen kind that you heat up in the microwave for 1 minute and then dip in lots of salt and mustard. Homemade pretzels were better than the frozen ones much like homemade dressings are better than bottled. SO MUCH BETTER THAT BUYING THEM EVER AGAIN HAS BEEN RENDERED OBSOLETE.
This recipe makes a boatload of pretzel bites, I was nearly forcefeeding them to people and I still had lots leftover. The good news is I reheated them in the toaster oven for a few minutes and they were fantastic again. These seem like a lot of work, because there are a couple of stages, but make them anyway. I promise, I swear on my love for French’s yellow mustard, that you will not be disappointed. When I made these pretzels, for my shoot with Kelly of Capture Photography (whose talents I will not stop shilling, ever, she’s seriously talented and creative), I made my own mustard, too. That post is coming later, but you can see how pretty my mustard is in the pictures of the pretzels.
Soft Pretzel Bites, from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures
1 1/2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees, it says, but I figured if it felt warm to my hand, it was good)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 package instant, active dry yeast
6 tbsp butter, melted and cooled a bit
2 tsp salt
4 1/2-5 cups flour
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda
1 egg, beaten in a small bowl with 1 tbsp cold water (this is what they call an egg wash)
kosher salt for sprinkling
Method: In a large bowl, mix together the warm water, yeast, butter and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, it should bubble and be weird. Add the salt and 4 1/2 cups of flour and mix together on low speed with a hand mixer. (I don’t have a standing mixer, but if you do, you can do this in it, just use your dough hook and keep the speed low.) Keep mixing slowly until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 3-4 minutes. If the dough is too wet, add flour a tablespoon at a time until it pulls away from the bowl and comes together.
Form the dough into a ball, spray another big bowl with oil, spray the dough a little with oil too and put the dough ball in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and keep in a warmish place until the dough doubles in size, about an hour.
When you’re ready to make them, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with vegetable oil.
Bring the 3 quarts of water to boil in a saucepan, then add the baking soda.
Remove the dough and reform it into a ball in your hands. Gently karate chop the ball into two equal pieces, then those two pieces into halves, then each quarter into two, making 8 equal pieces of dough.
Roll each piece into a rope about 2 feet in length.
Cut the ropes of dough into 1 inch pieces to make pretzel bites (you could make whole pretzels too, at this stage).
Drop the bites into the boiling water/baking soda solution for 10 seconds or so.
I did each rope one at a time, putting them all in, then fishing them out with a slotted spoon and placing them onto the baking sheets, making sure they weren’t touching. This step is what produces the beautiful brown crust on the pretzels.
When you’ve filled two sheets with pretzel bites, brush each one with the egg wash.
Sprinkle liberally with salt and put into the oven for 15-18 minutes, until beautiful and golden brown.
Serve with mustard! Kelly’s idea for shooting these was circus-ish, which is so adorable with the blue background and the soda. Makes me want to go on the Tilt-o-Whirl.