You know those things that can instantly take you back to a certain time in life?
There's a whole list of scents and sounds and tastes that send me back ten years, right into those awkward, geeky, yet kind of awesome early teen years: the smell of Abercrombie body spray, the Gilmore Girls theme song... You know, the days where the coolest thing you could do was walk around the mall with your friends?
And speaking of the mall, few things take me back to that time quite like the smell of freshly baked soft pretzels.
After a long day of “window shopping,” when your clogs were making your feet hurt and your fingers were tired from texting, nothing was as rewarding as following that doughy, sugary smell straight to the food court for the ultimate snack: cinnamon sugar soft pretzels.
And while I would kindly invite many aspects of my early teen years (braces with neon rubber bands, acne that could make a Proactiv ad blush) to never resurface, the joy of warm, steamy, freshly baked pretzels is something I would like to relive a little more often.
While real-deal pretzels actually get their signature golden exterior from a dip in food-grade lye, the same effect can be achieved at home using baking soda and boiling water. This coating allows them to get that chewy, “pretzel-y” exterior as they bake, while keeping the insides soft and fluffy.
After a quick roll in butter, cinnamon, and sugar, they are ready to be devoured.
For the pretzels:
- 1 1/2 cups warm water, between 100° and 110° F
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3 to 4 cups flour
- 1/4 cup baking soda
For the cinnamon sugar coating:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons butter
In the bowl of stand mixer, combine water and sugar. Sprinkle with yeast and let sit 10 minutes, until foamy. Add salt and 3 cups of flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms.
Using the dough hook, beat on medium-low speed for 5 minutes. If the dough is still sticky after 1 minute, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Continue beating, adding more flour if necessary. When you're finished, the dough should just be able to hold a ball shape on its own.
Transfer dough to a bowl coated with oil or cooking spray, turning the ball over to cover all sides with oil. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 450° F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured work surface.
Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut away a palm-size piece of dough. Roll dough into a rope, about 1-inch thick (or however big you want your bites). Cut the rope into 2-inch pieces and transfer bites to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.
Meanwhile, bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Slowly add the 1/4 cup baking soda (it will bubble up) and reduce to a simmer.
Working in batches of about 10 bites, transfer pretzels to the water and let them simmer, about 30 seconds per side (1 minute total). Giving them a good stir halfway through is usually enough to make them flip over and get evenly coated. Remove with a slotted spoon and return to the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining bites.
Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool slightly.
In a small bowl, whisk cinnamon and sugar to combine. In a separate bowl, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Coat each bite in the melted butter, then toss in the cinnamon sugar mixture. You can just dip the pretzels in butter, but I found the easiest way to avoid butter-drenched pretzels was to put 10 to 12 bites in a bowl, brush them lightly with butter, roll them around to get an even coating, and then roll them in sugar. This provides a light enough butter coating that the sugar will not clump or melt.
What's your favorite mall food? Share with us in the comments below!