The Very 80s Murder Mystery High School Reunion party was set in the imaginary Babcock High in New York City, at the birthday girl's request. Obviously this was an excellent excuse to try making homemade pretzels.
I've wanted to make homemade pretzels for years, ever since I was waiting in line at Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, winding past the bread counter, and saw a sign that said "Fresh pretzels. Made with Real Lye and Real Lard!" Of course I had to buy one with that kind of endorsement! And it was the most amazing pretzel I have ever eaten in my life.
I've wanted to make a real (real lye! real lard!) soft pretzel ever since. Lard I could source. However, food-grade lye is not the easiest thing to find at the corner market. So I did some research, and ended up going with a more readily available substitute, baking soda. The pretzels were delicious, but I still yearn to duplicate that amazing Zingerman's pretzel someday.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
I took the easy way out and just dumped all the ingredients in my bread-maker and hit the dough cycle. An hour and a half later, I had perfectly made dough, ready to form into pretzels and bake. But if you don't have a bread maker, use standard bread-making technique to form the dough. First, warm the water to about 115 degrees (no hotter--don't want to kill the yeast). Add sugar and yeast to water, and let the yeast liven up and start foaming (takes about 5 minutes). Add flour, lard, and salt and mix thoroughly until a dough is formed. Knead the dough for approximately 15 minutes. Place dough in oiled bowl, cover, and let the dough rise until doubled (about an hour).
Yeah, my bread-machine method is way easier than all that.
Once the dough is ready, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the boiling water.
Divide dough into 8 equal portions. Roll each ball of dough into a long rope. Way longer and skinnier than you think you need it to be. At least 18" long, longer if you can manage it.
Twist the dough rope into that iconic pretzel shape (or any other shape you want, really--have fun with it!).
Now it's time to boil the dough. Yup, that's what gives a pretzel (like a bagel) that distinctively chewy crust. Boil only one or two pretzels at a time in the pot; you don't want to overcrowd. Boil for 30 seconds on each side, then carefully remove the pretzel with a slotted spatula, and set it on a clean tea towel while the rest of the pretzels bake.
***Note: putting the pretzels on a clean tea towel to dry off a bit was a step I learned the hard way. Originally, I put them directly on my parchment-lined baking pans. But when I baked them up, the parchment was stuck so amazingly thoroughly that the first batch was a complete bust. I have never had a problem with anything sticking to parchment before. But put gooey, hot, wet, just-boiled pretzels down and even parchment has its limits, I guess. Do yourself a favor and let the pretzels dry just a bit on the tea towel while you're boiling the rest of the batch and you'll have much better results.
Place boiled (and slightly dried!) pretzels on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush with an egg wash (egg beaten with a couple T water) and sprinkle with salt. Use pretzel salt if you have it. Kosher salt will taste good, but pretty much dissolve into invisibility by the time the pretzels are baked.
Bake until a dark golden brown for 12 minutes.
Yum! I'm thinking these need to be made again, and soon. Maybe my contribution to the Superbowl party we attend each year? Is Superbowl one word or two? There's a little insight about how much I care about the actual game being played, but if it's an excuse to make these pretzels again, sign me up!