Ashley Strickland is an associate producer with CNN.com. She likes perfecting pineapple upside down cake, tackling English toffee, sharing people-pleasin' pizza dip and green soup, cajoling recipes from athletes and studying up on food holidays.
I’ll always remember the summer of 2008 as a dream come true, full of rock concerts and soft pretzels.
Like many other families across the country, we were perfecting the art of the “staycation.” People were rediscovering the glory of their own cities, neighboring towns, and even their backyards.
But perhaps the greatest gift of that season was our summer tour of concerts. For two music lovers like my mom and me, concerts were manna from heaven.
Not wanting to indulge in a heavy meal before we danced around and sang along with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Keith Urban, Foreigner, Bryan Adams or the Steve Miller Band, one snack emerged as our concert-day favorite.
But we ignored the chemical-laden, overpriced food at the snack bar and tailgated beforehand with homemade salty soft pretzels.
Every concert day was highlighted by the smell of freshly baked and lightly buttered soft pretzels. You’ve never had a pretzel so fresh in your life as one that is warm, buttery and sprinkled with just the right amount of salt - or however you take your pretzel. They're chewy on the outside, but also perfectly melt-in-your-mouth soft on the inside.
Should you decide to bring your own pretzels to an event, here’s a tip. Just beware of the folks who might come sniffing around to discover the origins of your blissfully aromatic snack.
Shaping them the first time may seem intimidating, but there’s really no wrong way to twist a pretzel. So, in honor of National Pretzel Day, here’s to another warm season full of good food, incredible memories and running down your dreams.
Salty Soft Pretzels
For the dough
For the topping
1) To make dough by hand, or with a mixer: Place all of the dough ingredients into a bowl, and beat until well-combined. Knead the dough, by hand or machine, for about 5 minutes, until it's soft, smooth, and quite slack. Flour the dough and place it in a bag, and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
2) To make dough with a bread machine: Place all of the dough ingredients into the pan of your bread machine, program the machine for dough or manual, and press START. Allow the dough to proceed through its kneading cycle (no need to let it rise), then cancel the machine, flour the dough, and give it a rest in a plastic bag, as instructed above.
3) To make dough with a food processor: Place the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in the work bowl of a food processor equipped with the steel blade. Process for 5 seconds. Add the water, and process for 7 to 10 seconds, until the dough starts to clear the sides of the bowl. Process for another 45 seconds. Place a handful of flour in a bowl, scoop the slack dough into the bowl, and shape the dough into a ball, coating it with the flour. Transfer the dough to a plastic bag, close the bag loosely, leaving room for the dough to expand, and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
4) While the dough is resting, prepare the topping: Combine the boiling water and baking soda, stirring until the soda is totally (or almost totally) dissolved. Set the mixture aside to cool to lukewarm (or cooler).
5) Preheat your oven to 475°F. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it with vegetable oil spray, or lining it with parchment paper.
6) Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into eight equal pieces (about 70g, or 2 1/2 ounces, each).
7) Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Pour the baking soda/water into a 9" square pan.
8) Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin rope (about 28" to 30" long), and twist each rope into a pretzel. Working with 4 pretzels at a time, place them in the pan with the baking soda/water, spooning the water over their tops; leave them in the water for 2 minutes before placing them on the baking sheet. This baking soda "bath" will give the pretzels a nice, golden-brown color.
9) Transfer the pretzels to the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle them lightly with coarse, kosher, or pretzel salt, if desired. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
10) Bake the pretzels for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they're golden brown.
11) Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter. Keep brushing the butter on until you've used it all up; it may seem like a lot, but that's what gives these pretzels their ethereal taste. Eat the pretzels warm, or reheat them in an oven or microwave.
Yield: 8 large pretzels.
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