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Dish of the Week: Homemade Pretzels

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re sharing a snacktime favorite: homemade pretzels.

Hot, fresh pretzels aren’t just something you have to save for a ballgame or the mall. The twisted breads are actually pretty easy to replicate in your own kitchen. What could be an ordinary dough is transformed through the Maillard reaction – a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives the pretzel its brown “skin” and distinct taste – thanks to the incorporation of washing or baking soda. Salt, or things like sugar, cinnamon and seeds, are often sprinkled on top.

Pretzels are thought to have originated in Europe, the most common theory being that they were invented by monks during the Middle Ages. According to one legend, an Italian monk came up with the breads as a reward for children learning their prayers in 610 A.D. He twisted and looped the dough into a unique shape so it would look like arms crossing the chest, and called them pretiola, or "little rewards."

Other origin theories include a monastery in southern France or bakers in Germany, as the German word brezel derives from the Latin word bracelius, meaning "bracelet."

Whatever the background, pretzels have become a beloved treat around the globe, from Bavarian white varieties to the Pennsylvania Dutch.

This recipe, from culinary guru Alton Brown, produces big, buttery pretzels that are crisp on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside.

Homemade Soft Pretzels

Ingredients makes 8 pretzels
1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt

Directions

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

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Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the ten cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, one by one, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving. 

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