Homemade (Almost) Soft Pretzels

Despite the fact that I am not an avid beer drinker, I get very excited about local Oktoberfest activities. I minored in German and edited a travel guide to Deutschland, so I feel a sort of kinship with die Deutschen.

Oktoberfest trace its origins to 1810, when Ludwig I, the Bavarian crown prince, invited all the townspeople of Munich to attend his wedding to Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, in October. The celebrations continued for several days and have been repeated around the anniversary of the event almost every year since. In 2013, Oktoberfest began on September 21, and it closes on October 6.

In an ideal world, I would pop over to Munich for some Oktoberfest fun, but time, money, laziness ... blah blah ... why don't I just celebrate at home with a few friends? In pursuit of this dream, I tried making my own soft pretzels this past weekend as a test run for Oktoberfestivities.

Having never made my own pretzels, I sought a little guidance in the form of a kit, specifically, Fleischmann's Simply Homemade Pretzel Creations. Of course, scratch baking is always preferable, but these days I feel as if that term can apply only if you grind your own flour and gather eggs from your own hen coop. I often use Fleischmann's yeast for making bread, but I was unaware that Herr Fleischmann (German for "Meat Man" - ironic, considering he seems preoccupied with carbohydrates) also had a line of baking mixes for breads, rolls, and, most recently, soft pretzels. Well, why not?

It was shockingly, dangerously easy. There were many steps I was prepared to totally screw up, including, but not limited to, letting the dough rise sufficiently, hand-rolling the pretzels, and (not over)baking the pretzels. Most of all, I was skeptical that the pretzels would keep their shape when immersed individually in the boiling water. All of the above tasks went smoothly. Perhaps I have the baking soda solution to thank for the pretzels staying intact ... You tell me, chemistry peeps.

And the pretzels were delicious, with a buttery, crisp skin that encased a warm, soft interior just begging for dollop of melted cheese or mustard.

There is definitely more pretzel action in my future, but with variations, as next time I plan to incorporate some sausage, cheese, and maybe even brown sugar. Also, if there's anyone besides me eating, I will triple the batch.

One final tip: Be generous with the baking spray when greasing the pan.

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Joanna O'Leary