Another child of mine has fallen victim to the atrocious stomach bug. Poor Matthew never got to do the reading at the school Mass because he fell ill early this morning. The poor little guy was really sick. Despite getting up several times throughout the night to throw up, he still woke up at his normal rising time in the morning and started to pull his school uniform on. I intercepted him and ordered him back to bed. "But Mom!" he argued, "I need to do the reading for liturgy!" When I told him that he was just too sick, he burst into tears. He had been so looking forward to it. However, he was easily consoled with the promise of television while he rested.
I have Matthew quarantined in his room in an effort to hopefully not infect the other two kids. Since we are chained to the house, Emma and I entertained ourselves with dolls, books, games, and a little Princess Sofia. When Lucy went down for a nap, I asked Emma what else we should do. Her answer was to make muffins. Emma loves muffins, but unfortunately they fall in the "dessert" category and we are trying our best to give up sweets for Lent. I liked the idea of making some sort of snack and the idea of soft pretzels popped into my head. Emma loves soft pretzels. Both her and Matthew can easily polish off a whole, large pretzel from Auntie Anne's in the Mall. Matthew likes to eat them plain or with a cinnamon sugar. Emma loves dunking hers in cheese sauce. Paul and I have made soft pretzels for football game watches and birthday parties before, but I realized that I have never made them with one of the kids which is a major oversight since they are relatively simple and quick!
Emma and I got down to business. Within a couple minutes, I remembered why I don't ask Emma to do a lot of baking with me. For one, she eats all the ingredients. Every single one. When I brought the flour container out, she immediately popped the top and ate a scoop of raw flour. When I took out the baking soda and then turned my back for a second, she had her hand stuck inside the box trying to force a fistful of the white powder out for a taste. She took a bite out of the butter, but I really should have seen that coming. Every time I stopped the mixer to scrape down the dough, Emma would quickly stick her finger in there to grab a scrap of dough to munch on. It's stressful trying to keep her from eating the ingredients before we can actually make what we set out to make!
Despite her snacking, Emma was actually remarkably helpful. She loved adding everything to the mixer for me and then helping with the final kneading of the dough. She had fun helping me shape the pretzels, delightfully chanting "We're making snakes" as we rolled each piece of dough into long ropes before flipping and twisting them into that familiar pretzel shape. We were blasting Disney tunes while working away and singing together. I really enjoyed the company of my wild little girl.
We sprinkled the tops of our pretzels with a mixture of coarse salt and sugar in the raw (again, Emma would not stop eating the topping!!). We also made our pretzels thicker because that's how I prefer them, almost as thick and fluffy as a roll. However, if you just make your "snake" a little longer during the shaping process, you will produce a thinner pretzel with a chewier crust.
The pretzel-making was a fun little distraction from the illness in the house and made a great snack for the healthy members of the family. I think the biggest fan of the baking project was Lucy. She was obsessed with chewing on the pretzels - I think it's the salt!
If you need a fun, semi-quick baking project, look no further! Soft pretzels are infinitely adaptable - you can make either sweet or savory pretzels. Instead of coarse salt, top the pretzels with cinnamon sugar, shredded cheese, or everything bagel toppings. Serve with a savory or sweet dip of your choice. Make your pretzels thicker during the shaping process and then split them in half and top with slices of deli ham, Swiss cheese, and good mustard. You really can't go wrong with this recipe.
Mall-Style Soft Pretzels
adapted from Food Network Magazine
1 cup whole milk
1 package active dry yeast
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/3 cup baking soda
Warm the milk in a saucepan until it's about 110 degrees, then pour into a medium bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let the yeast soften, then stir in the brown sugar and 1 cup flour with a wooden spoon. Dice 2 tablespoons butter and stir into the mix. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups flour and the fine salt to make a sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed, until smooth but still slightly tacky, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a large baking sheet. Punch the dough to deflate it, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. (If the dough seems tight, cover and let rest until it relaxes.) Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Roll and stretch each piece with the palms of your hands into a 30-inch rope, holding the ends and slapping the middle of the rope on the counter as you stretch. Form each rope into a pretzel shape.
Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Sprinkle with the coarse salt. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.
Melt the remaining 8 tablespoons butter in a shallow dish. Dip the hot pretzels in the butter, turning to coat. Place on a wire rack to let excess butter drip off. Serve with cheese sauce, mustard, or sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
(We skipped the butter dipping step, but Paul would have insisted we do it had he been here. Personally, I think the pretzels are delicious as is straight out of the oven. No additional butter necessary!)