Remember at the beginning of World Vegan Month when I said I’m a ninety percenter? Well, here’s something I did this weekend. I had like ninety percent of my hair chopped off. Friday morning, my hair was all the way down to there, and by Saturday it was riding way up in here. See what I’m saying?
Now, I’m a girl from New Jersey, so a major haircut is big news, end of story. But here’s why this story is even bigger news than usual. How many major haircuts do you think I got this weekend? Do you think I’d be asking that question if I’d stopped at just one? No, sir. I would not, and I did not. I got ninety percent of my hair chopped off on Friday night, and then I went back to the salon on Sunday evening and got it completely re-cut. The first time, it just wasn’t right. When it’s not right, you know.
Sometimes — like after the second haircut in a weekend — it is right. And then, too, you know. There are only so many total do-overs that one week can handle, so I’m glad to report on a couple of moments from the past week that were so very right on the first try. The kind of right that makes the order in the universe palpable for a fleeting moment. The kind of right we’re all chasing.
First, these pretzels. I’ve been making them for years, since the seven-year-old child was a one-year-old child, and the dozen moms in our playgroup used to elbow our own barely mobile children out of the way for a pretzel to eat with our strong, strong mommy coffee. These pretzels make people ridiculously happy. You should make them for the people you love.
And second, the event that inspired me to make these pretzels this week. London readers, take note, and take the tube at your earliest convenience to the Swiss Cottage station to Bake with Maria. That pretty lady up there in the photos is Maria. Don’t you just love her at first sight?
There, too, is a cinnamon roll that she baked. Don’t you love her even more now?
Maria Mayerhofer, an expert home baker, has been teaching bread- and cake-baking classes out of her own kitchen for several years. With demand having grown too great for a home-based business, she’s recently opened The Baking Lab, a charming space in St. John’s Wood, and expanded her roster of classes and private event hosting. From the first moment I watched Maria work, I could feel the rightness of this new venture in my bones. If you’re interested in stepping up your bread-baking skills, or in pairing pretzels with beer, or honestly just in spending a few hours with someone whose infectious energy and knowledge is worth more than a few hours of your time, I recommend you sign up for one of her classes.
I’ll take one of everything, please, and three dozen pretzels. Plus a few for the family.
Right. So here’s your to-do list for the week. Make soft pretzels. Bake with Maria. And try to keep the haircuts to a minimum. Two at the most, k?
Recipe: Homemade Soft Pretzels
This pretzel dough, adapted from Martha Stewart, is forgiving and easy to work with. You can knead it in a stand mixer or by hand. Soft pretzels get their appealing chewiness from a quick poaching in water and baking soda before heading off to the oven. This extra step may seem like a bit of a hassle, but it’s a small price to pay for the magic it creates.
- 2 cups warm water (should feel warm but not very hot to the touch)
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or substitute up to 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour)
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 2 Tablespoons baking soda
- Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
- Sesame seeds, for sprinkling
- In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the water and sugar and stir to dissolve sugar. Sprinkle yeast overtop and set aside for 10 minutes in a warm spot in the kitchen. Yeast will be foamy.
- Add one cup of flour to the bowl and stir with a spoon or on low with the dough hook until incorporated. Then add salt and four additional cups of flour. Stir with a spoon or the dough hook until combined, about one minute.
- If kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a clean work surface (no need to flour it), and knead until it loses most of its stickiness and becomes quite elastic, about ten minutes. (To knead, hold the dough in place with one hand and stretch it out in front of you with the heel of your other hand as shown in the photos above, then roll it back up on itself and repeat.) If using a stand mixer, turn machine on medium-low and let the dough hook knead for about 90 seconds, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour and knead by hand for about two minutes more or in stand mixer for one minute more, until smooth. (If using a stand mixer, turn out the dough and knead it a few times by hand at the end.) Wash and dry the bowl, then pour about a Tablespoon of the oil into it. Place the dough back in the bowl and roll it to coat lightly with the oil on all sides. Place a clean kitchen towel over the top of the bowl and set aside in a warm spot in the kitchen to rise. Dough is ready when it has approximately doubled in volume, which will take an hour or a little more depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Brush two large baking sheets lightly with some of the olive oil.
- Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and punch it down a few times to release any trapped air. Divide the dough into sixteen equal pieces. Place fifteen of them back in the bowl and cover with a damp paper towel.
- Starting with one of the small pieces of dough, roll with your hands into an approximately 18-inch “snake,” and then twist into a pretzel shape. Set pretzel on baking sheet, leaving two inches of space on all sides. Repeat with remaining dough balls. Set pretzels aside for 15 minutes for their final rise.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F with one rack 1/3 of the way up from the oven floor and another 1/3 of the way down from the top. If you have a convection oven, it’s great to use here — just set it to 425° instead. Fill a large, heavy pot with two inches of water, add baking soda, and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to maintain a slow simmer. Place a sheet of parchment or waxed paper on the countertop next to the stove.
- In batches of four to six depending on the size of your pot, gently place pretzels into the simmering water and poach for one to two minutes, until they are quite puffy and floating at the top of the pot. Remove to the parchment paper.
- Brush a little more oil onto the baking sheets. Gently blot any moisture off each pretzel with a paper towel and place back on the baking sheets. Brush each pretzel with a little olive oil and then sprinkle with sesame seeds and a bit of coarse salt.
- Place one baking sheet on the lower rack and one on the upper rack of the oven. Bake pretzels for eight minutes, then reverse the positions of the baking sheets and bake about seven minutes more, until pretzels are beautifully golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably the same day they’re made.
Preparation time: 1 hour(s) 30 minute(s), including proofing
Cooking time: 15 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): Makes 16 pretzels