Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Soft Pretzel Sticks

I love, love, love soft pretzels.  Philly soft pretzels to be exact.  When you grow up in South Jersey, you come to expect the soft pretzels from street vendors to be in brown paper bags, slightly stale and with the salt beginning to "melt" into the crust of the pretzel.  That's just how we do it.  Sports events, window shopping in the city, heck even at the airport, the pretzel is a staple of the Philly/South Jersey diet. 

And with yellow mustard.  Always.  No fancy stuff for us, please. 
Now, I like wings and the other "usual" football game snacks.  I really do.  But, to me, the pretzel is an absolute must at the stadium.  So why shouldn't it be a staple on your Saturday or Sunday afternoon table right along with the 7-layer dip? 

At my house, there really is only one game that counts.  Only one for which I would even consider putting out snacks and making it an event.  The annual Army/Navy game.  My husband went to the Naval Academy and I have watched every Army/Navy game for the past 16 years- 5 of them in person.  The rivalry is huge and fun and I love the traditions of the game.  From the cadets and midshipmen marching on to the field to start the game, to the push-ups for touchdowns and the singing of the school songs at the end, you can tell how seriously each school takes the game and their responsibility to play it with honor.  It's truly special.  One of my favorite memories of the game (second only to marching onto the field with the midshipmen in 1998) is of taking my then 5 year old son to his first Army/Navy game a couple of years back.
At field level to watch the Brigade of Midshipmen march onto the field at the 2009 game.  There's Bill the Goat!
This year we're watching the game with a huge group of folks from my husband's squadron, many of whom are also Naval Academy graduates.  I have a feeling that it may get a bit out of hand (in a good way).  But all those people need to be fed and I'll be bringing these soft pretzels.  And I'll feel just a little bit happier knowing that the new traditions we make this year will be made doubly special by combining them with traditions from my own childhood.

Soft Pretzel Sticks
From Alton Brown

Makes about 2 dozen 4-inch pretzel sticks

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast (about 2 1/2 tsp)
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 tbs butter, melted

10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
melted butter for brushing the pretzel sticks
kosher or sea salt for sprinkling over the pretzels (I tried both and found no discernable difference)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the water, yeast, salt and sugar.  Let it sit for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly.

Using the dough hook, slowly mix in the flour and butter.  When the flour is fully incorporated, raise the speed of the mixer to medium and knead the dough for 3-4 minutes.  You will have a soft, but not sticky, dough.  Place the dough in a well oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let the bowl sit in a warm spot for about an hour until the dough has doubled in volume.

Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees.  Mix the water and baking soda in a large pot and set the pot over medium high heat.  Bring the water/baking soda mix to a full, rolling boil.  Have two parchment lined baking sheets ready.  Lightly brush the parchment with oil or spray with non-stick spray.

When the dough is ready, remove it from the bowl and lay it on your work surface.  There is no need to flour the surface, the dough will not stick.  Cut the dough into eight equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a rope about 12 inches long.  Cut each rope into thirds and set the pretzel sticks aside.  Continue rolling and cutting until you have cut all of the dough into sticks.

Working in batches of three, carefully place the pretzel sticks into the pot of boiling water.  Remove them after 30 seconds with a flat spatula or large slotted spoon.  Place the boiled pretzel sticks on the baking sheets about 1 inch apart.  Brush the boiled pretzel sticks with melted butter and sprinkle salt over them to your taste.  Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes.  The pretzels will be nicely browned and puffed.  Let cool completely.

Serve the pretzel sticks with yellow mustard for dipping.

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