You never know what you'll learn at the library, that's for sure. If you've already started baseball season by having a soft pretzel at a game, I'll bet you didn't know that April is all about soft pretzels. And now that I've written "soft pretzels" a few times, I'll bet you're starting to crave one. . .
According to History.com, "The Catholic Church played a leading role in the early history of the pretzel. In the seventh century, the church dictated stricter rules governing fasting and abstinence during Lent than it does today. Pretzels, made of a simple mixture of water, flour and salt, were an ideal food to consume during Lent, when all types of meat, dairy and eggs were prohibited." Maybe you already knew this. Well, did you know that in Austria, pretzel bakers have their own coat of arms? In 1510, when Ottoman Turks attempted to invade Vienna by digging tunnels underneath the city, monks baking pretzels in the basement of a monastery heard them and alerted the rest of the city, helping Vienna defeat the Turkish attack. As a reward, the Austrian emperor granted the pretzel bakers their own coat of arms.
But you're hungry, right? And you don't care about all of that history stuff (although I included the link above if you want to read more). You just want to get to the good stuff: the pretzel. But before I get to that, let me give you some advice: Set aside some time for this recipe because the dough rises for an hour. Also, the end of the recipe says to let the butter drip off. Personally, I don't believe in this and have been known to dip my warm pretzel in melted butter. But, it's totally up to you.
Courtesy of The Food Network, I give you the Almost Famous Soft Pretzel recipe:
Warm the milk in a saucepan until it's about 110 degrees; pour into a medium bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let the yeast soften, about 2 minutes; stir in the brown sugar and 1 cup flour with a wooden spoon. Dice 2 tablespoons butter and soften; 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.
Dissolve the baking soda in 3 cups warm water in a shallow baking dish. Gently dip each pretzel in the soda solution, then arrange on the prepared baking sheet and 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.