Pretzels originated in Europe and have come to be most closely associated with Germany. Commercial bakeries cook soft pretzels in a lye-water solution before baking, which helps make the crust brown and glossy and gives a unique flavour. However, plain water can be used and gives a delicious result.
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- 375 ml (13 fl oz/1½ cups) lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 9 g (¼ oz/2½ teaspoons) dried yeast
- 600 g (1 lb 5 oz/4 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 egg, at room temperature, lightly whisked
- 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
- 1 tablespoon sea salt flakes
1. Combine the lukewarm water and sugar in a small bowl, sprinkle over the yeast and set aside for 5-6 minutes or until foamy.
2. Sift 560 g (1 lb 4¼ oz/3¾ cups) of the flour and the salt into a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir until a coarse dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 8 minutes, adding a little more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed. You may not need all the flour, the dough should be slightly sticky.
3. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat in the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 45-55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back the dough with just one punch to expel the air and turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 10 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time, roll into a log about 55 cm (22 inches) long. If the dough sticks to your hands, dust your palms with flour.
4. Working with one log at a time, hold onto each end and make a loop. Twist the ends of the dough together once or twice, as you prefer, then bring them up to the top of the loop and press together to adhere. Place the shaped pretzels on a lightly greased baking tray, well spaced, and set aside for 20 minutes to rest.
5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 210°C (415°F/Gas 6-7). Lightly grease 2 baking trays with oil. Line 2 more baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Gently place 3-4 pretzels in the boiling water and cook for 1 minute, then gently turn, taking care not to damage their shape, and cook for a further minute, until puffed and set. Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove, drain well and transfer to a greased tray. Continue to boil the remaining pretzels. Once all the pretzels have been boiled, transfer them to the lined trays. Brush with the egg, sprinkle with poppy seeds and sea salt and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the trays to ensure even colouring and bake for a further 10-15 minutes or until the pretzels are golden and cooked through. Cool on the trays for 15 minutes, then serve warm.