Jen, our way-cool yoga instructor at Camp GetAway for Mothers & Others had an explosion of gorgeous basil growing in her victory garden. She was asking me about making pesto — just as I was thinking of making pretzels. The ideas collided.
The March 2004 issue of Gourmet had a Kitchen Notebook story on how to make your own New York style soft pretzels. A curious thought! Something like this is like a craft project to me, so that torn page has been in a plastic sleeve in my binder for five years. It was the basil discussion that got me to jump on it, as I had a double bunch of basil on the kitchen windowsill.
Larry loves baked goods. Let me restate that. Larry looooooooves baked goods. Think I got any push-back when I announced homemade pretzels were on the agenda? Not ‘til I said “with basil.” OK, I produced three un-basiled and did five with. He loooooooooved both.
You have three stages here. (1) dough prep and letting it rise, (2) shaping and boiling, (3) baking. Not difficult. Not a super long process, either. And making big fluffy soft pretzels is “cute.” The bonus? The pretzels fit inside our toaster to make sandwiches, too!
Fresh Basil Soft Pretzels
Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 (1/4 oz.) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 tsp.)
3 3/4 cup to 4 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. table salt
1 large egg, beaten
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, minced
2 tsp. pretzel salt (or Kosher salt)
In a glass measuring cup, warm 1 1/2 cups water to lukewarm in the microwave (105 to 110 degrees F), then stir in sugar and yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. If the mixture doesn’t foam, it means your yeast died. Discard and start over with new yeast – watch your water temperature!
In a large bowl, whisk together 3 1/2 cups flour and 1 Tbsp. table salt. Add yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough. It will be very sticky. Dust a work surface with 1 Tbsp. flour, then turn out the dough and knead, gradually adding just enough flour to make a smooth dough (it will still be sticky), about 8 minutes. Don’t over-flour, that creates a tough pretzel.
Return dough to bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. The plastic wrap will have a bit of sweat.
Clean and dry your work surface. Turn out the dough and, using a pizza cutter or dough scraper, cut into 8 equal pieces and set aside. Using the palm of your hands, roll one piece of dough on the dry work station back and forth, elongating it as you go. At this point, add a little fresh basil to roll into the dough, getting it to about 24 inches long, you may dust your hands lightly with flour to keep from sticking. This dough retracts again, thus the really long pieces.
Twist the dough to pretzel-shape, transfer to an oiled baking sheet and form 7 more. Space them 1 1/2 inches apart.
Let pretzels rest, uncovered, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Bring a large, wide pot of water to boil. Using your hands, carefully drop up to three pretzels, one at a time, into the boiling water (upside down on the first side). Boil 3 minutes total, turn over once half-way through. Remove from water with a spatula, drain on a rack and then place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Continue with remaining pretzels until all are boiled, drained and on the baking sheet.
Brush pretzels lightly with beaten egg, sprinkle with additional fresh basil and kosher salt. Bake until golden brown and lightly crusted, about 35 minutes. Cool 15 minutes and eat within a day. They get too soft after that. Enjoy!