My job was to make the dough. Over the course of 2 days I turned somewhere between 50-60 pounds of flour into roughly a dozen huge batches of pretzel dough. Each batch took a lot of kneading to turn it into smooth dough that could rise and then be rolled into pretzels. In between batches I helped roll the dough. It was a lot of work and I came home sore and exhausted each night. A year and a half ago I was told I might not regain full use of my left hand after shattering the radius, dislocating the wrist and elbow, and tearing ligaments at both joints. A year ago I was recovering from surgery to remove the hardware that stabilized the bone. I am beyond amazed and deeply grateful that Janita (that's my left hand) held up through the hard work she was asked to do. That picture right there is both my HNT and Da Count for this week.
After the dough spends time rising, the girls with me rolled out small chunks into lengths that could be twisted into pretzel shapes. The girls worked hard to keep up with demand while doing this tedious job. They told me in addition to tiring of the rolling they got tired of hearing me give the story of how pretzels were invented. You all haven't been tormented with it yet so I'll repeat it one more time.
According to the story, a monk wanted to have a little treat to give his students after they recited their prayers and catechism lessons well. He took dough and twisted it into the traditional shape to remind the children of hands folded in prayer. He called the baked treats pretiola, which means little rewards. They became quite a popular treat and were brought to the USA when Germans migrated to Pennsylvania and other states as far as the Midwest.
After the dough is hand shaped it is given a quick bath in simmering water with baking soda dissolved into it. It's not actually cooked in the water, only dunked until it floats to the top and can be fished out. This allows the coarse salt to stick to the surface and causes a chemical reaction during baking that gives the pretzel crust its nice brown color and the texture we like so much. Originally, lye water was used to achieve the same result but since we didn't' really want to poison our customers or give them cancer we used baking soda.
At the festival we baked our pretzels in the old wood burning stove, which a lot of people found rather fascinating. Given that I was kneading crazy amounts of dough with the sun beating on me from the front while the wood stove blasted me from the back, I just found it incredibly hot. A kindly Civil War reenactor started the fire in our stove about an hour and a half before we wanted to use it in the morning so it could get up to the temperature we needed. We fed it wood through one of the top burners that lifted off with a special handle. We kept the baking soda water hot on top as well as a pot of soapy wash water. You can see from the picture it turned out some pretty nice pretzels. So now for the recipe...
I'll warn you to cut the recipe in half though or you may have pretzels coming out the ears.
10 cups flour
2 Tbsp salt
5 cups lukewarm water
3 Tbsp yeast, dissolved completely into the water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4-6 cups of additional flour
-Mix the flour and salt and add yeast water, stirring together until well incorporated.
-Add oil and stir 200 strokes. (That's what the recipe said, but I just mixed it in with my hand until very well blended...much easier than trying to stir that mess.)
-Knead in as much flour as the dough will take to no longer be sticky. Knead well for about 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth. (Lots of times I mindlessly continued kneading while I was giving my pretzel spiel or visitors were asking questions. It doesn't really matter. It's a forgiving recipe.)
-Oil the surface of the dough and set in covered bowl in warm place to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. (On a 87F day it sure didn't take an hour for it to rise properly but if it sits around longer it's no big deal. Like I said, it's a very forgiving recipe)
-Roll chunks of dough into lengths for twisting. (Our were about a half inch thick and about 12-15 inches long)
-Twist into pretzel shape or braid or whatever, the Pretzel Police aren't going to come haul you away if you make weird shapes.
-Place pretzels in simmering water with baking soda dissolved in it (4 Tbsp of soda to 1 gallon of water). Remove when the float to the top.
-Bake for 10-15 minutes at 400F on well greased sheet or until golden brown.
Now fress (eat) up!