I have fond memories of baking with my mom at an early age. She would let me mix ingredients, scoop cookie batter onto the pan, and my favorite duty, roll and knead dough. From those experiences in the kitchen, I learned that baking, with all its various steps, is a great way to involve small children in the cooking process.
Fast forward to life with my three-year-old. Aaron is a curious child, always looking for ways to be involved in the things I'm doing. So I figured homemade pretzels would make a fun mid-morning activity. We measured out the ingredients, let the dough rise, and got to the fun part of rolling the dough into pretzel shapes.
Aaron, with all the attention span that a three-year-old can muster, poked and prodded at one mound of dough while I rolled the rest. He wasn't that interested in making a "snake," and instead created a blob decorated with holes.
When the hot pretzels came out of the oven, he proudly exclaimed, "I helped mommy!" That was proof that the morning had been a success. Oh, and the pretzels themselves were perfect. Soft, a little sweet, and a great snack for both mom and son.
Soft Pretzels (adapted from Alton Brown)
1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Coarse sea salt
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan. Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.