We are snowed in AGAIN here in Boston, and desperate times call for a kid-friendly kitchen activity using ingredients already in my pantry.  Soft pretzels it is!  The dough is quick and easy to make, requires very little resting or rising, and is sturdy and forgiving, making it perfect for little hands.

Before you start mailing in your nominations for Mother of the Year (She’s so spontaneous and fun!  Creative and resourceful!), I should confess an ulterior motive.  I am a huge fan of Bravo’s Top Chef (though as a cook and as a person who cannot, under any circumstances, think on her feet, I find it very stressful to watch).  Two weeks ago, the Finnish and studiously unlikeable cheftestant Stefan cooked a dish I have not been able to stop thinking about:  duck breast with pretzel dumplings and braised red cabbage.  Oh boy!  I love red cabbage.  And pretzel dumplings?!  How exotic!  How whimsical!  Stefan’s recipe is, predictably, a little brusque, so it took a bit of research to figure out that the pretzels he calls for are the soft, German-style ones, and that his dish is basically Bavarian comfort food.

So, I needed to make the pretzels.  The internet almost unanimously agrees on the recipe, with only one minor point of contention:  most recipes call for briefly boiling the pretzels in a mixture of water and baking soda before baking, but hard-core aficionados insist on using food-grade lye instead of the soda for a truly authentic, Oktoberfest-worthy pretzel.  I used baking soda, and thought the pretzels were magnificent.

If you’re cooking with small children, please keep them away from the boiling water.  And don’t eat the whole batch!  You’ll need two or three stale pretzels for the dumplings.

Bavarian Pretzels

Yield:  Makes 8, 6-inch pretzels

1 pkg. active dry yeast

1 1/3 c. plus 2 tbsp. warm water (about 100-110 degrees)

1/3 c. brown sugar

4 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

2 qts. water

1 c. baking soda

Kosher or coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in 2 tbsp. warm water, stirring with your fingers to break up lumps.  Add remaining warm water, brown sugar, and flour, and stir to combine.  The dough will be very shaggy and the flour won’t fully incorporate — this is okay!  Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead, bringing scraps together, until dough is uniform and smooth, about 5 minutes.  Return to mixing bowl, cover with a clean dishtowel, and let rest 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Divide dough into 8 pieces (larger than a golf ball but smaller than a baseball) and roll each into a rope about 15 inches long.  Bend rope into a U-shape, then cross ends.  Fold bottom loop up, resting rounded end just above cross, and gently press overlapping pieces together.

Let pretzels rest while you bring 2 qts. of water and baking soda to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve soda.  Reduce heat and keep water at a simmer.  Gently slide one pretzel into the water and simmer 10 seconds, then flip it over using a slotted spoon and simmer another 10 seconds.  Remove to a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.  Repeat with remaining pretzels.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until deeply golden brown.  Serve warm (ideally with mustard, sausages, and beer!  Or just plain is fine, too).

Coming later this week:  Braised red cabbage and Pretzel dumplings.