I’ve been perfecting this recipe for several years now, and I think you will enjoy it. One word of advice is not to skip the quick immersion in the boiling water! This step makes all the difference in their final texture, creating pretzels that are moist yet crisp. I don't go into a lot of detail here about forming the pretzels, but just do your best. It takes a little practice. Even if they look odd, they should still taste great!
Ingredients and Preparation
1 1/4 cup water or beer (1/4 cup of warm water for the yeast)
3 cups bread flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
about 1 1/2 tsp of dry yeast
2 tbsp softened butter (optional)
1-4 tbsp of sourdough sponge
1 or two beaten eggs
1/2 stick of butter
Activate the yeast separately by adding it to the water and sugar. If you have a bread machine, try using this to prepare and knead the dough. (It helps if you add the water first.) If it’s too large a batch for the machine, try cutting the recipe in half. Otherwise, prepare the dough as you would for an ordinary loaf of homemade bread.
Neither the butter nor the sourdough is a required ingredient, but I think both help make a better finished product. The sourdough enhances the depth and richness of flavor. The butter not only improves both the texture and flavor, but it also might help slightly when it comes time to form the pretzels. (You may also want to try adding one tablespoon corn meal and letting the bread "rest" before rising. Also, cooking sprays work well on one's hands.)
Watch the dough’s progress in the bread machine (or food processor) carefully. It often requires a little fine-tuning with additional water and/or flour in order to achieve a proper ball of dough. You will want the dough to rise for several hours, and, depending on the size and habits of your bread machine, you may decide to transfer before long to a bread pan inside a barely heated oven and cover with a moist towel. (I pre-heat to a couple hundred degrees, put the bread in, then turn off the oven.) As an alternative, you may also want to form the pretzels now, then place in the oven under the towel to rise.
HINTS: Another alternative, recommended by my daughter, is to roll the dough into eight-inch ropes and let those rise before later forming the pretzels. You may also find it helpful to roll the pretzles on a floured cutting board.
When it looks like it’s done rising, it’s time to get everything else ready. Beat your eggs for the wash and set aside. Get a deep pan and fill it halfway with water and bring it to a boil. Begin forming the pretzels by making eight-inch ropes. Once they're formed into their classic shape, carefully pick each up and dip in the boiling water for ten seconds before returning to the greased baking sheet.
When this step is complete and they’ve all had their hot bath, then brush the egg wash over each and season with the course salt and sesame seeds. Bake until lightly browned for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees. Enjoy with melted butter.
Some Quick Pretzel History
Pretzels are said to have had their origin in Europe in the 600s, and were used by monks to reward children for memorizing their prayers and studies. The History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans, describe their invention by a monk "...as a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, 'pretiola' ("little rewards")". Pretzels were also used as a teaching tool for the mysterious three-in-one nature of the Holy Trinity.