We make these roughly every other week, or whenever I have a full box of baking soda, since the baking soda boil kills that little orange box very quickly. Belle requests to “make pretzels out of cookie dough pink cookie dough pleeeease” much more frequently though, because it is so much fun. She hasn’t convinced me to make pink pretzels yet, but we have tried whole wheat flour (meh, but maybe we didn’t get the kneading right), whey (slight sourdough flavor), a 2 hour rise (no difference except more dough), a second rise before the baking soda boil (reduces surface area for the boil and therefore the characteristic flavor it imparts), shaping into buns (meh, same limited surface area problem), and reusing the baking soda boil for another batch the next day (0/10, do not recommend). We’ve also baked without parchment – you can still see the outlines of where the baking soda reacted with the aluminum pan so we stick to the recipe’s recommendation now.
Pretzel dough not only makes something delicious but also gives all the benefits of massive quantities of play doh: kneading, rolling snakes, shaping, squishing, stretching…all those great hand strength exercises disguised as play that prep kids to grasp crayons and write. Kneading the whole ball of dough (“fold, squish, turn” or as Belle says, “fold, fish! Now I eat a little bit just a little bit”) gets upper body strength, midline coordination, and cognitive sequencing involved too.
Rolling dough evenly is a work in progress, since you need to move your hands from center outwards while rolling, and Belle is content to roll with her hands in one place. We adapt and overcome – either she starts the rolling and I finish and shape, assembly line style, or she rolls one piece for fifteen minutes and makes it back into a ball and puts pieces into a cookie cutter that she spied across the room while I do most of the pretzel shaping. Doesn’t matter. Forming and reforming the dough is part of her noticing and fixing her mistakes.
Without enough counter to work on, I end up with shorter snakes ideal for making letters and numbers. I form them, then ask, “Belle, do you know this letter?” “Letter E!” “Yes, letter E for elephant” or “No, not E, this is B for Belle” I say, and move on. Sometimes, we trace a few letters with a finger (always pre-baking soda boil) in the same way that we would write it – down, across the top, across the middle, across the bottom. If you make letters, pinch the corners to help them keep their shape in the boil. Expect to get through the alphabet but not also the numbers.
Skills worked on:
- Early math (forming lines and shapes, counting)
- Early literacy (forming letters and numbers)
- Gross motor (strength from kneading)
- Fine motor (rolling into snakes, scooping, shaping)
- Kitchen safety (knives, hot stove)
- Mixing bowl
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Stand mixer with dough hook or wooden spoon
- Tea towel
- Spotted spoon or tongs
- Large pot
- Parchment paper
- Cookie sheets
- Paper towels
Recipe (x min prep, y min bake, yield: ~40 pretzel sticks or ~30 4″ classic pretzels):
This recipe was handed off from a friend, originally from Sally’s Baking Addiction.
- 1 1/2 c warm water or whey (100-110°F)
- 1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp melted, cooled butter (still liquid, but lukewarm)
- 3 3/4 c flour plus more for work surface
- 1/4 c baking soda
- 9 c water
- Kosher salt (optional)
- Whisk 1 package of yeast into 1 1/2 c of warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let sit 1 minute.
- Whisk in 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tbsp lukewarm melted butter.
- Add 3 3/4 c flour, one cup at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon or dough hook attachment, until dough is no longer sticky. You may need an extra 1/4-1/2 c flour. Dough will be smooth and bounce back when poked.
- Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead for about 3 minutes (about 50 turns, if child is kneading slowly), then form into a ball. Cover with a tea towel and let rest at least 10 min.
- Preheat oven to 400°F and set up the baking soda bath: 1/4 c baking soda in 9 c of boiling water. Line 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment and a plate with paper towels.
- Return to the dough and section off pieces of 1/4-1/3 c. Pieces should be roughly equal for even baking. 1/3 c pieces can be rolled into a 20-22″ rope and twisted into the classic pretzel shape, or smaller pieces can be manipulated into sticks, knots, letters, buns, or other shapes. The bath will twist and set the dough, so no need to be overly precise.
- Drop pretzels into the baking soda bath in batches (2-3 at a time) and let boil for 20-30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon and the paper towel plate to drain them before returning to the cookie sheet.
- Sprinkle kosher salt on the pretzels (optional), then bake 12-15 min. Serve hot with optional mustard, or let cool completely before storing in an airtight container up to 3 days (storing while warm results in a slight sogginess).
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