One day my husband Nathan came home with a huge plastic jug full of pretzels. I’d never seen a jug of pretzels this large, or, for that matter, seen pretzels in a jug—who came up with that idea? It was kind of genius, because the pretzels wouldn’t crack as they do in bags. Plus they were eight-grain, made with all homey, single-syllabic ingredients like oats, wheat, and salt. Nice.

Eventually we ran out, and I thought I should go back to the huge box store where we buy the bales of toilet paper and, now, jugs of pretzels. But now, as I so often do since writing Cherries in Winter, I asked myself: Self, what would Nana have done? Well, she probably would have baked her own pretzels, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I searched the web and found Food Network genius Alton Brown’s recipe for soft pretzels: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/homemade-soft-pretzels-recipe/index.html

My first attempt at “proofing,” i.e. making sure your yeast is alive was not good. I think I added too much salt and killed it. Sorry, yeast. Yeast, The Sequel, was much better: I left out the salt and covered the sugared water and yeast with a towel. (Yeast likes sugar, warmth, and privacy; who knew we had so much in common?) After five minutes, I peeked, and there was foam. It’s alive! Alive!

I added the other ingredients and stopped when I read that this recipe indicates using an electric mixer, which I don’t have. I use a hand mixer, meaning I use my hands. I know an electric one would be easier, but Nana didn’t have one either, and she was a really good baker. Besides, I figured the mixing I did worked off at least one pretzel’s worth of calories. (I’ve really got to get over that calorie-counting thing.)

After the dough bulked up, I made the knots and split the toppings between coarse salt for my husband and cinnamon and brown sugar for me. (Hey, I’m over the calorie-counting thing! That’s the power of the fresh-baked pretzel for you…)

Twelve to fifteen minutes later, I had real pretzels! Big, beautiful, twists that were firm and golden brown on the outside and steamy-tender on the inside. They were fairly labor-intensive, but I think Nana would have liked them too.

Update: These pretzels will turn out so well that you’ll be tempted to eat them all in one sitting. Go ahead, because it turns out that soft pretzels don’t store well. I put them in a plastic bag, which made the poor things sweat. The firm outside got soggy, and the interior went stale, possibly due to embarrassment over sweating. Has this ever happened to you? If you know of a good way to store soft pretzels, please tell me!

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