It is currently 58° outside and I am LOVING it. For once, when my family sends their smug, sunny Snapchats with the tropical South Carolina temperature in the center, I can counter with at least an arguably pleasant number. What’s more, there’s nothing like baking with all of the windows open in the apartment: it draws me to take on a rather Disney princess-like persona and flit around as if the entirety of the natural world outside was singing a song as I whisked and my little squirrel friends and I were laughing as I let flour explode all over my apron yet again. Yeahhhh you can tell that I don’t see much of the sun. All downfalls of my vampire lifestyle aside, though, living in the cloudy Steel City does force one to appreciate the gift of warm sunlight. It’s so rare that when it does make an appearance–especially as early as March–it’s almost like an undeserved surprise, an unforetold gift.
I’ve spoken before about my passion for surprises, specifically elaborate, well-engineered ones. Today, though, the sun and these pretzels have me remembering those surprises that aren’t so meticulously planned. These surprises are the spur of the moment, random acts of kindness, just because gifts, and they often bring just as much joy to the recipient as the well thought out ones.
When my sister and I were younger, one of our favorite outings with our grandma was exploring the mall. (I realize even as a young twenty year old that that sentence is already losing its relevancy!) In my opinion, there are two qualifications for something to be considered a mall, or a decent one, at that. 1. It must be a collection of attached stores and restaurants in an easily traversed area. 2. It must be thoroughly infused with the smell of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. Number two was immensely important to my sister and me, for the biggest question in our minds each time we went to the mall did not involve clothes or toys or makeup; it was whether we would get soft pretzels. Those days that our grandma detoured our trip to the parking lot and instead led the way to that glorious blue and white awning were the highlights of our childhood shopping careers. She knew we loved it so much that she’d even surprise us at her house when we visited sometimes. One minute we were slaving away at our long division in the living room and the next we were met with the wonderful crinkling sound of the pretzel paper and the smiling face of our grandma as she emerged from the kitchen with her surprises.
These pretzels will hopefully bring the same warm, chewy, soft pretzel vibes I hold so dearly. They’re extra soft on the inside with a bite to the outside, and the coarse sea salt and buttery flavor give you that taste that makes you want to close your eyes and just mmmmm for a minute. Try them alone, with this fresh pesto dip, or with your favorite dunking alternative! (Check out the recipe for vegan alternatives)
I’m very blessed in the fact that on the fly gifts have by no means been limited to my younger years. As recently as this week, I received completely unexpected gifts from two different friends. The fact that I’m still gushing over them speaks to the fact that the preparation time for a display of kindness really doesn’t correlate with the impact it makes. Of late, I’ve been thinking that keeping an eye out for tiny presents, things I may be tempted to walk past because they seem too insincere or random, can be SO much fun! And quite honestly, much more manageable for people with schedules like mine. I’m reminded that not having enough time, enough money, enough grand ideas, are simply invalid excuses for doing nice things for friends. I’m so thankful for the incredible gifts I’m given by those around me–but I’ve sure got plenty of work to do to even the scales! I hope that as I mature, I can grow to give little blessings as generously and abundantly as the Carolina sun.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.
Salted Soft Pretzels (V)(SF) with Pesto Dipping Sauce
- 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
- 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
- 2 tsp monk fruit sweetener (I use Lakanto Golden style) **use real sugar if desired
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 TBSP vegan butter, melted (I use earth balance buttery sticks); plus more for brushing
- 3 1/3-3 2/3 cups all purpose flour
- 10 cups water
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- coarse sea salt for topping
PESTO DIPPING SAUCE
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 2 TBSP fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 2 medium cloves of garlic
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 4 roma tomatoes
- olive oil
- Mix together lukewarm water, yeast, and monk fruit sweetener (or sugar) in bowl of a stand mixer. Let sit for about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the melted butter and salt.
- Begin adding flour 1 cup at a time, stirring the first few cups in and then attaching the dough hook and mixing the remaining flour in on low speed. Once you’ve added 3 1/3 cups, you can add up to another 1/3 cup of flour until the dough is consistently pulling off the sides of the bowl.
- Increase mixer speed to medium and allow the dough to knead until elastic and smooth, around 8 minutes.
- Remove dough from bowl; grease inside of bowl; place dough back in bowl and cover with saran wrap or a damp towel.
- Leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Mix 10 cups water with 1/2 cup baking soda in a large saucepan and bring to a rolling boil over medium/high to high heat.
- While mixture heats, remove dough from bowl and separate into 8 equal sections. Roll each section into a long rope, form a U by bringing the two ends towards each other, twist the ends around each other, and fold the twisted section down on top of the curved bottom to form each pretzel shape.
- Using a slotted spoon or spatula, carefully place the pretzels one or two at a time into the boiling mixture and boil for 30 seconds each. Place back on the baking sheet. Once all pretzels are boiled, carefully move each to the dry baking sheet.
- Brush the pretzels with more melted vegan butter, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes, or until they are deep golden brown. Enjoy immediately or keep at room temperature for a few days and heat in the microwave to serve.
PESTO DIPPING SAUCE
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Halve the tomatoes and lay them on the tray. Drizzle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Roast in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Allow to cool before assembling sauce.
- Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or the cup of a Nutribullet. Blend until smooth.
- Store in fridge until ready to eat.
**for vegan alternatives: Simply dip the pretzels in your favorite pesto, or stir some into plain hummus for a thicker option!