What is za'atar? It's a savory Middle Eastern blend of thyme, garlic, sesame seeds, sumac, and other herbs and spices. The sumac gives it a bright, lemony flavor and the garlic and sesame seeds lend it an earthy gristle. Za'atar is delicious, and you won't be able to live without it once you sprinkle it on some garlic toast or a slice of pizza. As far as za'atar conveyances go, you can't get much better than a hot-out-of-the-oven homemade pretzel. Perfect for wintry days and stormy nights, and ideal for dipping in whole-grain mustard.
1 cup water slightly warmer than room temperature
1 package active dry yeast
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp za'atar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup baking soda
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1 egg, whisked
coarse kosher salt
za'atar for topping
Make the dough.
To prepare the water, I usually pour cold, filtered water in a small saucepan and heat it until it's just slightly warmer than my finger. Yes, my breads all have finger juice in them!
Once the water is finger-perfect, pour in the yeast and sugar and let stand for 10 minutes.
In a bowl, combine the flour, yeast, za'atar, sugar, and salt. Stir in the yeasty sugar water and the olive oil. Knead for five minutes, or allow your hand mixer to do the work, with dough attachment. I choose the latter option because my carpal tunnelly wrists would wilt like lilies if I had to knead for any length of time.
Wash out the bowl, coat it with oil, then nestle your now-elastic and pliable dough ball into its clean new home. Throw a damp towel over the bowl and let the dough rise for an hour.
Shape the dough.
Take two baking sheets and cover them in parchment paper.
Gently punch down the dough and divide it into 8-10 pieces (more if you want smaller pretzels). On a floured surface, roll out one piece until it's long and skinny.
Create a circle by bringing both ends toward you.
Twist the two strands around each other.
Lift each end back to the round part of the circle and fold it around the dough such that the pretzel stays in position.
I promise you that you'll pick this up quickly and that it will be easier than it sounds.
Lay the pretzel on one of the baking sheets and start again until all the dough has been shaped.
Cover the dough with the towel.
Prepare the bath.
These lucky pretzels are now going to luxuriate in a baking soda bath!
Preheat the oven to 450.
Fill a large pot or Dutch oven 3/4 of the way full with water. Bring to a rapid simmer, then add the baking soda and brown sugar. The water will froth up. Reduce heat and maintain the simmer.
When the half hour is up, lower 3-4 pretzels into the water. Let them relax for 30 seconds, then flip them over with a slotted spoon or metal spatula so that the other side can enjoy 30 seconds of spa time. Remove and return to the baking sheet.
Repeat this process with the other pretzels.
After all the pretzels have delighted in their bath, brush them with the egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse salt and plenty of za'atar. They'll puff a lot, so lay it on thick.
Bake 12-15 minutes, until the pretzels have turned golden-brown.
Place them on a wire rack.
Make a mustard dip: combine some whole-grain mustard, some smooth Dijon, and a dash of IPA or pale ale. Mix and spoon into a small serving dish.
Serve the pretzels with the dip and eat steaming hot.
Now that you've mastered pretzels, you're just a hop, skip, and jump away from making pretzel dogs, or, in my case, pretzel veggie dogs, otherwise known as HALLOWEEN MUMMIES.
To make these, blister 8-10 dogs on a hot pan for 10-15 minutes. The last thing you want is for your pretzel dough to encase pale, uncooked fake meat.
Wrap the dough around the dogs, covering the ends entirely.
Immerse the dogs in the bath and repeat as before, sprinkling with black sesame seeds and paprika instead of za'atar if you want to try another variation.
- These aren't as hard to make as you think. Try out the recipe on a snow day! The pretzels will disappear instantly and you'll be primed for a nap.
- These are also fine the next day if you heat them up in the oven first.
- I tried adding other seasonings to the dough before baking, but you can't really taste them in the end. The seasonings you put on top will be much more prominent.
A definite five stars.