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Title:Soft Pretzels
Soft Pretzels

1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey or granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups warm (105 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
4 to 6 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, coarsely
    shredded (1 to 1 1/2 cups packed), optional
2 to 2 1/2 cups white bread flour (or unbleached flour)

Glaze and Topping
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Coarse (kosher) salt, very coarse pretzel salt, or seeds,
    such as poppy, caraway, or sesame (your choice)

In a large bowl, mix the yeast and honey with the warm water. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, or until it is foamy. Stir in the oil, salt, whole wheat flour, cheese (if used), and about 2 cups of the white flour, or enough to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead it for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it is smooth and just a bit tacky. Add small amounts of flour as necessary. (Note: The dough may also be mixed and kneaded in a heavy duty mixer or in a food processor, if desired. Follow the manufacturer's directions.)

Grease or coat some baking sheets with nonstick spray. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

To make the pretzel shapes, pinch off a piece of dough; then roll it on a flat surface until it forms a rope that is 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch thick. Shape the pretzels on a flat surface; then immediately transfer each one to a greased baking sheet as soon as it is made. Keep the pretzels about 1 inch apart.

Brush the top of each pretzel with some of the egg glaze; then sprinkle it with coarse salt or your choice of seeds. Vary the seeds used on the different parts of a single pretzel, for an interesting and attractive look.

For chewy pretzels with well-defined shapes, bake them immediately, without rising, in a preheated 425 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are browned and well done. (They will rise slightly in the oven.) (For softer, fatter, bread-like pretzels, let them rise in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes, or until they are almost doubled; then bake them as above until they are lightly browned.) Immediately remove the pretzels from the baking sheets (gently loosening them with a metal spatula, if necessary), and cool them completely on wire racks. Store them in an airtight container.

Yield: about 16 large, standard-shaped pretzels; the number of holiday shapes depends on their size.

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