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Homemade soft pretzels from Mrs. Weizer's kitchen - so good you can almost taste them through the picture.

Mrs. Elizabeth Weizer, NPHS English Teacher / Accolade Adviser

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I didn’t get the full experience of the school lunch until high school. In elementary school, I brought a lunch to school in a brown paper bag. I rarely bought my lunch, which was fine with me. I was turned off by the big bucket at the front of the cafeteria into which everyone poured leftover beverages. We called it “Tutti Frutti” and dared people to go over and smell it. Ah, to be eight again.

I never set foot in the lunch line at Pennbrook. I wasn’t even sure how it worked. Every day I would faithfully unwrap my cheese and mustard sandwich with a side of pretzels and an apple. I enjoyed the predictability in the otherwise unpredictable world of middle school.

High school, however, was a different story. I had a job, which meant disposable income, and parents who would rather not make my lunch anymore. I was also relegated to doing my own laundry, but I digress.

As my high school years dragged on flew by, I got tired of making a lunch and instead brought money with me to school. By senior year, I was buying my lunch almost every day, and what a smorgasbord it was!

My particular favorite was steak sandwich day: dry flakes of gray meat piled on a soft roll doused in a neon cheese sauce. I don’t know why, but I thought it was so good. Max Stix were introduced to the café back in the ‘90s and we all devoured them with gusto. I was also a big fan of Knights Delight. I sometimes visited my mom at Pennbrook during her lunch period when I was home from college if I knew the cafeteria was serving Knights Delight. Her colleagues were so confused. I also enjoyed piling pineapple tidbits on my Domino’s Pizza slice. Crisp iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing and chocolate milk rounded out my lunches.

Isn’t it odd that I can recite my favorite school lunches? That, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of food.

I’ve saved the best for last, though. My all-time favorite lunch was a warm and gooey sandwich. A soft, salty pretzel roll. Unctuous layers of ham. Melted American cheese. Yes, the ham and cheese sandwich on a pretzel. I loved opening my foil packet to reveal the sandwich in all its glory. My husband, a fellow North Penn alum, also recalls this sandwich with fondness.

So I made it my mission this weekend to make the best ever ham and cheese sandwich on a pretzel. I know that some stores carry pretzel rolls, but I wanted to try it from scratch.

Here’s how I did it:

Pretzel making isn’t as difficult as it seems. All you need is time and space. The dough needs to rise, stretch, boil, and bake.

 

Soft Pretzels (from www.annieseats.com)
Ingredients:
For the dough:
1½ cups warm water (110-115° F)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
2¼ tsp. instant yeast
22 oz. all-purpose flour (about 4½ cups)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl

 

For finishing:
Cooking spray
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Pretzel (or kosher) salt

Directions:
To make the dough, combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed to dissolve the yeast.  Add in the flour and melted butter and mix just until the dough comes together.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly greased with vegetable oil, turning once to coat.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, about 50-55 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 450° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.

In the meantime, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.

 

I used a bench scraper, which has a sharp edge, to cut my dough. I then gently rolled it into a ball.

Working with one piece at a time, roll a segment out into a 24-inch long rope.

 

This isn’t even close to 24 inches. I had to ditch the cutting board and just use my (clean) countertop to roll out the dough. Channel your inner Auntie Anne during this part.
Make a U-shape with the rope and holding the ends of the rope…

 

cross them over each other and onto the bottom of the U-shape in order to form the shape of a pretzel.  Place onto the parchment lined baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

 
Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 or 2 at a time, for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a slotted skimmer and return to the baking sheet.  Once all the pretzels have been boiled, brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt.  

 

 These pretzels have just been boiled. Note they puff and crack a little. That is perfectly fine! If you find you’re getting low on water, just add more and get it back to a boil. It’s important that your pretzels are in enough water that they are not touching the bottom of the pot. Do not let them go longer than 30 seconds; otherwise, they will absorb a bitter taste from the baking soda.

Bake in the preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 12-14 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

         

 

 Ta-da! Eight warm pretzels for you to eat!

 

Now on to the sandwiching making!

 

Ingredients:

Pretzel, halved

Mustard of your choice (we did homemade honey mustard)

Deli ham, thinly sliced (any type will do)

American cheese

 

Directions:

Spread a thin layer of mustard on one half of the pretzel. Top with the ham and then the cheese. Cover with the other half of the pretzel. Wrap in tinfoil and place in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Carefully unwrap and enjoy!

 

Sorry there are no pictures of the sandwich . . . I ate it before I remember to snap a picture.

 

I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane as much as I have. May your days be filled with delicious and nutritious food—whether from your hands or the cafeteria’s!

 

 

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