Soft Pretzels

September 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm 115 comments


It’s hard to believe that only one week ago, I was between homes.

My parents and I flew red eye. As we made our way to the airport, I kept my face turned towards the car window. In the struggle to pack every suitcase into the trunk and leave nothing behind, I’d forgotten to take one final glimpse of my house, the garden, or my room. I felt uprooted and uneasy. I spent my last hour in Seattle trying to drink in the mountains, the water, the evergreens made silhouette-black by the twilight.

By the time we boarded the airplane, the sun had set completely. I spent the flight between sips of ginger ale and bouts of restless sleep. But when I awoke five hours later to the pilot’s voice, crackly as crepe paper over the speaker, the aisle was flooded with light. Boston woke up that morning to a lavender sky and a molten orange sun, one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen.


I can’t pretend that my first days in Boston were without fault. It was uncomfortably hot and humid upon our arrival. On our first day we walked and walked and walked, until finally I nearly threw up in the sweltering subway station. And I was terrified. One of the first to move into the dorms, as soon as my parents left me alone to run some errands, I sat on my new bed and cried. It was just an accumulation of all the stresses, and you know I’ve never been good with change.

But I unpacked, and everything found its place. I fitted the bed with my old sheets and blankets, so it felt familiar. By the time my roommate E- arrived, I was ready to meet her, and that night I slept easily in my new room.

My parents left a couple days later. I met them at Neptune Oyster on their last night, where we had some really excellent calamari, smoked tuna, and raw oysters. I went through the motions of dinner like some weird dream, and fought tears when I hugged my mother and walked out. I slipped onto the T, rode home, and smiled at E- when I got back to my room.


I’m sure that my school is the best school in Boston, maybe even the best school in America. (Half kidding.) The energy and passion here is honestly infectious. The people here are spirited, talented, and friendly to a fault. I’ve been to so many orientation events and activities that I can’t keep them all straight. I’ve met so many people that when I recognize a face, I don’t know whether it’s from an icebreaker game or the dining hall. And I love it.

Even though it’s only been a few days, I’m already in love with this dorm building. I love the creaky elevators and the beautifully detailed ceilings. I love my roommate, who is funny and outgoing and open as a book. I love my 7th floor – where to even start? On the first night, when we played a 30 person game of musical mafia? Two nights ago, when we sat beneath the purple sky in the Boston Common? Maybe yesterday, when we went to the Quincy Market together and sang “Stand by Me” with one of the street performers.

There’s P-, who is all too humble about his guitar and singing talents and wears funny shoes. There’s J-, who sounds EXACTLY like Michael Cera if you close your eyes. H-, who I shared an impromptu hug with in the elevator, S-, who looks like Mark Ruffalo, and C-, who has posters of Elvis around her bed. Is it possible that they already feel like family?


I love the city of Boston. The way the squirrels in the Boston Common come right up to your feet. I love that everything is within walking distance, from the seedy grocery store in Chinatown to the fresh produce in Haymarket Square. My favorite place so far is the North End, where I like to walk alone through the winding cobblestone streets and carry a twine-wrapped box of cannoli.

Although I’ve tried plenty of good food here, the one thing I haven’t done yet is bake. This dorm building doesn’t have a real kitchen, and anyway, I don’t have any ingredients or supplies at this moment. My schedule’s been so hectic that I haven’t craved it yet, but I will. I can’t picture my life without mornings at the kitchen counter. I don’t know yet what will happen, but I know I can make it work.

These pretzels were the last thing I baked. It was the weekend before Boston, and my mother and I kneaded and twisted in the soft Seattle light I already miss. Neither of us had ever made pretzels before, and it was a bit of an experiment. We fumbled with the boiling water and had no idea how to form the shapes. But when the pretzels finally came out of the oven, soft and golden-brown, we couldn’t wait to take the first bite.


My life right now is anticipation. I can’t wait to bake again, and to start classes this week. I can’t wait for the leaves to turn crimson and gold in the October breeze. I can’t wait for snow in December, by which time I’ll probably be missing the August heat, and planning my first flight back to Seattle – a trip from one home to another.

[PS: If you’re interested in hearing more about my day-to-day college experiences in Boston, follow me on Twitter!]

[PPS: Would anyone be interested in a no-recipe, no-food post with just photos of Boston? Remember, though, I have enough food photos and recipes stocked up to last the year!]


Soft Pretzels
Adapted from Martha Stewart via Smitten Kitchen
Makes 16 full sized or 32 mini pretzels

2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola oil
¼ cup baking soda
1 large egg

Sea salt or pretzel salt
Cinnamon sugar (mixed to taste)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Brown sugar mixed with water and chopped almonds

Add the warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer. Use the dough hook and stir to combine. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it sit for 10 minutes, until the yeast is foamy.

On low speed, mix in 1 cup flour until combined. Mix in the salt and four more cups of flour until combined, about 30 seconds, then beat on medium-low speed for 1 ½ minutes until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Knead in another ½ cup of flour for a minute on low speed. Depending on your dough, you can knead another ½ cup of flour. Knead for 30 seconds, until combined, then transfer to a floured board and knead 10 times until smooth.

Coat the sides and bottom of a large bowl with oil. Transfer the pretzel dough to the bowl, turning it so that all sides of dough are coated with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm spot for an hour, or until the dough doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line two to three baking sheets with parchment paper, or spray with cooking spray.

Punch down the dough. Knead it once or twice on a lightly floured surface, then divide into sixteen 2 ½ ounce pieces. Keep the pieces wrapped in plastic so they don’t dry out.

Roll each piece of dough into an 18 inch long strip and twist into a pretzel. Place on the prepared baking sheet and cover with a kitchen towel. Let the pretzels rest for 15 minutes.

Fill a large, shallow pot with a couple inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the baking soda (it’ll foam up) and the last 2 tablespoons of sugar. Reduce to a simmer and poach the pretzels – cook 3 to 4 at a time, a minute on each side. Transfer to the baking sheet with a slotted spoon.

Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water and brush over the poached pretzels. You can sprinkle them with toppings – grated cheese, cinnamon sugar, salt. My favorite pretzels were almond. I mixed a few spoonfuls of brown sugar and water, and added chopped almonds. Bake the pretzels until golden brown, 12-15 minutes, and cool on wire racks. I thought they were best warm and fresh, but you can keep them uncovered for up to two days.

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Brown Butter Baked Alaska & Ice Cream Petit Fours SHF Round Up #68 – Brown Butter

115 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bonnie Riffle  |  September 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Well, I for one, would definately be interested in a post with photos from Boston! P.S. your pretzels look great! i keep seeing homemade pretzels popping up here and there…I really think I need to give these a try!

  • 2. Warren Guykema  |  September 5, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Boston is my fave US city. Count me in for your non-recipe column with photos.

    Best wishes!

  • 3. Molly  |  September 5, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Yes, please! Your beautiful writing, plus photos of Boston?!? Food or no food, count me in.

  • 4. Jane  |  September 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Yes, I hope you keep writing your blog even while you don’t have ready access to a kitchen. You will find ways to talk about food, if you want to, within the confines of your new life and readers will be interested. Good luck this week with your new classes!

  • 5. Erin  |  September 5, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Yes! I went to Boston this summer actually, just for a day though, and I fell in love with it. It is beautiful there and I would love to see your pictures! Good luck with your classes and I hope you enjoy your college life!

  • 6. bel  |  September 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    That was such a lovely, optimistic and uplifting post. I’m so glad that you have found the place that you really want to be, and that you are sharing the experiences with a great, eclectic bunch of new friends. I guess that’s the beauty of college, isn’t it?

    Your writing is just as worthy for posting as your recipes. You don’t need the excuse (not that you’re making excuses!) of baking to make posts, So basically, YES, I would love if you’d post, even without recipes etc.

  • 7. Joe @ Eden Kitchen  |  September 5, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    The pretzels look fantastic. They are not common in this part of the world so I’ve never made them before… but i’m very intrigued by the recipe and look forward to trying. Good luck with this new chapter in your life :)

  • 8. Wilde in the Kitchen  |  September 5, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Good luck with starting classes! If you’re feeling stressed be sure to stop by Lulu’s in the North End. Great cupcakes & desserts!

    I love soft pretzels, they are the only reason I go to baseball games!

  • 9. Sue  |  September 5, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I would love to see a Boston post. Your beautiful photography combined with one of my favorite cities – what could be better! Glad to hear you’re enjoying school! What’s your major?

  • 10. alisabethsalois  |  September 5, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Hi there. I’m a first time commenter, but long time reader, and I just wanted to cast my vote for a non-food-or-recipe related blog post. You write so beautifully and I’d love to read all about your insights to a new city, a new college, and a new chapter in your life.

  • 11. Jessica  |  September 5, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    I would love to see some photos of Boston and hear more about college!

  • 12. Kate  |  September 5, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    This makes me so excited for when I will eventually go off to college. Sounds like you are having a wonderful time. As you were describing Boston all I could think was how much I really wanted to see pictures. I definitely think you should post about Boston more often.

  • 13. Ashlae  |  September 5, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Enjoy the eastern part of the country – I recently moved west and am really longing for the humidity and cold, snowy winters. Your pretzels look delicious, and I wish you all the best on your first day of class.

  • 14. Joanne  |  September 5, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    I’d love to read more about your new life in Boston. It sounds like you are enjoying it already.

  • 15. Warm Vanilla Sugar  |  September 5, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    I’d be interested in seeing Boston photos! Keep up the baking of course (when you have time). These pretzels look amazing!

  • 16. Sophie  |  September 5, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    It was so nice hearing about your first week at university. I started university in Wales last September and reading your post brought all the memories back of those first few weeks. You’ll soon settle in and make lots of friends.
    I think a post just about Boston would be lovely. Keep up the excellent writing and good luck :)

  • 17. Stacey  |  September 5, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Sounds like your first week in Boston was awesome. I remember mine (I’m a few years older than you) I also fought back tears when my parents left and had many of the same experiences you described. I graduated last year and now live/work in Boston. I’m still amazed with this city and love that everything is so close. I love it and hope you do too. I know you don’t know me but I would love to have you come bake in my apartment. Keep up the good work!!

  • 18. Amanda  |  September 5, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    yum, almond topping!
    my favorite, and reminds me of auntie anne’s!

  • 19. fulltimefoodie  |  September 5, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    I’m applying to colleges now and I dream of going to school in Boston. It’s ideally close to home and it just so happens to be my favorite city! I’m glad you’re liking it so much and there is so much more for you to discover – and those cannolis? mike’s pastry right? Aren’t they just the greatest? I’ve tried every single flavor of cannoli they have and I still always come back for more every time I’m near the north end. And I’ve been planning to make soft pretzles for a while – thanks for reminding me that they’re on my list of things to bake!

  • 20. jlcommeree  |  September 5, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    I love Boston. Pictures? Yes, please!

  • 21. Baking Monster  |  September 5, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    aaw Elissa this makes me so happy to hear your enjoying yourself. I have a friend that is a junior at BU I’m not sure if thats where your at. I just applied for a different college in boston. :) I would love to just see pictures of Boston!

  • 22. Margarita  |  September 5, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Oh, my, Elissa, I would miss your posts if you didn’t. I love your writing and photos. These are your college years, I don’t want to miss them. It’s not only the food but your perception of life through your writing and photos I would miss. I so look forward to hearing about your life there in Boston. I am excited for you. Bless you. <3

  • 23. Darina  |  September 5, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    What a lovely post. Such a big change for you, but I’m sure you’re going to love it. I remember those days as the best in my life. You have a lot to look forward to. Thanks for sharing your story–and your lovely photos.

  • 24. karlee  |  September 5, 2010 at 8:25 pm


  • 25. Mandy  |  September 5, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    I’d love to see your boston photos! Good luck!

  • 26. Heather  |  September 5, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    I’ve never been to Boston, so yes please, I’d LOVE to see photos and your descriptions! and so glad to hear you’re loving college and that it’s a good fit for you :)

  • 27. Jules from A Little Bite of Life  |  September 6, 2010 at 12:07 am

    I have quietly followed you for about six months, but your post today broke my heart. Maybe because I am the mother of a pre-teen and dread the day he will go off to school, or maybe because only a short time (snort) ago I remember the feelings I had my first few days at college. Whatever the reason, I know that you are so torn now–both excited at your new adventure, and sad to be so far away from family… Know that even though you are far from your family (distance wise), your relationship will change and grow, just as your adventures. Good luck to you! I will follow whatever you write, food posts or not, your writing is so eloquent.

  • 28. Tami  |  September 6, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Good luck at school. Just dropped off my oldest baby for her sophmore year. She was so excited to get back to her new ‘home’ and see all her friends. And yes, those people become your family-you are surrounded by people who share your dreams and desires-what better way to acclimate yourself to a brand new city? Hope you do a post about Boston-I have never seen it first hand and would love to see it through your eyes.

  • 29. RC  |  September 6, 2010 at 12:19 am

    Yes, please post photos of Boston. I’m glad you are enjoying your first week. May you continue to have a wonderful time.

  • 30. Ryan @ Ryan's Baking Blog  |  September 6, 2010 at 12:23 am

    good luck with school, moving out on your own for the first time is pretty weird but you get used to it fast. Boston is a great city, they have the best cupcakes I’ve ever tasted (at Sweet Bakery).

  • 31. bittersweetbaker  |  September 6, 2010 at 12:23 am

    I think this was my favorite post. It actually made my feel homesick, though I’m right a home where I am. I would love to see photos of Boston, recipes or not!

  • 32. Tia @ ButtercreamBarbie  |  September 6, 2010 at 1:13 am

    good luck with everything!!! your pretzels and the topping choice looks delicious :)

  • 33. Sheena  |  September 6, 2010 at 1:17 am

    college life sounds very fun! And even without food it’s always nice to read your posts, and speaking from someone from Australia, I’d love to see pictures of Boston! Good luck with everything :)

  • 34. Sheena  |  September 6, 2010 at 1:17 am

    college life sounds very fun! And even without food it’s always nice to read your posts, and speaking as someone who’s never been to the US, I’d love to see pictures of Boston! Good luck with everything :)

  • 35. Fatima  |  September 6, 2010 at 1:53 am

    So glad that you’re adjusting well. I would LOVE to see posts on Boston without recipes or food – especially since I’ll be moving there next year from much further away (South Africa)! Sorry karlee – looks like you’ve been outvoted thus far!

  • 36. Ann  |  September 6, 2010 at 2:14 am

    Hi, I’ve been following your blog recently, I love your recipes and photography! I graduated from college last year and will be studying patisserie next year! (Can’t wait) My dream is to do food photography and food styling :)
    Keep up the good work, and would love to know about your life in Boston!
    Just wanted to let you know, you have another fan in South Africa!!
    Take care!

  • 37. Heather  |  September 6, 2010 at 3:56 am

    I am so happy and excited for you to be starting your first year of college!

    I hope that you’ve left behind any of the disappointment you felt in that blog post from long ago.

    Also, I am jealous! Reading this makes me miss my own college days! I finished school 5 years ago. But it might as well have been 30 years ago because it feels like such ancient history.

    Soak up every experience. Enjoy every moment. It will be gone before you know it.


  • 38. Robyn  |  September 6, 2010 at 6:07 am

    You seem to have many readers from South Africa! I’m another one. I can’t imagine how you must feel, leaving home so far behind and not having a kitchen to bake in! *gasp* I think I’d die. I’m looking forward to keeping up with whats going on in your life, I’ve come to think of you as a friend through your blog, thinking of you as you deal with all the change, Luckily excitement comes with the change. Don’t stop posting recipes though! :) you make awesome things

  • 39. Elsa  |  September 6, 2010 at 8:10 am

    I’ve always wanted to visit Boston so I’d like to see some pictures!! Have a great term :)

  • 40. Jeannie  |  September 6, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Um, YES, of course we’d love a post about Boston!

    You know what I think you should do? A post about photography! Cause your photos are just stunning, and I wanna be in on the secrets!

  • 41. Anna Kristina  |  September 6, 2010 at 8:37 am

    We love the North End too! Actually headed there today. Be sure to try the pistachio macaroons at Mike’s – their cannoli is amazing for sure, but their cookies are some of the best I’ve ever had. Crunchy outside, melting in the middle, bursting throughout with incredible flavor!

  • 42. Jessica  |  September 6, 2010 at 9:01 am

    I’m glad you’re in love with it here! I actually visited Seattle and Portland this past summer and was absolutely smitten. I wondered how could anyone compare it to Boston? But I’m glad you’re enjoying it despite our crazy crazy heat wave. Living by Boston Common must help a lot though. For a student such as yourself, try the Gourmet Dumpling House in Chinatown, it’s affordable and delicious! I would love to see your posts! I’m always interested in seeing how newcomers think of Boston so please do! I actually made your raspberry chocolate ganache cake but into a mini cupcake form this past weekend and it was still sooo incredibly moist!!

  • 43. Eeva-Maija  |  September 6, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I’d be interested about Boston life posts without recipes! I love the recipe posts too though!

  • 44. debbie  |  September 6, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Good luck, Elissa! Not that you need it. And yes, I’d love to see/hear your thoughts on Boston. My mom’s from there, but we haven’t visited in years so… Ahh, nostalgia.

  • 45. Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking  |  September 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Elissa, I went to school in Boston and it was the best experience of my life. It may be a little scary now, but over time you will absolutely fall for it. Especially in the fall… the area is unlike anything else you’ve seen. I live in Cailfornia, but I’m trying to get back there as soon as I can. Congratulations on starting college – You have a bunch of readers rooting for you every step of the way!

  • 46. Denise Rambo  |  September 6, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Sweetie – I’m interested in ANYTHING you post! The way you right makes me smile. BTW – did you get those cannoli at Mike’s?

  • 47. Katy  |  September 6, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I’m so so glad that your college experience is starting off so well! (And don’t worry. The first time my parents dropped me off at school, I bawled like a baby.)

    I would love to read posts about Boston, or whatever you feel like writing about!

  • 48. Leanne  |  September 6, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    ABSOLUTELY!! I (along with many of your followers) would love to hear of and see your adventures in Boston

  • 49. Lindsay  |  September 6, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I am so glad you posted this! I’m also moving away to college soon (less than 2 weeks!) and I’m excited but also terrified! Good to know that I’m not the only one. Also, I share that anxiety about not being able to bake anything! Hopefully we can both make it through the year! =]

  • 50. musketnuss  |  September 6, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Oh, those look yummy.
    I’d also be really interested in a post about Boston!


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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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