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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115 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lisa  |  September 6, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Elissa, you an extraordinary young woman. It is normal to be a little bit home sick when you venture away so far from home with new friends, a new home – new everything. And it’s a hard emotion to understand because you are so excited to be starting this new chapter in your life at the same time. Rest assured, it passes quickly (if it hasn’t already), and you will soon make friends who you will know for a lifetime (you may have even met them already). It is a wonderful time. Enjoy every minute of this new chapter in your life, Elissa.

  • 2. Lis  |  September 7, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Yes to picture posts! :)

  • 3. linda  |  September 7, 2010 at 5:10 am

    we are all “on the ride” with you…so..where ever you take us is wonderful!

  • 4. Tana  |  September 7, 2010 at 9:51 am

    By all means please post pictures of Boston. I’m sure any thing you photograph and write about will be wonderful. You are very talented! As others have said in earlier posts….we are all along for the ride…take us where you will..

  • 5. Cousin Sharon  |  September 7, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Oh Elissa, please do post photos of one of my favorite cities. How about if you create a photographic food journey thru the city and include shots of some of the best goodies you find?

  • 6. cozydelicious  |  September 7, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Beautiful pretzels! I love you rcomment about the Seattle light… amazing how unique light can be to a place. But I happen to love the clear Boston light (then again, it’s what I’m used to). Anyway, it would be wonderful to see this city through your camera!

  • 7. Lori @ RecipeGirl  |  September 7, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Oh my, what an adventure! My husband went to NorthEastern & then lived and worked in Boston for many years. When you’re ready to find an apartment, let me know as we have friends who work in that apartment-finding industry. That being said, you’re going to love Boston and all it has to offer. The weather can be crazy in summer (miserable) and winter (yikes, cold!) but the fall is beautiful beyond words and spring too. I’d love to see a post once in a while of the sights of Boston. Best of luck to you!

    The pretzels look yummy…. have to say that I’ve not made homemade pretzels yet. There’s still time…

  • 8. Sherry Parfait  |  September 7, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Yum! Gonna make these for an upcoming party. Best of luck with school!

  • 9. Tiah  |  September 7, 2010 at 11:43 am

    I think a picture blog of Boston would be wonderful. Coming from the west cost, the east coast seems so exotic like a whole separate country.

  • 10. Charles  |  September 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Good luck with school! I’m glad you were able to stockpile enough recipes to tide us over, but hopefully you’ll be able to do some cooking here and there!

  • 11. Dana - Food for Thought  |  September 7, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    I’m glad you’re getting settled and enjoying your new home! Definitely keep us up to date with your Boston pics.

    These pretzels look awesome.. sounds like a great memory of baking with your mom :)

  • 12. kathycancook  |  September 7, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    It’s good that you are enjoying Boston. It’s such a delightful city… also on Salem St (where Neptune Oyster house is) you will also find Polcari’s which is an awesome little market full of delicious spices and the best coffee in the city.

    If you need any tips (or start to feel a little bit lost/want to meet some local bloggers) come to the Boston Local Food Festival in October there are like 15 of us (local Boston bloggers) helping to organize and coordinate the event!

  • 13. Holli  |  September 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Yes please… I would love a Boston pic blog!!

  • 14. Danae (The Busty Baker)  |  September 7, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    I would love a post of nothing but pictures of Boston! It’s my favorite city! And I love this post. It reminds me of 6 years ago when I moved into my dorm for the first time. It makes me miss college so much. Have a fantastic time these next 4 years.

  • 15. Jenny  |  September 7, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    I was just thinking this morning about how much I was already missing your posts – and here’s one for me to read! I’d love to hear about Boston, keep it up! And congrats on your successful big move. Can’t wait to see what it brings you.

    Good luck, Elissa. And hugs to your parents. I’m sure this is crazy for them too.

  • 16. Danielle  |  September 7, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Your pretzels look amazing! :)

  • 17. suzank  |  September 7, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Non-food posts are just fine! Truth be told, I visit your blog for your descriptive writing. Food is an added bonus.

  • 18. leticia  |  September 7, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    show us how your new city looks like!!! :) and show your college too!!! :) I live in Brazil and our college here is tottally different! we usually don’t move to study in other cities… i think that it’s too interesting!!

  • 19. Rachel  |  September 7, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I worked as an RA last year and your post just reminded me of everything I’m going to miss about dorms and college freshmen. These few weeks when you’re getting to know your dorm family and the rest of your freshman year will truly hold some of the best times of your college experience.

    I remember tearing up as the fire marshal was telling us about the evacuation procedures the afternoon my dad left, and I felt like a fool. No one around me seemed to feel overwhelmed with the newness of it all as I felt. But I too grew to love my floor and all my floormates, so much so that I applied to be an RA, in the hopes of helping another class experience the same community I did.

    So best of luck this year! Keep writing, I want to hear all about it!

  • 20. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction  |  September 7, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Those pretzels look fantastic! Hope you enjoy your time in Boston… It’s one of my favorite places!

  • 21. Melissa B.  |  September 7, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Oh my gosh you’re in Boston! I live in Boston and I’m so thrilled you like it :D It’s funny that you say everyone is friendly (I’m sure you mean mostly your peers, but still) since most people seem to think everyone from Boston is grumpy, pushy and rude. Not to say that we don’t have our share of those folks but as loud a group as we may be we watch out for each other and the Boston I know is friendly, especially if you can dish things right back. I know you probably don’t want to share which college your attending (it’s a fine line we walk for privacy isn’t it?) but I’m curious nonetheless. I went to Emmanuel but my guess for you is Emerson. My uncle, who happens to be younger than me, is going there. Although having said that I suddenly hope you wouldn’t be offended by that because you’re going to some other school which you consider far better :P Anyway, I hope you continue to enjoy your time in Boston and although it sounds like you have a great support system, if you have any questions you think a life long resident could help with then I’d be more than happy to help.

    Also, I’d reccomend a trip to the SOWA Open Market in the South End. It’s on Sundays from 11-4 and although it can be expensive it’s more than worth the trip just to ooh and ahh over all the beautiful crafts.

  • 22. Rose  |  September 8, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I’m very interested. Boston seems like a great city and I would love your take on it. Food, no food, your site is the best.

  • 23. Erin  |  September 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Best of luck on the upcoming school year! Boston is a wonderful city. You are going to have the best time here. Should you need anything at all please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’d be more than happy to help in any way.


  • 24. K  |  September 8, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    I have the chills. I remember the day my Dad dropped me at college. . I too broke into tears. . not sad tears but those filled with anticipation of what came next. I am so proud of you and I will certainly read whatever you post. See you in December. HAVE FUN!!!!!

  • 25. Leslie  |  September 9, 2010 at 12:21 am

    I would love to see posts about Boston. I always had dreams of going to college at BU, but at the last minute, I decided upon a great school in Philadelphia. 10 years later, I have still never been to Boston.

  • 26. Marie  |  September 9, 2010 at 2:30 am

    Oh, yes to seeing and hearing more about you experiences
    in the city of Boston. I got to spend ONE day there six years
    ago. Don’t know if I will ever get there again, but loved walking
    thru Boston Commons, that high end, several block long, section of
    shops nearby, that wonderful, old church (it was being renovated
    when I was there), the North Church and Italian dinner in the North
    End (followed by cannolis). Big sigh here. Thanks in advance for any and all you want to share………………Marie

  • 27. Kate  |  September 9, 2010 at 7:57 am

    The best blogs to read are the ones that integrate life into the kitchen, even if that kitchen is in flux at some time. Post photos of Boston and your new life. You know people will want to see what you’re doing, even if it doesn’t include baking right now.

  • 28. Sharon  |  September 9, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Please keep writing. I have a daughter who moved to NYC a couple of months. She started a blog about her life in the city and the darn kid just doesn’t post often enough! Continue and post often.

  • 29. Shaun Chavis  |  September 9, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Hello Elissa,

    I’m new to your blog. I went to grad school in Boston. Definitely, definitely get over to Flour Bakery (owned by Joanne Chang). If you get there early, they have homemade pop tarts that are incredibly good.

    Also, Boston Univ. Metropolitan College has a culinary program – they offer little one-night evening classes, local food tours, etc, often with some of the city’s best chefs. Might be a fun thing to do some time.

    I’m resisting the urge to list more favorites… I miss Boston.

  • 30. blair  |  September 9, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    After reading a few of your posts, I pretty much decided I know which school you’re attending. I spent a semester there and while it ended up not being the school for me, I agree that the orientation and everything about the student body is amazing. Good luck and enjoy your next 4 years!

  • 31. Sarah  |  September 10, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I’m so excited for you Elissa! I just started my freshman year at a college in Washington DC and everything about my school–from the beautiful stone buildings in the front of campus to the blue and gray M&Ms in the dining hall–makes me never want to leave. Your post captures my first week at college excitement perfectly. Your writing is so beautiful that even without your delicious recipes I for one would love to read about and see pictures of your adventures in Boston.
    P.S. My dorm has a kitchen so if you ever feel the need to trek down to DC you’re more than welcome to come bake here!

    • 32. Elissa  |  September 10, 2010 at 2:27 pm

      Sarah – Are you at Georgetown? I have a friend there!

    • 33. Sarah  |  September 19, 2010 at 3:31 pm

      I do go to Georgetown! What year is your friend? I’m only a freshman, so I don’t know very many people yet.

    • 34. Elissa  |  September 19, 2010 at 3:43 pm

      Sarah – He’s a sophomore, so you might not have met him, but he’s a political sci/econ major.

    • 35. Sarah  |  September 19, 2010 at 11:41 pm

      Cool! I’m an international relations major, so maybe we will run across each other. Though now I’ll have to ask every sophomore boy I meet whether they know 17 and Baking. That’ll be fun.

  • 36. Nonna Beach  |  September 11, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Wonderful post !

    I was born in Waltham, MA. and lived in Boston until I was 5. Our cousin went to college in Boston and I remember going to visit her at her dorm and spending time there. It is a great place and each time I have visited, I love it !

    My favorite memory of Boston was when I was 9 and we were visiting our cousins there. My Aunt took me with her to buy hot dogs at the butcher shop. ( hot dogs and Boston baked beans were a must for Saturday night dinners ) I was amazed that they weren’t in a package but on one long string, right there in the glass case.

    I hope you have a safe, happy and successful year at college…the world is your oyster, so drink it all in !!!

  • 37. Cathy Lalley  |  September 14, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Hey girl! Just checking in with one of my fave’s. Looks like you are doing great! Looking forward to your tales as you discover the treasures of the east coast. you will now know what a bagel REALLY should taste like! BTW- Seastar is missing your cookies.

  • 38. Drea  |  September 14, 2010 at 11:21 am

    My gosh, your writing blows me away. Every time. I love Boston and would really enjoy seeing your photos! Thank you for writing!

  • 39. Kayla  |  September 14, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    I’d love to see photos of Boston! You don’t need to worry about just telling us about food! :0)

  • 40. Valéria  |  September 15, 2010 at 8:13 am

    I loved this post. I lived in Boston for many years and it is just so refreshing reading through the lines and feel every place that you described.

    I would love to see pictures from the city!

    Thanks for a lovely and warming post!

  • 41. Michael Cavinta  |  September 16, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    One of the best pretzels I have tried so far. It was very easy to make as your instructions are very detailed. My family loved it and even asked for my recipe for it. Thank you so much for sharing. Kudos!

  • 42. Madison Shingledecker  |  September 17, 2010 at 1:13 am

    YES!!! I would still read :)

  • 43. Sarah  |  September 17, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Yes! I am at Georgetown! Is your friend a freshman?

  • 44. Jen @ How To: Simplify  |  September 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    I’ve been meaning to make soft pretzels for such a long time now! Your pretzels look great!

  • 45. Heather  |  September 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I’m not sure what I did wrong…but my pretzels were a disaster! I think I used too much egg or something. All of them smelt like scrambled eggs and the egg mixture made all the pretzels stick onto the paper. I couldn’t take them off without taking a bunch of paper with them! Also, the cinnamon sugar mixture burnt. The last 5 I baked without any egg mixture, but they still stuck. I used wax paper instead of parchment paper because that is what I had and I think now that maybe this was my mistake since they stuck even without the egg. Oh well! Hopefully mine will turn out as nicely as yours next time!

  • 46. Heather  |  September 25, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    It was definitely the wax paper. And I just realized that I actually had parchment paper the whole time. I think it was the wax that gave them that funny smell too, not the egg. Well, I’ve certainly learned my lesson for next time! Do *NOT* bake with wax paper!

  • 47. Soft Pretzels - Bread - - Everything Nice  |  September 28, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    […] them. As for the flavors, I’m sure you can come up with a million other ideas! I followed 17 and Baking’s cue and did cinnamon and sugar, parmesan cheese, salt, and almond and brown sugar. They all turned […]

  • 48. {weekend reading 10.02.10} | j'adore you more !  |  October 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    […] Elissa’s move to Boston for college really brings back so many memories—really tugs on my heartstrings. Plus, a tasty pretzel recipe. […]

  • 49. Victoria  |  October 3, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Elissa, I just discovered your blog so please keep going ;-) you write beautifully. What really got me, though, was the pic of your mom’s hands at work. I think that said so much so eloquently. On of m earliest memories is of my mum’s hands, and it made me think that i don’t have a close-up photo of them. they mean so much to me as she has passed on her practical gifts to me. Thank you and all the best from London!


  • 50. competeforfood  |  October 7, 2010 at 1:06 am

    err, For some reason my pretzels came out very baking soda-y and salty. :(

  • 51. Aundrea L.  |  January 26, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    This is my first time reading your blog and WOW! is what I have to say, your writing is so inspiring. I am currently a high school senior getting ready to graduate but I’m having to move out early. Before Ive been eager to leave but now after reading I’m realizing everything that I’m going to be missing and I should just take my time and as you said “drink” the familiar air around me and the pattering of little feet around me. I love change but I’m always unsure about it but I know it’ll take a little while to get used to and once I do I know I’ll love it just as you have with Boston!

    p.s. These pretzels look absolutely amazing! I love to bake and ive been trying to find a recipe for soft pretzels and haven’t found the right ones but this recipe seems like it’ll hit the taste buds just right.

  • 52. Meilily  |  February 8, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    This is a really great pretzel recipe! Thanks! Pretzels come out perfectly!

  • 53. Jasmine  |  April 5, 2011 at 4:28 am

    These pretzels are so cute! The batter seems manageable to make but making the little twists seems like a real challenge.

  • 54. Louise  |  April 21, 2011 at 3:50 am

    hi! how many tsp/tbs does one packet of dry yeast contain?


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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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