My husband and I hosted a dinner the other day for some friends in different stages of life. Some couples with small children, another couple with grown up children, and still another with no children all came to sit around our table.
I decided to serve soft pretzels as an appetizer. With their thick and airy dough, loaded with salt and served warm dipped into all kinds of sauces, homemade pretzels are bound to be the star of any meal. Not only are they delicious, but they’re also an interactive appetizer. They require the help of my guests, which, I hoped, would also bring them together.
Pretzels, in my opinion, taste their absolute best immediately out of the oven, smothered in some kind of homemade sauce. The dough is made ahead of time, but because of the immediacy with which they need to be served, I leave the final steps to be completed with my guests.
Together, we roll out the dough into ropes two feet long, twist them into fun shapes, and drop them into boiling water. As one person monitors the boiling, fishing out each batch of pretzels after two minutes, another brushes the finished ones with egg yolk and a generous pinch of salt, then places them on a baking tray for the oven.
This is why I love making soft pretzels as an appetizer—or a main course—for company.
First, I’ve learned that when you bring together people who don’t know each other well, creating a common experience around food serves as a starting point for conversation and friendship.
Making pretzels is a win all around. They give my guests something tangible to do, to serve as an ice breaker with someone unfamiliar and a memorable activity with an old friend or family member. Kids and adults alike can participate: even an inexperienced cook can roll out and twist a slab of dough.
Second, allowing other people into my kitchen has taught me so much about the heartbeat behind hospitality.
I used to think that in order to host well, everything had to be perfect. I thought my house had to be deep cleaned, my baseboards scrubbed, plates set, and a three-course meal ready to be dished out to my waiting guests. In my life before children, this was stressful but somewhat attainable. These days, between work and children, stacks of papers and plastic singing toys, it is nearly impossible, and certainly not a situation in which I am collected and calm.
Pretzels, though, are messy. Other hands in the kitchen, shaping dough and prepping dishes for the oven, inevitably cause clutter and a little chaos—which is good for me. It forces me to let go of the idea that my kitchen has to be perfect, and to just enjoy the company of the people I’m hosting.
The truth is, as much as we like to pretend otherwise—as much as we think filling our home with matching dishes and comfortable chairs, with plenty of space and stunning decorations are what we need to entertain well—these are not the things that make up true hospitality.
When we extend ourselves, we extend the most genuine, true form of hospitality we can offer. It is not in being put together that we make people feel comfortable in our homes—it is in our effort to bring others into our space, to make them feel like when they step across our threshold, they belong.
When we had these friends of different ages and stages over, I assigned jobs and put everyone to work. The kids loved making “snakes” out of their pretzel dough, and the adults made a great assembly line, manning the boiling, salting, and baking. While we prepped, we talked about our weeks, about baking, about our jobs, and about our respective kitchens.
When the timer went off and the pretzels were done, we grabbed some beers and sat around the kitchen table, trying out each sauce and complementing each other on the work we’d done. The dishes piled up in my kitchen sink and bits of dough had made it into the far corners of the room. Our guests sat with their sleeves rolled up, leaning across the table for the sauces, any awkwardness or reservation left far behind. It felt comfortable, relaxed, and just right.
Homemade Soft Pretzels
Makes 8 pretzels
- 1 1/2 cups warm (not hot) water
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4–4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- Oil, for greasing
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- 1 egg, beaten
- Sea salt, for garnish
In a bowl, combine water, sugar, salt, and yeast. Let sit until yeast becomes foamy, about five minutes.
Add 4 cups of flour and melted butter to the bowl and mix until well combined, adding up to another 1/2 cup as needed. The dough should take on a shaggy consistency.
Next, knead the dough for five minutes, until it can be shaped easily into a ball. If the dough is sticky, add more flour as needed.
Transfer dough to an oiled bowl and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a rope 24 inches long, then twist into a pretzel shape.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the baking soda and stir to dissolve.
Add pretzels a few at a time, fully immersing them in the water. Boil each batch for 1 minute.
Remove from water and place on a baking tray. Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with salt, and bake for 10–12 minutes, until golden brown. Enjoy!
Honey Mustard Sauce
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons yellow mustard
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons honey
- Splash of lemon juice
Mix all ingredients together thoroughly and chill for an hour before serving.
Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com