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New Year's Pretzel Bread

Description

People often ask me about kitchen tools and utensils, and they always want to know what my favorite food is to cook. That answer is easy: Bread. There is something magical about the chemical reaction of gluten and sugar and yeast that turns inert ingredients into a living, growing and delectable treat. Besides the mystery of transforming a few cups of flour into an expanding mass of dough, baking bread has all the satisfactory components that bring cooks to the kitchen.

Bread doughs are easy and very forgiving. The smell of baking bread permeates the house with an aroma of comfort. The final product is beautiful to behold and delicious to eat.

Keep a supply of bread flour (the higher gluten content makes for chewier, more flavorful loaves), some yeast (buy it economically by the pound) and some powdered milk (for those days when you are snowed in), and you can be baking golden loaves and rolls all winter long.

Because it has such a history as a staple of life, bread has inspired endless traditions in many cultures that tie it to holidays and seasons. For the new year, it is a European tradition to make large, soft, pretzel-shaped breads that are often garnished with candied fruit and nuts. The pretzel is the universal sign of the baker, and it is also supposed to bring luck for the whole year. Not as sweet as cake and not as plain as bread, this colorful pretzel makes a beautiful centerpiece for any New Year's table, and everyone who eats it will feel lucky. Now, where did I put that electric bread slicer?

Category
Bread
Ingredients

1 1/2 cups milk, scalded and skimmed

1/2 cup sugar

4 ounces (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup warm water

1 tablespoon yeast

6 to 7 cups bread flour

1 tablespoon salt

2 eggs

1 pound confectioner's sugar

Almond extract

Water

Toasted, sliced almonds

Candied cherries

Directions
Put the scalded milk, sugar and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and let stir until the butter and sugar are dissolved. In another small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with a few grains of sugar. It should begin to foam in about 5 minutes. Add 5 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon of salt, the yeast mixture and the 2 eggs to the milk mixture. Use a dough hook to mix until it is a soft, even batter. Add more flour 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough forms. Continue to knead until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. Take the dough out on a lightly floured board and give it a few turns to form a smooth ball. Put it into a greased bowl and cover. Let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Turn the dough out onto the board and divide in half. Roll each half into a long rope and shape into a pretzel. Lay the pretzel onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and allow to rise for another hour. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes until dark golden-brown. (Thermometer will read 190 to 200 degrees.) Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Make a frosting by mixing the confectioner's sugar with a teaspoon of almond extract (or vanilla if you prefer) and enough water to make a spreadable icing. Pour the icing over the bread and decorate with the toasted almond slices and candied cherries.
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