Pretzel Class

My kids' preschool teachers asked me to do "the pretzel class" every year since I was crazy enough to do it the first time when my oldest daughter was three. Now my children are well beyond preschool, and my "class" lives on here. I am hopeful that they continue the tradition at the school, as they had desired to do.

This is the main "Pretzel Class" article, laying out the pre-baking day activities, and how to bring it all together on the last day.

Find the original recipe here, or my latest version, which uses a cold bath in place of boiling, here. If you go that route, the "boiling station" becomes a "soaking station"

Prelude Activities:

Prior to pretzel baking day, have the children do the following, if possible:

Pretzel Baking Day

Everything you need to take with you to the classroom, and the steps for turning the dough into pretzels. Includes exploration of wheat and yeast, and how they are used to make bread.

Equipment:

  • dough, ready to "punch down" at the right time in the class discussion; for a nice touch for the kids, use some home-ground flour in place of some of the regular flour, so you can tell them that it's in there.
  • dough knife
  • silicon mats for rolling dough on
  • ruler
  • pot
  • measuring cup
  • 2 Tbs baking soda
  • burner
  • whisk
  • slotted spoon
  • cooking spray-oil
  • 3 baking sheets
  • 2 cooling racks
  • parchment paper
  • pretzel salt
  • 2 timers
  • hot pads
  • spatula
  • paper towels
  • foil
  • pen
  • oven, such as a portable convection oven, and baking sheets that fit in it.
  • bowl of rising dough, timed to complete first rise as the class discussion starts; over-proofing some is ok here.

Discussion Props:

  • a slice of regular bread
  • a flour tortilla
  • the "yeast buddy" from the yeast experiment
  • a small bowl of flour, preferably including some that the kids made themselves, and a small cup of water, for making a demo dough ball
  • sprouted wheat
  • wheat life-cycle photo
  • an already-made pretzel
  • the bowl of pretzel dough
  • access to the "stations", described below, for demonstrating pretzel baking steps.

Discussion:

Before making the pretzels, gather the kids. This discussion will tie together all of the activities the kids have been doing leading to baking day, and show them how to do the pretzels.

  1. Remind the kids how they crushed grain and sifted it to make flour. Show them the wheat life cycle photo and the sprouts, demonstrating that the grain is also seeds.
  2. Put some flour (preferably what they have made) into a bowl, add water, and knead into a small ball. They will be surprised to see the powder turn into a springy, stretchy ball.
  3. Show them a flour tortilla, explaining that it is made of dough. Show them a slice of bread, and that the difference between the flat tortilla and soft bread is the holes.
  4. Show them that you can make a balloon out of the small dough ball, by shaping it.
  5. Talk with them about the yeast experiment, where the yeast in a water bottle eat sugar and blow up a balloon.
  6. Ask them how they think you could get all those little holes into the bread. Hint about the yeast, if someone has not already guessed (someone guessed immediately today). If necessary, explain that if you put the yeast into the dough, they will blow it up, making the holes they can see in the bread, and that the yeast will also blow up the pretzels.
  7. Show them the pretzel dough, in a large bowl, puffed from its first rise. Tell them this is the dough you made for them to make pretzels out of, and that it is already puffed up. Make sure that everyone is watching. Slap the top, and let them see it sink to less than half the size. Usually they find this pretty cool.
  8. Show them a sample pretzel, if you have one, and say they will be making one today. Demonstrate rolling the rope, twisting the pretzel, boiling, and salting it.

Steps (Set up stations before the discussion):

1. Dough Station: Using the dough knife, cut dough into enough pieces for your class, up to 32 pieces. Place them on a sheet of parchment, on a cookie sheet. Get each child a piece of dough, after they wash their hands.

2. Shaping station: Set up tables with silicon mats, a ruler, and a copy of the pretzel-shaping chart, below. If the mats are large, two children may share a mat. I like to have room for four kids to work at once, with two helper moms.

Each child will roll a long rope. Use the ruler to make sure ropes are about 15", and use "pretzel shape" picture for shaping steps.

Some kids may mash the pretzels, or pick them up; this should be discouraged. The moms will need to coach most of the kids on how to roll the ropes out evenly and long. Roll the dough gently, starting with hands together in the middle, spreading your hands apart as you roll. For each child, cut a square of foil and indent the child's name in the foil with a pen. Spray it with the cooking spray. Take the foil and pretzel to the boiling station. Place any "extras" for teachers and helpers onto a parchment sheet, or sprayed foil.

3. Boiling station: Get six cups pf water boiling in a pot or deep saute pan. I prefer a portable induction burner. Whisk in baking soda. Next to the pot, have a timer and a spider/large slotted spoon. Also set up a baking sheet lined with paper towels, and a cooling rack on top. Spray the rack with cooking spray. Have extra water nearby to replenish as it boils off.
Boil the pretzels for 1 minute, placing up to four pretzels at a time in the pot. If you let the kids put them in, place the pretzel on the spoon and lower gently; don't splash the boiling water. Take care to remember which belongs to whom. Use the slotted spoon to scoop out the pretzels onto the rack, and have the pretzel salt ready to sprinkle on wet pretzels. Let the kids put on the salt after watching them boil, then place the pretzels on the named foil squares.

4. Baking Station: Preheat a portable oven (preferably convection) to 450. Nearby, set up a cookie sheet with cooling rack inside. Have hot pads, timer, and a spatula handy. 

Place the pretzels, foil and all, onto the oven's baking sheet. Fit as many as reasonable. Convection ovens can bake multiple trays at once. Bake until nicely browned on top, 12 min (6 if it's a convection oven). You may need to rotate the pans to get even browning. When done, use the spatula to move pretzels to a cooling rack.

A proud 3-yr-old (mine!) holding her pretzel. the "yeast buddy" is visible in the upper left.


A hand-sketch of the pretzel-making equipment.

Tortilla

Dough ball










Discussion props: bread, tortilla, yeast buddy, small bowl of flour and water, sprouted wheat berries, life cycle photo, risen dough, and a pretzel.




Pretzel shaping diagram, and dough shaping station.



Boiling and salting station.

Baking station.




A couple of the girls pose with the class's pretzels. The grain crusher/flaker is visible to the left.
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