Make a sponge by creaming together:
1/4 oz fresh yeast (7g)
5 Tbsp water (75 ml)
1 Tbsp unbleached flour
Let stand for about an hour. It should get frothy and smell yeasty (but different from dry yeast.)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, make the dough by dissolving:
1/4 oz (7g) yeast in
2/3 cup warm water
Add and mix for 3-4 minutes:
2/3 cup lukewarm milk
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
yeast sponge (above)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Knead, either by hand or in the mixer, adding more flour as necessary to make a medium firm dough that is soft and smooth. Lightly oil and cover (I leave mine in the mixer bowl - why get another bowl dirty?) and let rise until double (30 minutes to 1 hour). Knock down (punch down), recoat with oil and let rise again (about 30 minutes).
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare two large cookie sheets by lining with parchment paper (not necessary if just doing plain pretzels, but we were concerned about cheese seepage - a greased cookie sheet will work as well.) Fill a large pot with water (about 8 cups) and add 1/3 cup baking soda.
When dough is ready, turn out onto lightly floured surface and divide into portions (we did 8 for larger pretzels, 12 for small). Rest balls under a tea towel while shaping pretzels. Roll each ball into a long rope (size depends on what size pretzel you want - you might need to experiment here.) Bend into a U-shape, then twist the ends over each other and bring down to the bottom of the U to make the classic pretzel shape. (See video.) Let rest on counter for about 10 minutes while you bring the water and soda to a boil.
One or two at a time (don't crowd), slip the pretzels into the boiling water and poach for about a minute, flipping once. Drain and place on cookie sheet, spacing well enough apart.
1 Tbsp water
Brush tops of pretzels with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt, sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and bottoms are done.
Prosciutto and Gouda Pretzels