Do you remember that Gap commercial from the late 90's? The one were people were jumping around in white room with full on denim suits and that catchy tune played in the background, "Fall-In-To-The-Gap"? No? Well, I do. I can even tell you the grade I was in when those were inundating our television screens and interrupting our episodes of Friends. Sixth. I was in sixth grade. It was the beginning of Fall and school had just started. I had spent the summer mentally preparing for the sixth grade, changing my "look" (aka getting a terribly short bob), and preparing my mouth for braces.
That last part about the braces is where the Gap commercial played a pivotal part in my adolescence. You see, the family orthodontist had put this medieval contraption into my mouth called a spacer. My adult teeth were just WAY too big for my pre-teen mouth and he needed to make room between my teeth for when the braces started to straighten out the snaggle forest mess in mouth. This "thing" that went into my mouth to help the situation was OOC (out of control, for those that don't speak abbreviations). It was a hunk of metal that they anchored to four molars, two on each side, that went across the roof of my mouth... not flush with the roof of mouth, though! So any time I ate, say, a very cheesy piece of pizza, that mozzarella string got all caught up there basically choking me. Very dangerous and not cute. BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! The spacer also came with a "key," which I had to stick in this tiny hole in the mouth piece and cranked three times each night, widening the space across the palate. Sounds horrible right? It. Was. Painful.
The spacer was supposed to come out before the end of the summer and the braces were going to be slapped on before I started school. However, because the cranking was so painful, I did not keep up with the process the way I was supposed to, so I had to wear it for a few weeks more. This meant I started school with a gap between my teeth that could easily fit $1.50 worth of quarters. No exaggeration (ok maybe a little, but at least $1.00 worth of space in there). Boy in the sixth grade are not kind. I knew there would be ridicule, but I had no idea a very popular brand of clothing at the time would also be mocking me on the daily. Naturally, the fellas in school put two-and-two together and I couldn't walk by a single one without hearing that beautiful chant, "Fall-In-To-The-Gap."
If that wasn't bad enough, picture day was coming up and that gap was not closing up any time soon. I took to practicing my smile with my mouth mostly closed so we didn't have to forever document this traumatic moment in my youth. However, the school photographer had grander plans for me. "Come on smile," he said. "We all want to see that pretty grin," he encouraged, refusing to take the photo until I smiled the way he wanted. Sooo... seen for the first time in many decades, Katie "Quarter-Inch Gap" Fitzpatrick...
Psych! I am not re-living that embarrassment. Plus, I may have burned all photo evidence of that awkward time in my life. Ok, ok, if I find a copy I will update this post ;)
With that I segue into the recipe for this week, Soft Pretzels! The perfect Fall treat which is easily enjoyed by all my brace face pre-teeners. Orthodontist approved. I chose to enjoy mine with a good ole pumpkin beer in the spirit of another East Coast Fall and as cheers to all my Oktoberfest goers. The beer also made the sharing of this story a little less painless.
Recipe: Soft Pretzels
yields 8 pretzels
The Bits and Bobs:
1 1/2 cups warm water (~110-115*F)
1 tbsp sugar
1 packet dry active yeast
4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 tbs unsalted butter, melted
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp water
fleur de sel or pretzel salt
In the bowl of your mixer, stir together the sugar and warm water. Sprinkle the packet of yeast over the top of the water and leave to bloom for about 5-7 minutes (or until it starts to foam and becomes fragrant).
Combine the flour and salt, then add to the yeast mixture along with the melted butter. With the dough hook attachment and the machine set to low, stir the mixture until just combined. Turn the mixer up to medium and continue to knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl (should be about 5 minutes).
Lightly grease a big bowl with some of the vegetable oil and plop the finished dough into the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave somewhere warm to rise for about an hour. The dough should double in size.
Once the dough has finished rising, preheat the oven to 450*F. Line two baking sheets with parchment and brush with a light coating of vegetable oil. Set aside. Bring a pot with the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil.
Turn the dough out onto a greased surface and divide into eight equal chunks. Roll each chunk out to a long rope. The best way to do this is to start your palms in the middle pushing back and forth while moving your hands out the ends, then repeat starting back in the middle until the rope is about a foot and a half long. Lie the rope in a "U" shape cross the two ends over one another and fold over to the bottom of the "U." press the ends down into the dough. Repeat with all of the chunks. The other option is to do bites, in which case you would still roll out into a rope and cut into bite size pieces.
Place one pretzel gently into the pot of boiling water, allowing to sit for about 30 seconds. Remove carefully with flat, slotted spatula and place on the greased baking sheet. Repeat with each of the pretzels. Stir together the yolk and water. Brush the egg wash over each pretzel and sprinkle with the fleur de sel, or if you have it (or can find it) pretzel salt.
Bake for 12-13 minutes, or until the pretzel is a nice golden brown. Allow to cool for 2 minutes then move to a baking sheet to cool for another 3 or so before serving. Best served warm and with a nice spicy mustard!