Easy. Yummy. A guaranteed good time. I love a bread that's as fun to make as it is to eat.
Add milk, sugar, vegetable shortening, and 2 cups flour to the yeast. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Cover loosely with plastic wrap then a tightly woven towel. Let rise for 30 minutes. This sponge will have the consistency of a cake batter. It should be light and full of bubbles.
Whisk together the baking powder, salt and 1 cup of flour. Add to the sponge and mix well. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes.
Turn dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide into 24 or 36 equal pieces. With your hands, roll each piece into an 24-inch long rope (figure 1). Lay the rope in a "U" shape (figure 2). About 2 inches from each end, cross the dough (figure 3). Cross a second time (figure 4). Picturing the dough as the face of a clock, bring the ends down and press them into the rounded portion of dough at the bottom of the “U” at 5 and 7 o’clock (figure 5). Cover with a towel and let rest for 20 minutes on the work surface. 8. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Combine baking soda with boiling water. Drop the pretzels into boiling mixture for 10 seconds then remove them with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets upside down. If the edges that were pressed into the bottom are on top, the pretzel might come unwrapped. Sprinkle with coarse salt or sesame seeds.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden.
Immediately remove from baking sheets and place on a rack to prevent the crust from becoming soggy.