The Larder homemade soft pretzels

When I was first out of college, I spent exactly $.85 on breakfast each morning. On my way to work, I’d stop at the food truck parked outside the front door of the building and order a small coffee with cream and a soft pretzel. I’d hand over a short stack of quarters and dimes and get a brown paper sack with my order tucked neatly inside.

By the time I got to my desk, the pretzel would be slightly warm from the coffee and ready to shed large grains of salt all over my keyboard. I loved the ritual of starting my day that way.

Pretzels, whether hard or soft, have long been a staple in my life. When I was young, skinny pretzel sticks were the first solid food my sister and I would be allowed to have after a bought of stomach flu. Throughout high school, I bought those terrible, long-frozen-and-defrosted Super Pretzels from the cafeteria as an afterschool snack. And during college, my roommates and I would devour large bags of crunchy mini-twists during our study sessions, thinking them a healthier snack than the potato chips we truly craved.

Over the years I’ve dipped pretzels in soup, crushed them to use as a coating for roasted chicken pieces and have even poured hot toffee and chocolate over them in a fit of handcrafted candy experimentation. Truly, until recently, the only pretzel road I’d not taken was the one that had me making them from scratch.

In doing research before trying my hand at homemade pretzels, I discovered that they are made from a basic bread dough. The thing that differentiates them and gives their signature color, sheen and texture is a quick dip in a boiling water bath before baking.

Historically, bakers have added lye to that bath and for the most traditional pretzel that’s still the way to go. However, since it’s caustic stuff, you have to be incredibly careful when using it in culinary applications (goggles and gloves are recommended).

rising pretzel dough

Because I didn’t want to risk potential harm to my eyes, hands or kitchen counters, I followed Alton Brown’s advice and used the combination of a baking soda bath and a brush of egg wash to achieve a shiny, burnished pretzel. I thought they tasted perfectly on point and so see no need to introduce toxic chemicals into the mix.

I tried my hand at both soft pretzels and longer baked hard ones. The soft pretzels were surprisingly easy to make and were transcendently good. It was a lot fiddlier to make a satisfyingly crunchy pretzel rod and so in the future, I’ll probably skip the hard-baked variety and stick to doughy, tender soft pretzels. However, if you’re a fiend for crunchy pretzels, you should certainly try your hand at making them at home at least once, so that recipe is included here as well.

A few tips before you start making your pretzels:

Grease your parchment paper well before putting your formed pretzels down. Without a generous layer of oil, they will adhere to the paper during baking.

When you roll the pretzels out, they will be annoyingly elastic. Try stretching two or three ropes of dough at a time, letting them rest for a minute and then returning to them for a final roll. The rest will give the gluten strands in the dough a chance to relax, which will then allow you an easier time of rolling and shaping your pretzel.

Have all your pretzels formed before you start the boiling process. You want to keep the bath to just 30 seconds and if your attention isn’t focused, you run the risk over-boiling (which can make the finished pretzel tough).

If you’re struggling to shape your pretzels, try this: Form your rope of dough into a U-shape. Gently grab the ends and cross them twice (imagine the way a couple links elbows for a celebratory toast). Guide the now-twisted ends back down and press them into the body of the dough. Some gentle reshaping may be necessary, but it should now resemble a classic pretzel.

Pretzels should be topped with chunky salt. I used the flaky Maldon sea salt I already had in my kitchen and it worked fine. Don’t kill yourself looking for true pretzel salt–anything with a large grain will do.

Speaking of pretzel toppings, there’s no rule that says that you can’t experiment with alternates. Here in Philadelphia, Metropolitan Bakery presses fennel seeds into their pretzels. For a sweet version, try dusting your dough with cinnamon and sugar instead of salt. Next time I bake these, I plan on adding poppy seeds and a little granulated onion for an everything bagel flavor.

Both of these pretzel recipes have been adapted from those that Alton Brown wrote and are published on the Food Network’s website. The originals can be found here and here.

Soft Pretzels

homemade soft pretzelsIngredients

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (around 110 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons if you’re using bulk yeast)
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ounces butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for bowl and parchment paper
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Coarse salt

Instructions

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the warm water, sugar, and salt. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and let it sit for 5 to 8 minutes, until it gets a little foamy.

Add the flour and melted butter and mix on low speed until the flour is incorporated. Once there’s no risk of creating a plume of flour dust, increase the speed to medium and knead until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl walls, climb up the hook and appears smooth. This should take 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove the dough and shape it into a smooth ball. Grease the bowl with a little oil, place the dough ball into the bowl and turn it so that it gets a thin coating of the oil. Cover the bowl some plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out and a towel to keep it warm. Let it rise for approximately one hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Combine water and baking soda in a large, wide pot and bring to a boil.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and generously grease the paper. Set prepared pans aside.

Turn the dough out of the bowl and onto a slightly oiled counter top. Gently deflate it a little and shape into a ball. Cut dough into quarters and then cut each quarter in half (so that you have 8 pieces of approximately the same size).

Roll each piece of dough into a long thin rope and twist it into a pretzel shape (see above for detailed instructions). Place on the greased parchment paper.

When all the pretzels have been shaped, give each one a 30 second turn in the baking soda-spiked boiling water (a slotted spoon or spider is the best tool for this job). Return boiled pretzels to their positions on the baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake pretzels until they reach a deep, brown color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Cool for a few minutes and serve warm (ideally with some coarse ground mustard). These pretzels are best on the day they are made, but can be refreshed in a hot oven on the second day. For longer storage, freeze them in a ziptop bag.

Hard Pretzel Sticks

homemade pretzel sticksIngredients

  • 1 3/4 cups warm water (around 110 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons if you’re using bulk yeast)
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil, for parchment paper
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Coarse salt

Instructions

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the water, sugar, and salt. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and let it sit for 5 to 8 minutes, until it gets a little foamy (if it doesn’t foam, that’s a sign that your yeast is kaput).

Add the flour and mix on low speed until the flour is incorporated. Once there’s no risk of creating a plume of flour dust, increase the speed to medium and knead until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl walls, climb up the hook and appears smooth. This should take 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove the dough and shape it into a smooth ball. Grease the bowl with a little oil, place the dough ball into the bowl and turn it so that it gets a thin coating of the oil. Cover the bowl some plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out and a towel to keep it warm. Let it rise for approximately one hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Combine water and baking soda in a large, wide pot and bring to a boil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and generously grease the paper. Set prepared pans aside.

Turn the dough out of the bowl and onto a slightly oiled counter top. Gently deflate it a little and shape into a ball. Cut dough into quarters and then cut each quarter into 8 small pieces.

Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin ropes about 12-inches in length. Place on the greased parchment paper and cover with a damp towel to keep them from drying out.

When all the pretzels have been shaped, place 4 to 5 at a time into the baking soda-spiked boiling water (a slotted spoon or spider is the best tool for this job) for 30 seconds. Return boiled pretzels to their positions on the baking sheet. Repeat until they’ve all been boiled. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake pretzels until they reach a deep, brown color and are quite hard, approximately 50 to 60 minutes. Cool thoroughly on a rack and store in an airtight container for up to a week. If they soften during storage, return them to the oven for 5 to 8 minutes to re-crisp.

Comments

  1. Ruth says:

    Made the soft pretzels yesterday, they’re awesome!!

  2. Ceme says:

    Omg, looks good! Thanks for the recipes.

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