I don’t ever remember having pretzels as a kid. Growing up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, they just weren’t available. But when I did have that first pretzel? A Chewy Soft Pretzel? Yeah, I fell in love.
And that first pretzel? It was at a ski area. A friend of mine had the concession and when she wanted to ski, she’d ask me to run the stand for half a day, and then I’d get to ski the rest of the day for free. And of course, I’d get a complimentary pretzel or two and sometimes that was lunch and dinner – but I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was ski – and eat pretzels! I don’t know if I can ski anymore, but I do know I can eat pretzels!!
About Soft Pretzels:
Those concessions stand pretzels were made from frozen and were pretty darned good. You can even buy frozen ready to bake pretzels, too, and they’re pretty good, too, although pricey. The thing is, nothing quite compares with a homemade soft pretzel and even better, they’re fun to make. Old fashioned pretzels are made with lye which is hard to get ahold of and caustic. These pretzels take a bath in a baking soda water solution before baking and it’s neat to watch the transformation of the dough through the stages to the finished pretzel. Kids would probably love to help with the shaping and see the process.
These were a huge hit when I made them for my fave octogenarians, the folks. They were literally devoured. Nearly immediately! Warm, soft with a great heft, just a bit of a chew and perfectly textured inside. I’m not sure that these were quite as “developed” in flavor as professionally made pretzels and maybe not quite as chewy, but we didn’t care. Heck for the folks, in their late 80’s that was a bonus! And it probably would be if you have “littles” at home, too. We all loved them!
How did we love them? Let me count the ways. We loved our soft pretzels with mustard, with honey mustard, and with Jalapeno Cheese Sauce! And we loved them with my Beer Cheese Soup. Most of all, we loved them with an Apricot Dipping Sauce. I know, right? Unexpectedly fabulous!
While pretzel bites are always fun, and I see a lot of recipes for them, I think these big pretzels are ideal for a for game day (maybe the Super Bowl) or a party; no worries about portions, just do one per person. You can use this same dough for pretzel bites, just roll into a rope and cut in about 1″ sections, or make smaller pretzels, if you’d like, for your littles. The same process applies, just watch the timing.
Making Soft Pretzels:
Keep in mind that if you use the cup measurements rather than the weight, your dough can need varying amounts of water depending on how dry or how humid the day is and how much moisture is in the flour or minor variations in how the measuring is done. Start with the recommended amount and add more water, a tablespoon at a time if your dough is climbing up the hook of the mixer. Alternatively, if it’s very wet and won’t work into a ball, do the same with flour.
Do put the water and baking soda into a large pan with plenty of room and watch it like a hawk. It can boil over in seconds and create a huge mess. Luckily it cleans up easily, but still! I started out with my old metal Dutch oven but switched to a 12-inch skillet because it’s easier to remove the pretzels if you can just “skim” them out. Two spatulas work best. One to lift the pretzel, the other to aid in the lifting from the other side. They’ll look a little ugly when they first come out of the water but transform in the baking process.
I started out with a recipe from Alton Brown but have altered it over time (I’m updating this in 2019) and do several things differently. In the meantime, pretzels have taken off in the restaurant world. I’ve seen them now at a number of pubby beer style restaurants. It’s really hard to make those giant restaurant pretzels at home, and if you are devoted there’s probably a special spatula or something you can use, but I’ve “enlarged” these so they are shaped a little better.
I usually use bread flour now (chewier pretzels), roll out my dough to a 30-inch rope (if the dough is hard to roll and stretches back, let them rest a few minutes) and twist the pretzels twice, rest them for a few minutes before I egg wash them. And to make the crust a little better, I’ve added a double egg wash. That’s optional but takes them from golden brown to a shade or two darker without having to overbake them. Originally I used kosher salt, but changed to a large crystal sea salt; special pretzel salt is available and you may find it locally or might have to order.
The Steps for Making Soft Pretzels:
- Proof the yeast: Combine water, sugar, and salt, then sprinkle yeast over top. Let sit five minutes. It should “bloom” (get foamy.)
- Knead: Add flour & butter and preferably with a stand mixer knead until smooth, soft and slightly tacky but not sticky. It can be done by hand. Knead until smooth and slightly tacky, but not sticky.
- Rise: Cover the bowl and place in a warm spot, leave until doubled in size, 45 to 55 minutes.
- Prepare: Combine water and baking soda in pan of choice, make egg wash, get salt ready, line two baking sheets with parchment and oil them. Preheat oven.
- Form: The fun part. Roll dough into a snake and turn it into a pretzel. Let sit for 10 minutes while you bring the baking soda/water mixture to a boil.
- Bathe: Add pretzels to water and after 15 seconds turn, leave in 15 seconds more. Remove with a slotted spatula.
- Egg wash & salt: Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. There is an optional step in the recipe for a double wash, which makes them even better.
- Bake: They are fast, 13 to 15 minutes. Turn them halfway through. Serve warm and prepare for bliss.
Making Soft Pretzels Ahead:
For a party, pretzels can be made ahead and then reheated at the appropriate time in a warm oven, just a few minutes at about 300 degrees. This actually makes the crust just a bit harder.
The pretzels may be made and shaped and placed on the oiled parchment sheets on a sheet tray that’s been oiled, then covered and put in the fridge. Take them out a bit ahead of time and give them their baking soda bath and bake them off.
Pretzels can be partially baked and frozen. There are two ways to do so.
- Bake, as directed, with the egg wash and salt for five minutes and then freeze. Finish baking from frozen, about 8 to 12 minutes until colored nicely. The salt will suffer in this process but they are super easy.
- The pretzels can also be partially baked without their egg wash and salt for five minutes and then frozen. When ready to bake, use the egg wash, add the salt and again bake 8 to 12 minutes.
Pretzels can be frozen after baking; cool, freeze, place in a Ziploc. To reheat, either bake at 350-degree oven until heated through, about 7 to 8 minutes or microwave, wrapped in a paper towel for about 4 minutes, turning halfway through.
Saving Money on Soft Pretzels:
Pretzels are fabulously frugal just by nature! Almost any homemade bread can be made at home for a fraction of the cost of buying it, and the savings is much greater when the bread is a “specialty” product.
Originally, I used Kosher rather than Pretzel salt, but at some point picked up a big jar of large crystal sea salt at Home Goods of all places; it was slashed in price. Keep an eye for discounted specialty foods items in odd places! (Home Goods has great prices on cookware, too. And so does Marshalls.)
Always keep an eye out for rock bottom prices on flour and other items before any holiday, especially Thanksgiving, and Christmas (see what food items to look for during the Winter Holidays) and Easter, and these days, even the Superbowl – see my post on Superbowl Savings. It turns out that as a “food holiday” Superbowl is second only to Thanksgiving! Who knew? Watch for yeast in jars on sale and keep in the freezer until ready to use.Print
- Total Time: about 2 hours including rise
- Yield: 8 pretzels 1x
- Category: Breads
- Cuisine: German
- 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 package active dry yeast, 2 1/4 teaspoons
- 22 ounces flour, bread flour preferred, all purpose will work, approximately 4 1/2 cups
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
- Vegetable oil, for bowl and to oil surface for rolling pretzels
- 10 cups water
- 2/3 cup baking soda
- 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water for one egg wash, double if washing twice
- Pretzel salt, large crystal sea salt or Kosher salt for sprinkling
Combine the 1 1/2 cups water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.
Add the flour and butter and using the flat beater, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to the dough hook and on medium speed knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth and slightly tacky but not sticky and will be very stiff.
Remove the dough, form into a ball and either clean the mixer bowl and oil it well or place dough in another well-oiled bowl. To do so, place the “good” side down, then turn it over, so the dough is coated with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
Ready equipment when dough is almost ready:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside. Add the baking soda to the water to a large 12-inch skillet or Dutch oven; a small roasting pan is ideal if your burner will heat the water. Place the pan on the burner; you’ll bring that to a boil shortly. Prepare your egg wash, mixing the egg yolk and water together. Use one yolk and a tablespoon of water if egg washing once, use two yolks and two tablespoons of water if egg washing twice. Have your salt measured and at the ready.
To form the pretzels:
Slightly oil your counter or work surface. Turn the dough out and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time (cover the rest) roll out each piece of dough into a 30-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope: about 2/3rds of the way up the side of the rope, crisscross the ends of the rope. (Cross it once, then a second time.) Bring the ends back down to the bottom of the “U” forming a pretzel shape. As you do so, you’ll basically “flip” that crossed portion over.
Press into place using a dab of water where the ends meet the “U” and place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan, four to a sheet. Adjust the shape by nudging or lifting as needed. Allow to rise for about 10 minutes total (the first ones willl be ready before the last) lightly covered with a towel. Imperfections will disappear as the dough rests. Watch the pretzels; do not allow to rise too much or you’ll lose the pretzel shape and be left with a fat “knot.”
To bathe the pretzels:
As the pretzels rest, bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil. Working with as many as you are comfortable with (suggest two at a time the first time) place pretzels into the water, upside down. Leave for 15 seconds, then turn and leave 15 more. Watch timing closely for best results.
Remove from the water using two large spatulas, preferably ones with holes or a slotted spatula to drain off the water. Return to the half sheet pan,
Brush & bake:
When all four are on the sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the egg wash mixture.
- If using one egg wash, sprinkle with salt and bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.
- If using two egg washes, bake for two minutes, open oven, quickly brush with a second egg wash, sprinkle with salt, and continue to bake for another 10 to 12 minutes until dark golden brpwn in color. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Serve warm if possible, with choice of dips.
Keywords: Alton Brown, Appetizer, Bread, German, pretzels, yeast
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