Not much is better than a warm, soft pretzel lightly coated in large salt crystals with a slightly crunchy crust and tender, chewy inside. We always split one at a ball game or festival where they appeared everywhere in concession stands or push carts; my brother and I fought over the twist in the middle since it hardly ever dried out. I am sure you have fond memories of eating one as a child.
Since we are hunkering down to limit exposure to the freezing temperatures, I decided it was time to tackle making homemade, soft pretzels. I researched all the different techniques and recipes and made 3 different batches. The first recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction was quick since it did not require any rising time for the dough or a baking soda bath. (We ended up bathing some though.) They taste more like breadsticks compared to the two other batches but are still good if you need something fast.
The second recipe from Annie’s Eats requires a 55 minute resting period and a 30 second bath. She adds butter to her pretzels which I love. There is an egg wash at the end which we eliminated due to egg allergies and basted with butter before salting them. Her technique is simple and the pretzels are delicious.
The third recipe is from my father’s cookbook, The Ultimate Cookbook and requires several resting periods as well as a bath. Instead of butter there is oil and buttermilk as well as Malt Syrup in the dough. The third recipe took the most amount of time but was worth the effort. They taste like old fashion pretzels and the recipe I decided to post. I would have felt very guilty if one of recipes my father selected had not been the favorite.
Here is what we found during our test runs:
- The pretzels not dipped in a baking soda bath taste dry and lack the pretzel crunch. It is worth the time to dip them in the boiling water for 30 seconds. For a darker brown color, add more baking soda (2/3 cup versus 3 tablespoons) but have a tall pot because the baking soda will fizz up. This NY Times article provides details on why the baking soda bath ( and lye baths used by commercial manufacturers) is crucial when making pretzels. Without it, they will taste like breadsticks.
- To make them a little healthier, use 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 5.5 cups of all purpose instead of only all purpose as instructed in the Ultimate Cookbook. The whole wheat gives a more rustic flavor similar to pretzels in pubs and nicer restaurants. It also provides a browner color.
- For a better crunch, choose a high quality course salt such as French Grey or Fleur de Sel salt which is rich in minerals and much needed magnesium. You need a course salt instead of a fine grain.
- You can use corn syrup but Malt syrup makes all the difference in the pretzel flavor so look for it at Whole Foods or a health food store.
These are the perfect snack for your Super Bowl party. Make extra since these will go fast; they are addictive. My daughter ate 3 and a half of these huge pretzels today! Double or triple the recipe and freeze the rest for later. You can freeze them right after they are dipped and bake when needed or bake all of them at once and then reheat them at 350 degrees standard for 10 to 15 minutes. Frozen pretzels will keep for 1 month in the freezer if they are well wrapped.
Now you will have pretzels ready to bake whenever you are craving a comforting snack. We may sneak them in to sporting events to avoid waiting in the long line for lye bathed pretzels which may have revolved on a metal hanger for hours and taste like rocks. Homemade is definitely the way to go.
Directions for Soft Pretzels
Slightly Adapted from The Ultimate Cookbook
Preparation time: 45 minutes Cooking time: 10 to 15 minutes Rising time: 1 to 1½ hours
2 1/4 cups warm water, divided
1/4 teaspoon malt syrup (at health food stores) or dark corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon coconut palm or granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
2 cups (300g) whole wheat flour
5 1/2 cups (900g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons Back to Organic Lemon Twist Himalayan salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon rice bran or organic canola oil
3 cups warm water
2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons baking soda
1/2 to 1 tablespoon Back to Organic Fleur de Sel salt
1) To make the dough-In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup water, malt syrup or corn syrup and granulated coconut palm or cane sugar. Sprinkle in yeast and stir until dissolved. To yeast mixture, add remaining 2 cups warm water, buttermilk and oil. In another bowl, whisk together 7½ cups flour and Back to Organic Lemon Twist Himalayan salt. Gradually add flour mixture, stirring until a soft dough forms. You may need less or more flour than 7 1/2 cups depending on the weather. If you add too much flour and it does not fully absorb into the dough, slowly add more buttermilk or warm water.
2) Kneading the dough- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding flour, if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (Alternately, mix and knead the dough in a standup mixer fitted with a dough hook on low speed for 8 minutes or medium for 5 minutes.) Lightly oil a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise in a warm place until just puffy but not doubled in bulk, 45 to 60 minutes.
3) Shaping the Pretzels-Dust 2 baking sheets with flour. Punch down dough. Turn out onto work surface and knead several times. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces. Keep remaining pieces covered; roll one piece into a 24 to 36-inch rope, lightly oil or flour work surface if necessary. ( I prefer a lightly oiled surface.) Shape dough into a pretzel by first making a U shape and then twist the top pieces together and lay the twisted ends over the dough on the bottom. See Fine Cooking’s instructions for a video. Repeat with remaining pieces. Place pretzels 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Let pretzels rise, uncovered, at room temperature until slightly puffy, 20 to 30 minutes. Refrigerate, uncovered, until dough feels leathery, 10 to 15 minutes. Place rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 450 degrees standard or 425 degrees convection. Lightly oil 2 wire racks or coat them with nonstick spray. ( Use a Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet if you do not have wire racks.)
4) Dipping the pretzels- In a large pot, combine water and sugar over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Stir in baking soda. Dip pretzels one at a time into browning solution and place 2 inches apart on prepared racks. Sprinkle evenly with salt. With a sharp paring knife, make a 2- to 3-inch horizontal slash across the bottom of each pretzel. (I did not slash the bottom.)
5) Baking the pretzels- Place wire racks directly into oven. Bake pretzels for 15 to 20 minutes standard or 8 to 10 minutes convection, or until browned, switching position of racks halfway through baking time if you do not have a convection oven. Cool on the racks. Yield: 12 pretzels
Serve warm with some honey, spicy mustard or a cheese dip and a German beer. Enjoy!
Note: These are best served the day they are baked but will keep, well-wrapped, in the freezer for up to 1 month. Reheat frozen pretzels on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven (325 convection) for 10 to 15 minutes.
Per pretzel: 340 Calories, 10 grams Protein, 2 grams Fat (percent calories from fat, 5), 69 grams Carbohydrates, no Cholesterol, 365 milligrams Sodium, 3 grams Fiber
If you do not have buttermilk, then mix 1 cup of whole milk, half and half or cream with 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice and let the milk curdle for 10 minutes. It will not be as thick as store bought buttermilk but will work just fine for baking.