I love good soft pretzels, but they are a little hard to come by if you’re not close to a bakery that makes them fresh. A good beer, a soft pretzel, and some mustardayonnaise (equal parts course mustard and mayonnaise) and you are set for the night!
If you can’t walk down to the corner bakery and buy a pretzel, it is pretty easy to make one. It takes a little bit of time, but the timeframes are a little lax so you can work on things around the house while you are waiting for the dough to rise.
Unless you are making a huge batch of pretzels, yeast packets are the way to go. They cost more than buying yeast in bulk, but you will use them up faster and not find them in your refrigerator, expired, three years later. The yeast needs warm water (90 to 110 degrees) — too hot and it will kill the yeast; too cold and it won’t grow and produce enough gas to make the dough rise.
This recipe uses the sponge method. It helps to develop a slightly sourdough taste and improves the texture of the final product. The water, yeast and sugar are allowed to develop for about 10 minutes, then poured into the center of the flour mixture. Only part of the flour is mixed into the yeast and allowed to develop and grow (covered for 30 to 45 minutes) before the rest of the dough production. This creates the sponge.
Once your sponge has developed, you can mix the sponge into the rest of the flour. This will create very sticky dough. Place the tacky dough on a lightly floured counter and with lightly floured hands knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it becomes smooth. If you have a mixer, you can do the first process in the mixer bowl, and then knead with the dough hook for 4 to 8 minutes until the dough becomes smooth. After the dough has been kneaded, lightly butter a bowl and place the dough in it until it doubles in size. Keep the bowl in a warm place, covered with plastic wrap to keep from the dough from drying out.
Cut the dough into quarters (or smaller portions if making smaller pretzels), and cover the dough not being shaped. Shape each piece into a tube and slowly roll to about 12 inches, tapered on the side. Repeat with each piece; after all are rolled, let them rest for about 5 minutes before rolling into 24-inch-long rolls (the gluten must rest for a little bit, or it won’t stretch enough). Shape each roll by making an upside-down U with the ends pointed toward you. Cross them about halfway once; take the left end and wrap it slightly around the dough at about “2 o’clock” on the top of the bend, then take the right end and wrap it slightly around the dough at about “10 o’clock” on the top of the bend. Let the pretzel rest and rise (proof) in a warm place for about an hour then proceed to the boil.
Traditionally the pretzel was coated in a lye solution. This would give the pretzel its unique skin when baked. The baking process would also have a chemical reaction with the lye so it wasn’t caustic. A much safer way of achieving a similar outcome is to coat the dough in a baking soda solution. The water and baking soda is brought to a boil, then the pretzel dough is submerged in the solution for 10 to 15 seconds per side.
Once the pretzels have gone through the hot baking soda water solution, place them on a greased baking sheet. Brush with egg wash, lightly sprinkle with salt and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Watch them as they bake; the time will vary from oven to oven, and with convection ovens.
Makes 4 large, 6 medium, 8 mini pretzels
6 ounces lukewarm water
2¼ teaspoons yeast (¼-ounce yeast packet)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
½ tablespoon softened butter
Vegetable oil or spray as needed to grease pan
1½ quarts of water
⅓ cup baking soda
1 egg yolk
1 ounce water
Kosher or sea salt as needed
Mix water, yeast, and brown sugar together in a bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. In a separate bowl mix flour and salt, and then work butter into the flour. After the yeast mixture has begun to bubble, make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour it into the center. Mix in a small amount of flour at a time until a thin paste forms. Dust the top with flour from the edges of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 to 45 minutes. (Use a marker and write the time on the plastic wrap so you remember.)
Mix the rest of the flour into the sponge mixture to create tacky dough, turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead it for 8 to 10 minutes with the palms of your hand, folding it over each time, until the dough becomes smooth. Wipe the inside of the bowl with softened butter and place the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes until the dough has doubled in size. (You can draw a circle on the plastic wrap around the original size of the dough to track its growth.)
After the dough has doubled in size, place it on the counter and cut into quarters. Roll into 12-inch-long rolls and let rest for 5 minutes. Roll and stretch into 24-inch-long rolls. Loop into the pretzel shape, place onto a greased sheet pan, and let proof for about an hour. Placing the whole tray at this point into the freezer for 25 to 30 minutes will make the pretzels easier to handle when putting them into the simmering water.
Bring 1½ quarts of water to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and stir in ⅓ cup of baking soda. Place the proofed dough into the simmering water for 10 to 15 seconds per side. Place each boiled pretzel onto a well-greased sheet tray and score the thickest part of the base. Mix egg yolk and 1 ounce water for egg wash. Brush pretzels with egg wash and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. Place tray into a preheated oven at 400 degrees (375 degrees convection) for 10 to 12 minutes until light to medium brown. Remove from tray and allow the pretzels to cool for a few minutes on a rack and enjoy.
- After the egg wash, sprinkle with a cinnamon sugar mixture for a tasty sweet pretzel.
- Cut the dough into 1-ounce segments (or smaller, if you like) and roll into balls (proof about 30 minutes). Bake for 8 to 10 for pretzel bites.
- Cut the dough into quarters, roll into a ball, proof for about an hour and bake for 12 to 15 minutes for pretzel buns.
- Freeze the dough on sheet trays wrapped with plastic wrap after proofing, before simmering in water. They’ll keep for two to three days. When you are ready to bake, boil for the same amount of time as unfrozen dough, then let thaw on the tray for an extra couple of minutes before baking.