Once you make your own easy homemade Soft Pretzels, there’s no turning back ~ you’ll look for any excuse to bake up these warm, salty, crusty-on-the-outside, soft-and-chewy-inside treats.
I finally got around to making the soft pretzels that we had in Wisconsin. These were soft warm and chewy, with that crunch of salt on the outside, just like I had hoped for. The toughest thing about making them was getting that classic ‘pretzel’ shape. That proved a little harder to master; some of my pretzels cooperated, while others went rogue. In the end I made all kinds of shapes, from classic knotted pretzels to little bites, to a baguette.
But even though some of them were creatively shaped, they did have the classic soft pretzel taste, and that’s what matters, right? I used Peter Reinhart’s recipe from Artisan Bread Every Day.
This recipe is nice in a few ways. First, the easy dough gets an overnight rest in the refrigerator. This way you can spread out the work and get some of it done ahead of time. Peter uses this method of ‘slow fermentation’ to develop more flavor in the dough.
Secondly, it bypasses the boiling water and/or lye bath that many pretzel recipes call for. These pretzels get a quick dunk in a baking soda and water solution before heading into the oven to give them their characteristic chewy golden crust.
They bake up in minutes, and as far as breads go, this is a really easy and satisfying recipe, as long as you’re cool with the possibility of funky shapes ;)
Soft Pretzels ~~~Peter Reinhardt
1 3/4 teaspoons (0.4 oz/11 g) salt, or 2 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons (0.75 oz/21 g) brown sugar
1 teaspoon (0.11 oz/3 g) instant yeast
1 1/2 cups (12 oz/340 g) lukewarm water ( about 95 degrees F or 35 degrees C)
2 tablespoons (1 oz/28.5 g) vegetable oil or melted unsalted butter
8 teaspoons (2 oz/57 g) baking soda, for dipping
2 cups (16 oz/454 g) warm water (about 100 degrees F or 38 degrees C)
Pretzel salt or coarse sea salt, for garnish
Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a mixing bowl, if doing this by hand. Whisk the yeast into the warm water in a small bowl and set aside for about a minute.. Pour the yeast mixture and the oil into the dry ingredients. Mix the dough for about 2 minutes, either by hand or in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Switch to the dough hook and continue mixing for about 2 minutes. The dough will become slightly smoother.
Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Then continue to mix on medium low speed for 3 minutes. If the dough is very tacky, add a little more flour. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead by hand for a minute. Transfer the dough to a clean oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night or for up to 4 days.
On baking day:
To make the dipping solution, combine the baking soda with warm water in a bowl. Whisk in the optional egg white; this will make the surface of the pretzels a little browner.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F or 204 degrees C. Right after taking the dough out of the refrigerator roll 2-ounce (56.5 g) pieces into 17 inches long ropes for smaller pretzels and 3-ounce (85 g) for larger pretzels. If the roll shrinks back, let it rest while you start the next one, and come back to it later. (I had trouble with this step, and had to let them rest repeatedly.)
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Form the dough into pretzels (see above) and dip them into the baking soda/water solution. Place them on the pan and sprinkle lightly with coarse salt.
Bake for about 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake another 8 to 10 minutes. Let the pretzels cool on a wire rack.
Notes: Weighing the flour helps to get the right consistency in the dough. My first batch was too dry, and very difficult to work with. The next time I weighed the flour and it came out much better. Also, it’s important to use bread flour. I made one batch using 1/2 bread flour and 1/2 regular flour, and the pretzels didn’t have a nice chewy texture. The gluten in the bread flour makes it a little difficult to roll out the dough, but it’s critical to the final result. And finally, brushing the dough with a beaten egg yolk before sprinkling on the salt helps to get a nice brown sheen, you can see that in the pretzel bites, and in the loaf, below. Peter doesn’t call for it, which is why I didn’t get hip to it until late in my second batch of pretzels, but I found it makes all the difference.
Just add mustard and you’ve got the ultimate snack for the start of basketball season!