Pretzels are hard and dry at the grocery or soft and chewy from street vendors. Or you can make delicious homemade soft pretzels and save your money!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- extra virgin olive oil – if you have a different oil that you prefer to use for baking, go ahead.
- table salt
- brown sugar
- Active dry yeast can be purchased in small packets that contain 1/4 ounce or 2 1/4 teaspoons. It can also be bought in 4 ounce (14 Tablespoon) jars. The grains are larger than those of instant active yeast (so don't mix them up) and must be proofed before use.
- baking soda
- Sea salt
- Spicy mustard or cheese dip
Two Soft Pretzel Secrets
Okay, perhaps they're not entirely secrets, but there are two Very Very Important Things you need to know and do before you make soft pretzels.
Give Them a Bath
Professional bakeries often dip soft pretzels in lye. This boiling alkaline bath gives them that distinctive rich brown exterior and wonderful soft and chewy center.
Most of us don't keep lye around our kitchens, though. I know I don't.
So instead of using lye, this recipe uses baking soda. That's much more user-friendly and it still gives fabulous results.
Brush Those Pretzels
The next important tip is that they need to brushed with an egg wash immediately after their bath. (Well, dry them first and then brush).
It might not seem important, but this step gives the pretzels a nice shine and helps the coarse salt stick while baking.
Using a whole egg, instead of just egg white, gives a nice rich golden colour.
Does It Really Make a Difference?
So here is a pretzel with NO baking soda bath and NO egg wash.
They look ….. okay. Basically, they're bread twisted into a pretzel shape, with weird clumps of salt in the hollows.
And they're not much better if you skip the baking soda bath but DO use the egg wash. The salt goes on right but it still doesn't really look like a soft pretzel.
So what happens when we do the baking soda bath but do NOT use the egg wash?
And finally, here's how rich and chewy and perfectly salted they look when we do both the baking soda bath and the egg wash.
Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat baking mats and grease a large bowl with one tablespoon olive oil. Set aside.
Make the Soft Pretzel Dough
Add the warm water to a different large bowl, followed by the salt, brown sugar, and yeast. Set aside for 5 minutes.
Add remaining olive oil to the bowl with the yeast. Gradually add four cups flour, one cup at a time, stirring vigorously with a fork and scraping the sides, until the flour is thoroughly incorporated into the dough without any lumps.
Sprinkle remaining flour onto a clean, dry work surface and lightly coat hands with additional flour. Drop the dough onto the work surface and knead in remaining flour just until dough is no longer sticky. Do not overwork.
Shape dough into a ball and add to the clean bowl coated in olive oil. Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside in a warm place for one hour or until the dough doubles in size.
When the dough is almost done resting, position the oven racks so that the oven is divided into thirds and pre-heat the oven to 450F.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down with your lightly floured fist. Rest for a couple minutes, then drop the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into 12 equal-sized portions.
While the dough is resting, fill a large pot with 8 cups water and one-half cup baking soda and bring to a rolling boil.
Roll each section of dough into a long, thin rope, with your hands.
Bend the dough into a U shape and twist the loose ends together twice before attaching each tip toward the bottom of the “U” to form a traditional pretzel shape, as shown.
Transfer pretzels to the prepared baking sheets.
If the pretzels are allowed to sit for 10-15 minutes once shaped, they will continue to rise or puff up to form a nice full shape.
The Baking Soda Bath
Drop each pretzel, one at a time, into the boiling baking soda bath and boil for 20 seconds before flipping. Boil for another 20 seconds, then transfer with a slotted spatula to a wire rack to drain excess liquid.
Gently pat pretzels dry with a paper towel and transfer back to the prepared baking sheets.
Egg Wash and Baking
Beat egg and water together in a small bowl and brush each pretzel with the egg wash. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and place in the pre-heated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.
For even browning, rotate the baking sheets and move the baking sheet on the bottom rack to the top (and vice versa) halfway through baking.
Remove from oven and cool for a couple minutes before serving with some spicy mustard or your favorite cheese dip.
Alternative Serving Suggestion: After baking, brush each pretzel with melted butter and dip each pretzel into a shallow bowl filled with a mixture of sugar and ground cinnamon to coat.
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