This week in baking: Soft Pretzels

This past Sunday, I invited a few people over to watch Tom Brady run around a football field (and then walk off said field with a sad, sad face). Normally, I would greet my guests with a pile of cookies, but I wanted to try something I’ve never before made: soft pretzels.

I did some recipe-hunting, trying to find something that combined a little bit of the sweetness of Auntie Anne’s with the crunchy-outside, soft-as-a-couch inside styling of a Fenway pretzel. To accomplish this, I combined this recipe from Sprinkles of Parsley with a few finishing touches from Alton Brown. The resulting pretzels were the perfect balance of sweet and salt, crunch and chew.

What you’ll need for the dough:
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cup warm water
2 tblsp brown sugar
1 1/8 tsp salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour **(This was surprisingly hard to find, but important, chemically, because of its nice high gluten. Luckily, Whole Foods came through).

…and for the bath and eggy wash:
2 cups warm water
2 tblsp baking soda
1 egg
2 tblsp butter
~1/4 cup coarse salt (sea or kosher, whatever you’ve got)

What you’ll do:

In a large bowl, pour the warm water and yeast. Gently stir until the yeast is dissolved (about a minute). Add the brown sugar and salt, then stir until those are dissolved, too. Then, add the flour a cup at a time, mixing between each addition. Once all 4 cups of flour are added and you’ve got a thick, well-mixed bit of dough, pull it out of the bowl and knead it for about 5 minutes (or until you can push your thumb into the dough, and it bounces back into shape).

Find a deep pot with a cover (if you don’t have this, any deep bowl/pot with plastic wrap will work). Lightly grease the bottom and sides of the pot with olive oil, put the ball of dough down in the middle, and cover it. Now set this somewhere warm to rise for an hour. If your kitchen doesn’t have a warm spot, you can do what I did – preheat the oven to 450F and place the pot on the stove top.

—- go do something awesome for an hour —-

Hopefully by now, your dough has doubled in size. Celebrate by preparing a nice, warm-water baking soda bath for your proto-pretzels! In a clean bowl, pour 2 cups of very warm water (some people use boiling water at this step, though I find that harder to work with, so I just use water as warm as my hands can stand). Add the 2 tablespoons of baking soda, and stir until it’s dissolved. (DCist writer and fellow food-lover Jamie recommends adding honey to this bath, if you’d like a little extra sweetness!)

You should also prepare some baking sheets – either grease them well, or line them with parchment paper, and then set those aside. And, if you hadn’t already preheated your oven to keep your dough warm, you should preheat it now, to 450F.

With the bath nearby, move the dough from your pot to a large cutting mat or board. Chop off about 1 cup’s worth of dough (you can adjust this based on how large you want your pretzels).

Take this chunk, and roll it between your hands to thin it into a rope of dough, whose diameter should not be more than 1/2 inch. Once you have the rope, shape it into a pretzel. I sort of lay it out horizontally, then loop each end in, and twist them together in the middle:

Take each pretzel, and dip it into the warm baking soda bath for about 10 seconds (use both hands, so it can keep its shape). Then, set each pretzel on the baking sheet (give them about 1.5 inches between). When your sheet is full, set it on the warm oven to let the proto-pretzels rise for another 15 minutes.

While they’re rising, you can prepare the egg wash – just whisk 1 egg with 2 tablespoons of melted butter. When their 15 minutes is up, brush the wash onto each pretzel, and then sprinkle coarse salt on top of each.

Bake at 450 for 8-10 minutes, depending on size – my pretzels were about 4 inches across, and only needed 8 minutes. These are best served warm, but are still totally delicious hours later. I served mine with tasty stone-ground mustard, though you could use a sweet glaze as well.



One Comment on “This week in baking: Soft Pretzels”

  1. Lindsay says:

    these were delicious!! nice work, JW.

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