How to Make Soft Pretzels at Home
After reading about the history of the pretzel, I decided that I wanted to get into the act, too. I agree that most mass-produced hard pretzels are generally eaten in a fugue state while sipping a beer and watching a game above the bar. At its heart, though, the pretzel is a delightful specialty bread and deserves a bit more respect.
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be part of the opening team for a gastropub. We did everything from painting picture frames to mopping the floors to setting the opening menu. The restaurant was split into three parts: a chef's room, the main dining area, and the bar.
The bar was quite the showpiece, and we always had a wonderful selection of fine American craft beers on tap. We would grudgingly hand someone a can of Budweiser if they insisted, but we only kept a few in the fridge.
Part of the fun, and challenge, of working at a restaurant that had "pub" in its name was trying to find as many ways as possible to integrate our great selection of beers into the food without its seeming forced or contrived. Enter, the soft pretzel--the quintessential bar snack that we made over into the most popular appetizer on the menu.
Secret #1: Feed The Yeast With Sugar
There are two secrets to making great soft pretzels that I will now share with you.
When making a yeasted bread product, bakers always like to feed the yeast a bit of sugar to give it a head start. That sugar can be in the form of honey, granulated sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, even maple syrup.
But the form that lends itself to the traditional soft pretzel is malt syrup-more or less the same stuff used in beer making. The malt syrup provides a subtle yet complex flavor that just says "soft pretzel."
Secret #2: Poach The Pretzels In Alkalized Water
Secret number two is to poach the pretzels in alkalized water, or water with a high pH. The hot water provides the gelatinization necessary for a shiny, crackly crust, and the low pH encourages deep browning in the oven so your pretzels come out pretzel-colored instead of roll-colored.
Your standard bag of hard pretzels get a bath in a lye solution. In the home kitchen, this can be more than a little risky, so a good substitute is baking soda, one of the most alkalizing ingredients in the kitchen. It's cheap and readily available, and it works.
Now that you know the secrets, on with the recipe.
These pretzels are made with the straight dough method. That just means that you put all in ingredients in the mixer at one time and then let it mix. Very easy.
How to Twist Pretzels Video
Here's a quick video with Chef Jenni showing you how to twist a pretzel for this recipe. If you want to see the entire pretzel procedure on video, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIhioueIzQI
Best Soft Pretzel Recipe Ever
- Dissolve the yeast in the water, and then put all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook.
- Start the mixer and knead on medium-low speed for 8 minutes.
- When the dough is soft and springy, remove it from the mixer, put it in a large greased bowl. Spray the top of the dough with a little vegetable oil to keep a skin from forming. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
- Once the dough has doubled in volume, gently press out the gasses. Divide the dough into 3 oz. pieces. This recipe makes about 12 pretzels, so if you don't want to weigh the dough, divide the dough in thirds and divide each third into fourths.
- Roll each piece of dough into a 2 foot long rope. Twist into a pretzel shape, or whatever shape you like, really.
- Place the pretzels on two greased cookie sheets or half sheet pans. Do not line them with parchment. I learned the hard way that this is a bad idea. Trust me.
- Put the pretzels in the freezer until very firm. This step is not strictly necessary, but it makes it much easier to poach them and put them back on trays without their losing their shape.
- Once the pretzels are frozen, bring 10 cups of water (½ gallon plus 1 pint) to a boil with ½ cup baking soda.
- When the water is boiling, turn the heat down some to keep it at a gentle boil, and place three frozen pretzels in the water. After one minute, carefully remove the pretzels with a large slotted spoon or a spider and put them back on the baking sheet. Repeat until all the pretzels have taken a 60-second dip in the water.
- Whisk one egg together with a teaspoon of water. Brush this egg wash evenly on all the pretzels. Don't glob it on; you just need a thin coat. At this point, you can sprinkle them with kosher salt, but it will tend to sink in, not giving you that cool salted pretzel look. They'll still taste great. If you're looking for a salt that won't melt, you can certainly purchase pretzel salt through Amazon. It is inexpensive and goes a long way.
- At the restaurant, we wanted to "fancy them up a bit," so we used a light sprinkle of sel gris on the pretzels. This gives a wonderful result, but sel gris is pretty expensive. It's your call. You could also sprinkle them with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.
- Bake at 400° F until deeply golden brown (pretzel colored), about 15 minutes. For the most even baking, turn the baking sheets after about 8 minutes.