There’s a certain fast food establishment at the mall to which I am inevitably drawn, every time. And they make glorious sweet and salty pretzels, fresh all day. The fact that if you buy three you get one free does not help.
A few years ago, before I started this blog, I tried my hand at recreating the pretzel I knew and loved. The result was rather a disaster, but, undaunted, I figured I’d try again, seeing as it’s too cold to walk to the mall at present.
So I did my research, and the results below are a combination of about four or five different internet sources. In addition to that, the amount I made was half what I will present to you now, because most batches make twelve pretzels and it was a huge feat for the Pie and myself to eat three each.
This is the recipe for 12 soft pretzels. BEWARE: results may be habit-forming.
Start with a wee bowl, and plop in 1 1/4 cups warm water (I use the hot water from my tap, which is pretty hot, and it seems to serve me well, especially in a frigid kitchen where everything cools down mighty fast. Plus yeast is a much more forgiving organism than many realize). Dissolve into that 1 teaspoon granulated sugar. Sprinkle over that 4 teaspoons active dry yeast, give it a stir, and leave it for 10 minutes to get all foamy.
At one point mine started trying to be the Thing from the Black Lagoon and went all BLOOP! BLOOP! BLOOP! I tried to get a picture but it didn’t work out.
Nevertheless it’s fun to watch science (biology!) in action.
In a larger bowl, stir together 5 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar (more if you like your pretzels sweet, less if you like ’em saltier), and 2 teaspoons salt (again with the more or less business, but reversed — though don’t go too crazy).
Make a well in that flour and pour in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, followed by all the yeasty water.
Stir and stir and stir until you form a rough, shaggy dough and most of the flour is incorporated into this stuff.
I find that when you halve bread recipes, for some reason the moisture amount never turns out quite right. So if your dough is too dry and refuses to stick to itself, like this:
Then simply add a few tablespoons of warm water until it gets to the desired consistency.
If your dough ends up too sticky, like this:
Then it’s a simple matter to add more flour by kneading it in on a clean and lightly floured work surface.
Do your kneading for about 8 minutes, until you have a sturdy little ball. It will feel quite dense.
Oil a bowl and plop the ball of dough into it, turning it once to coat the whole surface of the ball in oil. Cover that loosely with plastic wrap and set it somewhere warm for about an hour, until it’s doubled in size.
When it’s all ready to rock and roll, preheat your oven to 450°F, line several baking sheets with parchment paper, and set a pot on the stove. Into that pot pour 4 cups water and 4 tablespoons baking soda and bring it to a low boil.
Boiling the pretzel is key to the browning process, or so the internet told me. The last time I did this, I ended up with pretzels that tasted so heavily of baking soda that they were inedible. So this time I used a relatively small amount of the stuff. Some of the sources I read suggested adding sugar to the boiling water as well, and I think that might countermand some of the saltiness of the baking soda, though it would definitely make the pretzels a little stickier. I will have to try it next time.
Cut your dough into a dozen separate pieces (mine is six, remember, because I halved it).
Using no flour this time, roll out each section into a snake measuring about 24 inches.
Form the snake into a pretzel by bringing the ends together, twisting twice, and smooshing the tips into the body of the pretzel. The Pie and I tried to do it the fancy lift-and-twist-and-magically-it-all-works-out but obviously that didn’t work. Amateurs.
Working one or two at a time, slide your formed pretzels into the boiling water and submerge them for about 30 seconds.
It was kind of hard to remove them with tongs, so we plopped each one on this deep-frying spoon and did it that way and it was way easier.
Let those pretzels drip a bit before laying them on the parchment-lined baking sheets.
For a taste comparison, I left one of my six pretzels unboiled, just to see what would happen. It’s the one on the left in both of these shots.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown, but still soft to the touch.
You can see that the unboiled one didn’t brown at all. It still tasted just fine. You could always do an egg wash on the unbaked pretzels if you’re not keen on the distinctive pretzel-y taste that the boiling in baking soda brings.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, and then make sure to eat them all while they’re still warm.
You can put whatever kind of stuff you like on your pretzels. People seem to like mustard (blech) and barbecue sauce (blech), but our favourite is a brush of melted butter …
… and a sprinkling of sea salt.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go lie down. I might be dying. Or at least gravely weakened.