Sunday, November 7, 2010

Homemade Soft Pretzels

During the ballgame, at the fair, in the mall, or off of a street cart in Manhattan, soft pretzels are always there as a satisfying go-to snack wherever hunger may strike. Smeared with mustard or dipped into melted cheese, the crisp and salty deep brown exterior and soft chewy center make the twisted snack an irresistible portable comfort food. Pretzels are one of the many great ways to enjoy bread (as if there were a bad way?). Homemade, they are a lot of fun and surprisingly simple with a taste that is deliciously close to the real deal.

In authentic pretzel-making, the dough is typically submerged in a lye or sodium hydroxide water solution before baking to give it its distinctive brown color and crispy outer texture. Lye is a highly corrosive alkaline substance commonly used to make soap, drain cleaner, and biodiesel.

Save the cringing for your binging; your favorite stadium snack does not get dipped into a vat of Drano before you eat it. Food grade lye, the variety utilized in making pretzels, bagels, and hominy, is less harsh and must meet certain requirements mapped out by the United States FDA. In any grade, lye is still very dangerous and can burn skin and surfaces if spilled. It is not something to be messed with unless you are prepared to take the proper precautions (gloves, goggles).

To spare you the science project duds and the worry, this homemade soft pretzel recipe calls for a substitute that everyone has on hand at home: baking soda. A lighter kind of alkaline without the intense power to say, eat through your insides if accidently ingested, baking soda delivers a similar effect as lye in pretzel-making without the hazard. I used lye in culinary school with an experienced chef, in an experienced kitchen where many a pretzel had been crafted before. At home, baking soda is much friendlier, especially if kids are involved.

Enticed by the recipe and photo in my cookbook, The Best of Cooking Light Everyday Favorites, I’ve wanted to try making soft pretzels for a while. They came out surprisingly great, and all it takes is a few simple steps:

First, make the dough; knead and let rise for about 40 minutes until the dough doubles in size:

Divide the dough into 10-12 equal portions. Roll and twist into a pretzel knot:


1. Roll out dough into a thin rope with tapered ends.
2. Cross one end of the rope over the other to form a circle, leaving about 4 inches at the end f each rope. Twist rope at the base of the circle.
3. Fold ends over circle into a traditional pretzel shape. Pinch end to seal.

Simmer pretzels in baking soda water on each side for about 15 seconds. Use a slotted spatula to flip and remove the pretzel from the water. Drain on a wire rack.

Brush pretzels with egg wash and sprinkle with your choice of topping. I used kosher salt and cinnamon sugar. The salt pretzels were my favorite. I wanted to make cinnamon sugar pretzels like they have in the mall but found that without mass amounts of butter they don’t taste nearly as good.

Bake for about 12 minutes and voilĂ ! Delicious soft pretzels, straight from the oven!

Soft Pretzels:
The Best of Cooking Light Everyday Favorites

Yield: 10-12 servings
- 1 package dry yeast (about 2 ¼ teaspoons)
- 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
- 1 cup warm water ( 100-110 degrees F)
- 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (about 14 ½ ounces), divide 3 cups from ¼ cup
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Cooking spray
- 6 cups water
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon corn meal
- 1 teaspoon water
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt

• Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water in a large bowl, and let stand 5 minutes.
• Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 3 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes). Add enough of the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly sticky).
• Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees F), free from drafts, 40 minutes or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough, if indentation remains, dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.
• Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
• Divide dough into 10-12 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time, roll each into an 18-inch-long rope with tapered ends. Cross one end of rope over other to form a circle, leaving about 4 inches at end of each rope. Twist rope at base of circle. Fold ends over circle into traditional pretzel shape, pinching gently to seal. Place pretzels on a baking sheet lightly coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 10 minutes (pretzels will only rise slightly). Combine 6 cups water and baking soda in non-aluminum Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer. Gently lower 1 pretzel into simmering water mixture, cook 15 seconds. Turn pretzel over with a slotted spatula, cook an additional 15 seconds. Transfer pretzels to a wire rack coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining pretzels.
• Place pretzels on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Combine 1 teaspoon water and egg in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until smooth. Brush a thin layer of egg mixture over pretzels; sprinkle evenly with kosher salt. Bake at 425 degrees F for 12 minutes or until pretzels are deep golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.


Erin @ EKat's Kitchen said...

YUM!!!! I love pretzels and was actually craving some over the last few days. I'll have to make soon -- consider your post bookmarked!

Lauren Zabaneh said...

This is so cool, Marisa! I've always wanted to make these, especially with the kids, but I've been intimidated because I thought the process was too involved. Your recipe looks like something I could tackle! They look as good if not better than the mall ones...actually just bought one at the zoo today for the kids. Needless to say, they inhaled it:)

Sommer J said...

So I live in the land of schwein und bretzels and I loooove the pretzels here, but I honestly do miss the pretzel stands back home. All the different flavors, the soft texture- yum! Great recipe and photos! Must give this a try!

Victoria said...

Wow, this is way easier than I thought! I guess I never really thought about what it takes to make a soft pretzel, but I'm glad you suggested an easy and safer at-home method. Thanks for sharing!

Roxan said...

I love pretzels! Did you do the thing they do at Auntie Anne's where they pick up the two ends, let it twirl, and when they set it back down on the counter it's a perfectly twisted pretzel? I've tried doing that with play dough... doesn't work so well. Would love to try it with actual pretzel dough sometime! haha

Jason Baker said...

I have to try this. Thanks for posting the recipe and the great step by step photos.

~Lisa~ said...

Okay where do I place my order? Pretzels are such a treat, especially slathered with yellow mustard. Lovely job Marisa!

Evan @swEEts said...

Marisa!! I made soft pretzels this weekend too! Yours kept their shape much better than mine, but you are totally right- they were so much easier to make than I thought they were going to be! My post will be up later this week! ha Great minds think alike :)


Soft pretzels are my hubby's favorite snack! Yours look lovely!

Angie's Recipes said...

Delicious! I adore the pretzels and yours look so professionally baked!

Lazaro Cooks! said...

You are a master pretzel maker. The photos and your tutorial are spot on. I would certainly go with the 'lye' less version for fear of major league kitchen disaster.


Claudia said...

I miss NYC street pretzels. I haven't made pretzels in years and this is so delicious and inspiring - you are reminding me it is time!

Koci said...

Oh my gosh...I'm seriously drooling over that mustard-covered pretzel! This looks like such a delicious snack. Fantastic job!! :)

I Sicilian said...

Marisa congrats on your new blog. I will have to comeback later to check all of it out. I'm glad for you. I will definitely try these pretzels. I love anything dough Pretzels at home...hmmmm!

The Mom Chef said...

Wow, those look outstanding. I don't know that I'd even be able to get as far as the knot twist, let alone the whole process. You did a great job.

Pacheco Patty said...

These are absolutely perfect. I need to try your recipe because myself and family will go nuts for these, pass the mustard please!

Cake Duchess said...

I have always wanted to make pretzels. These look perfect and now I am craving them!:)great job!

Monet said...

Your pretzels look wonderful! Ryan and I started making our own last year, and we love them. So much fun to make and to eat! Thank you for sharing. I hope your day is full of laughter and love!

Fashion Meets Food said...

How neat to make your own pretzels! I definitely think that I need to give this a try! It's a fabulous idea.