Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Soft Pretzels are a Snap

OK, here is the first installment of a salty snack you can make at home. If you have kiddies
around this is a lot of fun for them as well. Even if they don't come out right the first time
the investment in materials is very small but even if the pretzels turn out misshapen and ugly
they will still taste good. There are two ways to make a pretzel, hard or soft, and the recipes
are very similar. In this post we will do the soft ones and in a later post we'll do hard. Soft
pretzels have a little butter or shortening to help keep them soft and they are not baked as
long. For hard pretzels you lose the butter and bake them longer and in a slower oven. The soft
pretzels have the step of an alkali bath which makes the smooth skin like a bagel. The hard ones
are still parboiled but we skip the alkali(baking soda). Let's make pretzels.

You'll need for the pretzels:

1 1/2 cups warm (110-115F) water(if it feels warm but not hot to the touch you're there, you
don't need a thermometer)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar(if you don't have brown sugar you can use white sugar)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast(not the instant fast rise)
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or to be exact, 22 ounces ( I always use King Arthur A/P since

it is a little higher in protein that most A/P flours and it makes the pretzels a little
more chewy)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted( you can substitute olive or vegetable oil for the
butter if you feel the need)
Vegetable or olive oil for the pan

For the alkali bath:
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda

For the wash:
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
coarse kosher salt for the outside or if you have it pretzel salt

I am assuming you have a stand mixer like a big Kitchen Aid but if you don't you can do this all
by hand...it's just a little harder.

Mix the water and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top and then whisk to combine. Let this mixture to sit for 5 or 10 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam a little. This is known as proofing the yeast.

Add the kosher salt, flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed
until well combined. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes so that the
flour can fully absorb the water(hydrate). On medium speed knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, this should take about 5 minutes. If you are doing this by hand you will have to knead the dough by hand on a floured surface until it is smooth and bounces back when poked with your finger.

Remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface, clean the bowl and then oil it
well with olive oil(or vegetable oil). Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
Put the bowl somewhere out of drafts and let it rise or proof for about an hour or until the
dough has doubled in size. If it is really cool in the kitchen then this may take a little longer
or if it is very warm a little shorter. The doubling is the key.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans or cookie sheets with parchment paper and lightly brush the paper with vegetable or olive oil. Set aside.
Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or big

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into 8 equal
pieces.The easiest way to do this is to cut the dough in half, cut the halves in half and then
cut the quarters in half. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. This is the only part
that gives inexperienced pretzel makers a little trouble but if you remember way back to when you made snakes out of clay then it's pretty much the same process. With the dough on the board just start in the center and while applying a little pressure with both hands roll the dough back and forth while spreading the hands away from each other. You'll repeat the rolling/spreading motion a few times before your 'snake' gets to the 24 inches. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. You know what a pretzel looks like. Place each formed pretzel onto the parchment-lined baking pan or sheet while you do the rest.

Once you have all of the ropes made you'll need to give them their alkali bath. The sooner you
do this after rolling them out the 'tighter' they will be. Delaying the bath will allow the
pretzels to rise a little and make for a 'fluffier' product. Try it different ways and see which
you prefer. Place the pretzels into the boiling baking soda water water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds,
no longer. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the baking pan(s).

After all of the pretzels have had their bath you brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten
egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the kosher or pretzel salt. Into the oven they go
and bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling
rack for at least 5 minutes before you stuff them into your face. I like mine with Gulden's Spicy
Brown mustard but plain old yellow mustard is completely acceptable.

If you are not a baker I know some of this sounds a bit complicated but it really is easy and the
results are worth it. On a cold winter's day when you are housebound and looking for something to do, this is a good little project with a tasty reward and like I said before, if you have kids
around they will have a blast though you do need to watch the younger ones around the boiling
water bath part and maybe let an adult do this step.

These are never as good as they are fresh out of the oven but if you have any to store then they
will keep for a few days in a zip bag. You can put them in a warm oven for a few minutes to
freshen them up but they will lose something. Unless there is only one person in the house left
overs aren't usually a problem.


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