Ah, pretzels… a staple of ballparks and Oktoberfests everywhere. There’s just something to the way they smell, the chew to the crust, the crunch of pretzel salt that brings back memories of good times. Nowadays, you can find a pretzel stand at every neighborhood mall, and even though they may be tasty, they’re often doused with butter, oversalted, and the crust is all wrong.
Surprisingly, they’re not as difficult as you may think to make at home, and they’re a great project for the kids in regards to the kneading and shaping of the pretzels.
I started off with Alton Brown’s recipe as it seems to garnered quite a few good reviews; I did make a few adjustments to the recipe to suit my personal tastes (don’t I always do that?). While making the dough, I ended up having to add about an extra 1/2 cup of flour–it was a rainy night, and I do believe that affected the dough by being far too sticky to work with at the start. I also cut down the amount of baking soda to a 1/4 cup in the boiling solution. Adding an alkaline is necessary for the distinctive pretzel crust; In Germany, the pretzels are dipped in a food-grade lye solution before baking.
Yes. Lye, the same stuff that’s in Draino and is used in soap-making. It’s used in other foodstuffs: it is what makes whitefish into lutefisk and corn into hominy. I’m not going to tell you not to use it, but if you do (all the directions are out there and easily Googled), use all the proper precautions, because it is, even though it’s food-grade and diluted in water, it’s still a corrosive chemical. Use goggles, gloves, and most importantly, common sense. Here, for our uses today, it’ll be baking soda.
The last adjustment I made to the recipe is I just didn’t bother with pretzel salt, mainly because I’m old and have to watch my sodium these days. Boo, hiss, I know–but my fingers get all puffy if I’ve overindulged in the salty stuff. I just gave them a very light sprinkle of kosher salt. If you’re feeling fancy (and I may do this myself next time), they’d go nicely with a dusting of garlic powder and parmesan cheese, or perhaps a few jalapeño slices and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese just before baking.
- 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
- 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
- Vegetable oil, for pan
- 10 cups water
- 2/3 cup baking soda
- 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
- Pretzel salt
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. 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. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.
Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.