Homemade soft pretzels

Big, soft pretzels
Homemade pretzels

On a blog with as much beer on it as this one, it only makes sense to provide a recipe for a classic beer accompaniment: the big, soft pretzel. But before I go and take any credit for this idea, let me state flat-out that there are a lot of food bloggers posting about soft pretzels these days, and I tip my hat to them all. I especially want to acknowledge Barb from Babette Feasts, whose post on soft pretzels whet my appetite several weeks ago and made me think about very little else in the interim.

She used this Alton Brown recipe from Food Network, and it worked beautifully. The only problem I found was that the pretzels were damp on the underside after baking, so I flipped them over and gave them a few extra minutes in the oven to dry off the surface. I also used some whole wheat pastry flour to give them a little more depth and chew. Next time I might use even more.

I’ve eaten soft pretzels for years in ballparks and from street vendors, and I never thought they’d be easy to make, but they actually are. It’s a two-step cooking process: toss the risen, formed dough first in a boiling water/baking soda combo and then bake them in the oven. The results will rival any street pretzel you’ve ever eaten, and I’m originally from New York, so that’s saying quite a lot.

Recipe for Big Soft Pretzels

Adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe here with a special h/t to Babette Feasts

Makes 8

1-1/2 cups hot tap water, about 110-115 degrees F
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast (or 2-1/4 teaspoons)
15 ounces all-purpose flour PLUS 7 ounces whole wheat pastry flour (you need 22 ounces, or about 4-1/2 cups, flour total)
2 ounces butter, melted
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
The coarsest salt you can find

Combine the water, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle the yeast on top, give a quick stir, and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Dump in the flour and melted butter.

Using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until ingredients are combined, then raise the speed to medium and knead for about 4 minutes. (I had to literally hold the mixer steady on the counter because it jumped around. Don’t plan to leave the room.) Alternately, knead the dough by hand until very smooth and no longer tacky, about 4 minutes.

Coat a bowl (you may use the same bowl) with nonstick spray and allow the dough to rise, covered with plastic, until doubled in size, about 50 minutes. If your oven has a proof setting, use it.

Remove the dough from the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 and bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a boil in a large pot.

Oil your counter lightly, and turn out the dough. Divide into 8 pieces, and, working with one at a time, roll each piece into a 2 foot rope. Make a U with the rope, then cross the pieces in the center and press them firmly on the bottom of the U in a traditional pretzel shape. Place on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. (You’ll need two.)

Drop one pretzel into the water for 30 seconds, remove with a flat slotted spoon, and place on the lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pretzels. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with the salt.

Bake until dark brown, about 12 to 14 minutes, reversing the trays halfway through bake time to ensure even browning. If the undersides still feel moist, flip and bake for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until the pretzels are dry to the touch. Transfer to a cooling rack, and serve warm.