Yes, real soft pretzels. Pillowy-soft on the inside, and a golden, chewy, salty exterior. Better than the NYC twists of my childhood memory, better than the ballpark, far better than you’d expect to actually pull off at home. I made a giant batch for a backyard Oktoberfest (with my grilled herbed chicken, sausages, potato salad, and lots of beer) but I’ll be looking for excuses to make these all year long.
Even without a traditional lye bath (these take a dunk in baking soda instead), the pretzels still delivered a well-browned crust with the perfect amount of chew. (So good, in fact, I’m wondering why San Francisco is incapable of producing a decent bagel. We have the technology!) One recipe makes six large traditional pretzels, but I tripled the recipe (it gave my Kitchen Aid a workout, but managed fine) and made smaller knots, about a dozen per single recipe. (They still went quick, so consider making more than you need.)
And don’t be alarmed at the length of the recipe below, I’ve elaborated with the novice pretzel-maker in mind. If you’ve never attempted yeast-raised breads before, this recipe would be a delicious introduction!
adapted from The Fresh Loaf; makes 6 large pretzels
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2-3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup warm milk (approximately 110 degrees)
- baking soda
- parchment paper
- flaky sea salt (I used Maldon) or kosher salt
Mix the yeast, sugar and salt with 2 cups of the bread flour. Warm the milk in the microwave or on your stove, checking the temperature with a probe thermometer. (If it’s too hot, you’ll kill the yeast. Too cold, they won’t reproduce quickly.) Add all the ingredients to a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook; mix on medium speed until it looks like a thick, sticky batter. Continue, adding small handfuls of flour until the dough comes together in a smooth, elastic ball. Knead on medium speed for approximately five minutes. Remove from the mixer and shape into a smooth ball.
Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap is in contact with the dough, or else a skin may form. (You can refrigerate the dough overnight at this point, as I did; let come to room temperature before proceeding.) Find a warm spot in your kitchen and allow the dough to rise until it’s doubled in volume, about one hour. Gently punch down the dough to degas.
Preheat oven to 425. Put on a large (4-5 qt) pot of water to a rapid boil. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat, if you have one.
With a sharp knife, cut the dough into 6 pieces. Roll into logs (about 8-9″, though you don’t need to worry about being exact). Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let the dough rest, 5-10 minutes. Re-roll into slightly longer logs (you’ll notice after the dough relaxed it’s easier to roll). Cover and let rest 5 minutes, then re-roll until the logs are 15-16″ long. Twist into a traditional pretzel shape, or cut in half and tie into knots. (The dough will double in volume when cooked.)
Add a healthy pour (about 1/4 C) of baking soda to the rapidly boiling water (it will fizz up). Use a spatula to transfer the pretzels to the water bath for about 30 seconds, using your spatula to dunk them under the water. Transfer the boiled pretzels to your parchment-line baking sheets. Garnish with salt and bake until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes (less if you’ve made smaller knots). Serve warm or room temperature with mustard for dipping.
Note: if using active dry yeast, you’ll have to rehydrate it. Add the yeast measure to a small portion (say 1/4 C) of the warm milk, with a pinch of your brown sugar measure. Let sit about 10 minutes until it takes on a foamy, creamy texture. (If it doesn’t foam, your yeast may be dead; ditch that batch and try again.) Rewarm the remaining milk and proceed with the recipe.