I feel obligated to preface this post by stating that despite my New York upbringing, I’ve never been a huge fan of pretzels, especially the ones you’d find at those little stands all over the city. They’d always look appealing, but after a few minutes (at best) the warm, soft dough would cool into a chewy, salty breadstick. So I put them on my don’t-bother list for a very long time, and that was that. Or rather, until someone finally introduced me to a real soft pretzel, at which point I realized that I had been missing out big time.
Naturally, my first instinct was not to go around and sample pretzels from various bakeries, but rather to try my hand at it myself. I’m logical that way. So I began googling and reading and pinterest-ing, and ultimately was torn between two recipes. The first was by Alton Brown, who I have always been fond of from his days hosting Iron Chef America (do not get me started about the original Japanese version, I will go on far too long), and the queen herself, Martha Stewart. Alton’s was straightforward, Martha’s was intricate and beautiful. As tempting as it was to try and mimic Martha Stewart Living photos, I opted to go the simple path, which yielded some decent, albeit fugly, pretzels. They were messily knotted, and never quite got to that golden brown crisp on the outside, but still very tasty when topped with kosher salt.
We all know where this is going, right? I was not satisfied with just “good”, so I went back and reviewed more recipes and techniques, yadda yadda yadda. I noticed that the photos from MSL showed a very dark pretzel crust, so I went back and realized the main thing the first batch was missing (aside from dough shaping practice) was flavor in the boiling water. Theirs combined water and a strong IPA, along with some brown sugar, and between the hoppy beer and the subtle sweetness, it was perfect. As I mentioned, I thought the dough itself had turned out quite well, so I this was the only change I made in my second attempt (aside from halving the recipe, which I talk about in the recipe notes).That was pretty much it. The rest of the photos speak for themselves in regards to how they turned out visually, and my friend who was in town visiting confirmed they did, in fact, taste as good as they looked. The only downside I’ve found with these is that they really need to be served fresh, as storing them in any sort of container will make them soggy and un-perfect. I had a lot of fun shaping these, as the dough is elastic enough to withstand a couple iterations if you don’t nail it on the first try. MSL’s article had a whole variety of designs, and while I opted to stick with the classic shape here, I’ve since tried more elaborate twists that worked well. It also helped to just watch a couple videos/GIFs of pretzels being assembled, as they show the natural gesture they make when knotting the dough, and I found that made it far easier to mimic.That’s pretty much it- below are extra technical notes/thoughts, but otherwise just go forth and pretzel.
- In these photos, I halved the recipe because I was only making them for a few people, so I only had 8 pieces of dough, rather than the normal 16.
- These are half the size they would be if you follow the original (aka linked) instructions to the letter. I prefer this size, so when I have made the full amount in the past, I usually just divide the dough as written below.
- I’ve also made them miniature for a party, in which I half the dough pieces again, and roll them out to only 12″ or so. The boiling and baking time was the same, but if you’re worried about overcooking them, just check on them a little earlier.
- I didn’t bother buying pretzel salt, but you can get it on Amazon here
Adapted from Alton Brown and Martha Stewart Living
Yields 16 small-ish pretzels or 32 minis
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
8 cups water
1/2 cup IPA beer
1/2 cup baking soda
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt (I just used the kosher salt I had on hand, which was fine)
Make the Dough:
- 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.
Assemble the pretzels:
- Once the dough has been proofed, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
- Turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 16 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 18-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.
Cook and Bake:
- Bring the boiling mixture to a boil over high heat in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan, then lower to medium-high (otherwise the foam from the beer will take over)
- 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 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.