How To Make Soft Pretzels

Soft Pretzels

People from Philly are almost as fanatical about our soft pretzels as we are about cheesesteaks. The funny thing is we all agree on pretty much the exact same pretzel. And since the only way to get it here in Cleveland is to order a case online[1] I figured it was time to figure out how to make my own.

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
¼ cup baking soda
coarse sea salt
1 egg (not pictured)

Directions

The dough

Soft pretzels start like every yeast bread recipe, meaning you have to proof the yeast. Use a half-cup of warm water (105° – 115° F) and mix in the sugar, yeast, and half the flour.


The sugar is so the yeast has something to eat. The flour is so you can see the bubbles forming as the yeast multiples. This step is just to “prove” that the yeast is still active and reproducing well. The first time I did this recipe I skipped the proofing step. Big mistake. I had the water either too hot or too cold, and the dough never rose.

Yeast gets really sticky, so I use a chopstick to stir it. Less for the yeast to stick to.

If you don’t have a chopstick, you can use the handle of a mixing spoon.

After about 10 minutes you should see bubbles coming to the top of the mixture. That means your yeast is going. Add the rest of the flour, the salt, and the butter.


Mix on medium for about five minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy.

I’m using the paddle instead of the dough hook because this is a pretty small batch. The dough hook takes forever to knead a really small batch like this.

When the dough is ready, scrape it out into a clean bowl with a few tablespoons of oil in the bottom to keep it from sticking. Cover with plastic wrap or a wet tea towel to keep the dough from drying out, and set the bowl in a warm place for the dough to rise.

Inside your oven, turned off but with the light on is a great place for raising dough. Those little lights produce a surprising amount of heat. And a new tip I just got from a reader last week: If it’s warm out, put the bowl in your grill. The sun on a black metal lid means it’s usually nice and warm inside there.

Let it rise until the dough has doubled in volume — about 45 minutes.

The twist

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.

Stretch into a long, thin shape, and cut into 4-8 even pieces.

You can do 8 small pretzels, 4 big ones, or something in-between. I went with 6 pieces.

Roll each piece out into a thin rope about the thickness of your pinky finger. Roll from the center outwards.

Cross the ends over.

Cross them over again.

Fold them down and press hard to get the ends to stick.

I did two small pretzels like that, then combined the other pieces into two larger ones.

Place the twisted pretzels on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer until they are very firm, if not completely frozen.

Freezing them first makes the next step — poaching them — much easier. Before starting that step, make sure you can get all the pretzels loose from the baking sheet.

The soda bath

Pretzels get their delicious, dark brown crust from being poached in a high-pH solution. Lye would be great for this, except that it’s poisonous in small concentrations, so you don’t want to use it in the kitchen.

Instead, we’re going to use baking soda. Put a quarter-cup of it into 10 cups of water and bring to a boil.

While that’s going, combine the egg and a tablespoon of water and beat together to make an egg wash.


Once the water comes to a rolling boil, dunk each pretzel in for about a minute.

At this point it would have been really useful to have a spider skimmer to lift them out. I thought the spatula would be fine.

For the small ones, it was fine. The big ones were a bit of a pain. Lesson for next time: Get a skimmer.

After each pretzel is poached, let it drain for a few seconds, then place it on a greased baking sheet.

That’s the next thing I did wrong, I didn’t grease the baking sheet. I just put them back on the same one they were frozen on. They will stick. So make sure you grease the pan. And don’t think these will be like cookies and you can use parchment. Jenni tried that. It doesn’t work.

Now that your poached, drained pretzels are on your greased baking sheet, brush on the egg wash.

This will give them a nice shiny finish, and it also gives the salt something to stick to. Add as much salt as you want.

In fact, go a little overboard. You can always knock extra salt off. It’s hard to put more on without baking them again.

You can buy pretzel salt at some specialty stores, or order it online if you can’t find it locally. But I prefer sea salt. Morton coarse sea salt is the perfect size for pretzels. Plus, it’s translucent, like a crystal, and looks really cool on the finished pretzels.

Baking

Bake at 400° for about 15 minutes, until deep brown and … well, pretzel colored. I’m assuming you know what they look like or you wouldn’t be trying to make them.

Those could have done with another couple of minutes. I was worried about burning them, but I decided that a little over-done would have been better than a little under-done.

By the way, look at the one all the way on the right. See how it looks sort of closed up? That’s on purpose. I’ll show you why in a minute.

Remember what I said about the salt looking like crystals? Check this out.

You can click the picture for an even closer look.

And that one that was closed up? Cut it in half like a burger bun. Add spicy brown mustard and a burger.

I had to knock most of the salt off of this, but the texture was really cool with a burger. If you’ve been looking for a way to change up the plain-old burger, give this a shot. I could see some people really loving this.

And that’s it.


1) Look close at that link for the pretzels … “categoryId=1&productId=1″. You think maybe that’s the most popular thing they make?

 

Soft Pretzels

Soft Pretzels

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • coarse sea salt
  • 1 egg

Instructions

Use a half-cup of warm water (105° - 115° F) and mix in the sugar, yeast, and half the flour. Let rest for 10 minutes until the yeast activates and starts bubbling. Stir in the kosher salt, the butter and the rest of the flour and knead for 5-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

Turn out into a clean bowl with a few tablespoons of oil to keep the dough from sticking. Cover and place in a warm spot to rise until doubled in volume.

Turn out onto a floured surface and divide into 4-8 equal pieces, depending on how big you want the pretzels. Roll each piece into a long thin rope the thickness of your pinky finger. Twist the ends around twice and press them down onto the un-twisted side. Place them on a baking sheet and freeze until they are firm.

Mix the baking soda with 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Poach each pretzel, one at a time, for a minute each. Drain and place on a greased baking sheet. Mix the egg with a tablespoon of water, and brush the pretzels with the egg wash. Top with coarse sea salt.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, until dark brown.

Comments

  1. In Bavaria the roll is called a Bretzel and it’s delicious with cold cuts and cheese…a nice wurst…yummo. Thanks for the recipe, it’s definitely one I want to try this weekend, but I need to get some course salt.

  2. We have a substantial Amish population around Dover… oh my they can cook! Soft pretzels is one of their busiest stands at the market on Tuesdays and Fridays. Not to mention the homemade candy, the foods of all kinds, the fresh meats counter, the bakery… Hmmm! I can’t wait to go again and get a pork sandwich! But I digress… Thanks for the recipe and I can’t wait to try it myself…

  3. I loooooove soft pretzels!

  4. “Bretzel”, cool. And wurst sounds really good for it. Little onion, some tomato, oh yeah, gonna have to do these again.

    Barbara, is that Dover, Delaware? Guess it won’t do any good asking which market you’re talking about. Drat.

    • i beleiveshe is talking about Spencer’s bazar” a flee market that is open saturday morning. Yes it is in Dover, DE. I just moved out of that area and miss the amish food already.

  5. Wow. This ex-Philly girl is about in tears. I guess it would be wrong to take a 1/2 vacation day to go home and make these, huh? Saturday. Yum.

  6. Or you could go follow that link and order a case, and they’d be there by Saturday. (This is not a sales pitch. I don’t make anything if you order those pretzels.)

    • I have to tell you my salad at lunch paled in comparison to that delicious looking burger!

  7. Stephanie says:

    We ate at a restaurant in Vegas a few years ago where they served pretzel rolls with dinner, just like pretzels, but round, fresh, warm – I still remember that as the best part of the trip. Now with this recipe, I’m thinking it’s time to make some of those myself.

  8. Did they serve anything on them, or just like a dinner roll?

    • Stephanie says:

      Just like a dinner roll. They actually brought out a plate with a variety of rolls, and the pretzel rolls were easily everyone’s favorite.

  9. When you get to the freezing step, I know you just did that to stiffen them up for the next step, but could you make an over-large batch and just freeze them semi-indefinitely until you wanted to proceed and make more?

  10. Thor, absolutely. Just pop them off the tray and put them in a zip-top freezer bag with all the air squeezed out.

  11. Stephanie says:

    Ok, I made these tonight and they came out wonderful! Gold and crisp outside, fluffy chewy inside – so good! They don’t look beautiful, but they sure taste great :)

  12. They look gorgeous! Only 36hrs to the weekend and it looks like Sat lunch is sorted!!

  13. Drew – are you reading my mind!?!? I was just wondering how to make pretzels… but I recoiled at the “boil in lye” part… THANKS for the great instructions and soda alternative. And .. I’m giving your egg salad props here:
    http://adventuresinthegoodland.blogspot.com/2010/03/how-to-make-savings-i-mean-bread.html

  14. I’m glad you stressed the no-parchment routine–it is Bad News indeed! Love the pretzel-burger idea:)

  15. Hi Drew, I just wanted to comment cause I make these all the time, my kids go crazy for them. This is a staple in our house, I always make a double batch, especially when headed out to the drive in movies (and yes, there are still several in Ohio). It’s happened several times that I’ll post on facebook that I’m making these, and then I have people “dropping by.” They’re also great when made as a bun and used for ham and spicy brown mustard sandwich. Will have to try the burger on one next time, if I ever have any left.

    One thing I do a bit different from you is that I brush them with melted butter instead of an egg wash. I also bake them at 450 for 10-12 minutes to get the crusty coating that tastes so yummy. These are also great to bake plain, them brush with melted butter and dip in a cinnamon sugar mixture. You know, kind of like the pretzel you’ll pay almost 3 bucks for at the mall. 😉

  16. Tracy, I think I’d prefer the ham sandwich to the burger.

    As for the cinnamon, no thanks. I want my pretzel to be pretzel-flavored. And it’s getting harder and harder to find that any more. Everyone seems to be doing the flavored ones.

  17. Cerise R. Arbour says:

    I love you Drew. You are a man after my own heart in the pretzel department. I loved the burger idea! I think that is awesome. Congrats on making me drool!

  18. Hi Drew

    Stumbled on yr website when surfing for, I think, brownie recepies for my 9 yr old. Made these and they came out great even if I boiled them using baking powder since I didn’t have soda on hand. They were sliced as they came out of the oven, piled with mint chutney, thinly sliced onions and chicken tikkas and devoured! My son insists that his snack box tom should be pretzel burgers :-)

    Just a quick question? When you say “cup” what is the approx gm conversion. Also I used instant yeast instead of active dry yeast. I use the cup measures that we get in the market, hoping that it would work and it seems to have though they didn’t rise as much as I thought they would. But they still tasted nice so I’m not complaining.

    Thanks.

  19. BTW great idea abt using these as burger buns. Honestly that’s what caught my eye and I decided to try making these!

  20. Manisha, American recipes are usually given in volume instead of weight, which is horribly imprecise. As Jenni has said: “One cup of flour can weigh between 3-5 ounces depending on how you scoop it into the cup.” Based on her conversion here, 1 cup of flour should be about 115 g.

  21. How many pretzels does this recipe make?

  22. Depends on whether you like thick or thin. You can do eight small ones or four big ones. Or split the difference and do six like I did.

  23. how many pretzels does this recipie make

  24. Look at my previous answer.

  25. Christiana says:

    Your recipe made me laugh!!! Lol it’s so hilarious! But is definitely one of the better recipes I’ve read!! If everyone wrote their recipes like you do I think more people would cook!! Off to make some pretzels now!! Thank you for the awesome recipe!!

  26. I’m not sure if the concern over parchment paper being toxic to a large degree is justified, but if it bothers you – there is an alternative “green” parchment that has worked well for me. http://www.luddensnatural.com/Culinary-Accessories-Unbleached-Parchment-Paper-65-6-ft-x-13-in.html?utm_source=google-shopping&utm_medium=organic I have used my sheets over and over again for things baked at lower temps. For high temp baking like ciabatta or baguettes.. you’re lucky to get one use, but these are completely compostable as well. Good luck!

  27. thanks for the recipe and the nod to a Philly fixation. As a Philly girl, I am longing for regular pretzels in my adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon. Thanks for the link to Federal Pretzels. I was drooling/dreaming for about 10 minutes until I saw the shipping charge for a box of pretzels! I guess I’ll just have to make these at home.

  28. So I tried one of Alton Brown’s recipes for pretzels and this was my first time making, them, I don’t know why but my pretzels just won’t cook all the way through. Any suggestions?
    I will try this one next time it is pretty much the same as Alton Brown’s.
    Thanks!

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