At some point in your life, I’m sure you’ve tasted a pretzel — be it the small, crispy ones or larger bread-like, soft ones. The distinctive salty taste and the signature heart-like shape probably come to your mind when you think of pretzels.
But did you know that pretzels are quite easy to make? You can make them in your kitchen without having to worry about a million little things that you usually do when it comes to baking.
When I say pretzel in this post, I’m talking about the bread-like, soft pretzels topped with irregular flakes of sea salt.
Soft pretzels are, well, soft, and chewy. They have a gorgeous brown color on the outside and are moderately airy on the inside. They’re best enjoyed with a glass of cold beer and guess what? They’re super easy to make.
Store-bought pretzels are overpriced, and they just don’t have that edge to them that homemade ones do. Plus, store-bought pretzels don’t have all the ounces of love that you pour into your baking creations.
There are a lot of stories that people have when it comes to how pretzels came to be. Pretzels do seem to have originated from Western Europe, in the regions of Germany, Austria, and France. The most famous tale associated with its origin is that a pretzel was invented by an Italian monk to be given as a reward to children if they learned how to pray. Hence, many say that the knotted shape of a pretzel is representative of arms crossing the chest during prayers.
That’s enough history lessons for today, let’s get into the making of pretzels now.
What’s in a pretzel?
The dough for soft pretzels calls for the same ingredients as any other bread dough — plain flour, yeast, salt, brown sugar, water, and some butter.
There is quite a bit of salt and yeast that go into this recipe, especially salt. You could say that the flavor of these pretzels is salty.
The dough for soft pretzels is a firm one. You might feel that the amount of water is too low, but you’re looking for dense and tight dough. Plus, the addition of butter, even though a tiny amount, removes any dryness from the dough.
Unlike other bread doughs where you add water to the flour, I add flour to the water, which contains the brown sugar and yeast. For firm doughs such as this one, it’s easier to incorporate the flour and water by adding the flour little by little to the water.
Moreover, I say this recipe is easy because it requires minimal kneading. You won’t need to exercise any complicated kneading methods or work with a wet dough.
Coming to the shape of the pretzel, it can be tricky at first to understand how to achieve the shape. Once you get the hang of it, it’s quite simple, and you’ll remember it forever.
This recipe makes eight pretzels; therefore, you’ll be dividing and shaping eight individual pieces of dough. To shape, you’ll take one of the dough pieces and roll it into a 40-centimeter rope, narrowed towards the ends. Then, you’re going to twist the ends twice and fold them over. Do this a couple of times, and you’ll master it!
Now, the real hero that differentiates a soft pretzel from regular bread is the poaching liquid. Traditionally, pretzels are dipped in a lye solution before baking. Dipping pretzels in lye quickens the Maillard reaction — the crust’s browning and giving the pretzels their distinctive flavor. But, lye is dangerous, and it should be used extremely carefully, definitely not in inexperienced hands.
Luckily, a suitable replacement for the lye solution is a baking soda solution. For this recipe, I mix baking soda, brown sugar, and honey in water and let it simmer on medium heat. I like adding the brown sugar and honey to add more flavor to the pretzels, but you can skip them if you want to.
The key is to dip the pretzels in the poaching liquid for barely 10 seconds. What this does is, it kind of gelatinizes the crust of the pretzel and prevents it from puffing up too much while baking. This step is vital as it also makes the pretzel chewy, which is essential because it’s a soft pretzel.
Let’s move on to toppings and dips now. I like my soft pretzels topped with sea salt, and I usually eat them as it is. But alternative toppings include sesame seeds, herbs, and cheese. You can leave it plain too! Soft pretzels are spoiled for choices when it comes to dips; you can dip your pretzels in just about anything; from molten cheese to ranch dressing to chocolate!
The equipment needed to make these soft pretzels is quite necessary and minimal. You don’t need an electric mixer to knead the dough, it’s pretty straightforward, and I like kneading mine by hand.
I recommend using a wide-mouthed pot to simmer the poaching liquid in, as it will make it easy to add and remove the pretzels from it. Speaking of removing the pretzel from the poaching liquid, you can use a slotted spoon or a frying spider. Avoid anything with a sharp edge as the pretzels will be super tender after poaching, and you don’t want to risk breaking them apart.
Here’s every piece of equipment you need to make these soft pretzels:
Cotton kitchen towel
Rubber or wooden spatula
Bench scraper or knife
Slotted spoon or frying spider
The Recipe For Delicious and Easy Soft Pretzels
Yields: 8 soft pretzels
Time: 2 ½ hours
300 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
160 grams (¾ cup) lukewarm water
¾ tablespoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
10 grams (2 teaspoons) softened butter
1000 grams (4 ¼ cups) water
40 grams (2 ¾ tablespoons) baking soda
12 grams (3 teaspoons) brown sugar
6 grams (2 teaspoons) honey
To a large mixing bowl, add the water, brown sugar, and yeast. Give it a good mix and let it sit for about 10 minutes until it’s frothy on top.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour and salt.
To the bloomed yeast mixture, add the flour and mix it with a spatula.
Once you have a dry, scraggly mixture, use your hands to get everything together. Knead until you have a firm dough that is a little dry.
Slowly incorporate the butter and knead until you have a firm dough that doesn’t look dry anymore.
Form the dough into a ball and place it back in the large mixing bowl.
Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Lightly roll the dough into a log, and divide it into 8 equal-sized pieces.
Place the individual pieces on a greased tray and cover it with a damp kitchen towel. Let them rest for 5 minutes.
Roll each piece into a long rope that’s about 40 centimeters long. It should be narrow on the ends and thicker in the center.
Shape the rope into a pretzel by forming it into a ‘U’ shape and then crossing the long ends twice and folding them over.
Place the shaped pretzels back on the greased tray and cover it with a damp kitchen towel.
Let them proof at room temperature for 30 minutes and then in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. You could also let them proof in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 220°C and prepare the poaching liquid.
Add all of the ingredients for the liquid to a wide-mouthed pot and let it simmer on medium heat.
Dip the pretzels in the hot liquid for 5 seconds on each side. Use a slotted spoon or a frying spider to remove the pretzels and place them back on the greased tray.
Top the pretzels with your desired toppings while they're still wet
Bake the pretzels at 220°C for 12-15 minutes.
If you plan on preparing the dough in advance or want to bake only a few and the rest later, I suggest you form the pretzels and then refrigerate. You can let them sit in the fridge for anywhere between 1 hour to 24 hours before baking. Don’t forget to cover your baking tray with either a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap.