Getting twisted — off soft pretzels

15 Feb

Posted by: Chris
Soft pretzelsAs a native New Yorker my love for soft pretzels is something that is engrained in me. Maybe it comes from my childhood daytrips to the city where, on what seemed like every corner, the smell of pretzels warming over hot coals beckoned me like a crackhead to the rock.

When I was a kid, sporting events and pretzels were synonymous in my mind. My dad would take me to at least 15 Yankees and Jets games a year and I’d have to have a pretzel at every single one – if he let, or better yet could have afforded it, I would have had one per inning.

However, much like the Jets, the reputation of the stadium soft pretzel is basically at an all-time low. I’ve stopped getting them the past few years because they’re usually dense, barely thawed and have a soggy, wrinkly exterior that I imagine is what Wilford Brimley’s ass looks like after falling asleep in a hot tub.

Maybe I’ve just become more discerning, but it’s a real crap-shoot when trying to find a soft pretzel that lives up to my childhood memories –a charred, smoky bottom that added just the right amount of crunch to its hot, soft center. Because of this, I’ve been relegated to getting my soft pretzel fix from the freezer aisle of the grocery store.

Well, with winter storm Nemo bearing down on the Northeast I decided to take a shot at making my own soft pretzels – something I’ve wanted to do for years. This recipe is adapted from Alton Brown’s, a man who knows so much about the science of food that his pretzel recipe had to be on point (plus it came up first in my Google search).

New York Soft Pretzels — adapted from Alton Brown’s Homemade Soft Pretzels
Makes 8-16 depending on desired pretzels size

  • 1 ½ cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
  • Pretzel salt
Making the Dough

Combine water and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle with yeast. Let this sit until it becomes foamy, about 5 minutes. The process is also called proofing. If the mixture foams it basically means you have proof the yeast is alive and active. If it doesn’t foam, toss the mixture and start over. It probably means your yeast is too old.

In the meantime, grease a large mixing bowl with vegetable oil and set aside.

Once foamy, add flour and salt to the bowl, affix the dough hook attachment and begin mixing on low until ingredients are combined. Depending on the day and moisture in the air of your kitchen 4 ½ cups of flour may be too much or too little. Starting with less flour is always a good approach with any dough. You can always add more to attain your desired texture, but there is no turning back if you over flour your dough. I used about 4 cups when I made these.

Kick up the speed of the mixer to medium and knead the dough until it becomes smooth and cleanly separates from the bowl, about 5 minutes. If it’s still too sticky, add more flour, about a tablespoon at a time.

Remove dough and place in oiled mixing bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place for about an hour or until your dough has doubled in size. If you don’t have an hour or your kitchen is really cold that day here’s a cool trick. Before you start mixing our dough, preheat your oven to its lowest temperature. Mine goes to 170 degrees, but anything at or below 200 degrees will work. When your dough is mixed and covered, turn off the oven and place the bowl in oven for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper and brush lightly with oil.

Bring 10 cups of water and baking soda to a boil in an 8-quart pot.

Forming the Pretzels

Once dough has double, punch it down slightly to release some of the air built up inside. Brush your counter with oil and turn the dough out on to counter. Cover with plastic and let rest for another 10 minutes.

Dividing pretzel dough

Divide dough into equal size pieces. (I made eight, but they came out a bit thicker than your average pretzel). Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope.

Rolling pretzel dough

Work your hands evenly from inside-out to ensure your rope keeps an even thickness. Make sure to keep your counter lightly oiled so the dough doesn’t begin to stick.

Pretzel dough U shape

pretzel dough formed

Make a U shape with your rope. Holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and then press onto the bottom of the U to form the shape of your pretzel.

Unbaked pretzels on sheet pan

Place onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat this with your remaining pieces of dough.

Cooking Your Pretzels

Once all your pretzels are formed, place them in the boiling water 1-by-1. Boil for 20 seconds, then flip and boil for another 20 seconds. Remove from water using a large flat spatula and return to baking sheet. Brush each pretzel with the egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with pretzel salt, to taste (I didn’t have pretzel salt, so I used kosher salt. The flavor was the same; it just didn’t have the same look as it would have with the larger crystals of pretzel salt).

Bake until golden brown, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and let cool for about 5 minutes.

We ate these with a Fig-Mustard dipping sauce (equal parts whole-grain Dijon mustard and fig jam). But they were delicious just on their own!

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One Response to “Getting twisted — off soft pretzels”

  1. Meredith DeMatteis February 16, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    They were Fabulous!! I had two!!!

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