Soft Pretzels

November 4, 2011

One would think that, after almost one documented year (!) of consistent baking and the many undocumented years prior, I’d know how to read a recipe, or at least know how many times I need to reread a recipe in order to bring a baked good to delicious fruition. Colleen tries to make soft pretzels, take one. Action!

After reading the recipe in its entirety, I read down the ingredients once more to start working on the recipe. I reread the first step and saw that you have to combine everything in the same bowl to make the dough. Really, really, excruciatingly simple! I added the yeast, honey, salt, flour, warm water, and then added the baking soda. As I was adding the three tablespoons of baking soda, I kept thinking how strange it was that you would add so much of a chemical leavening agent to dough that already has one, yeast. If this were a movie, you’d see me in the kitchen with a dramatically exaggerated confused look on my face as I added tablespoon after tablespoon of baking soda, and the text at the bottom of the screen would read, “Weeeeeeeeeird”. If you’ve seen the first Bridget Jones movie, it’d be like the scene where her handsome boss catches her in a lie trying to impress him and there is a not so appropriate expletive that runs across the bottom of the screen while she is looking at him with an expression of total fear and embarrassment. Not the same emotion, but the same concept and funny image.

Soft pretzels are unique because they, like bagels, are boiled before baking. Soft pretzels are boiled not just water, however, but in a baking soda and water solution so they get that characteristic brown coloring. I realized my mistake when I went to boil the water, and couldn’t NOT finish the recipe. I rolled out the dough and shaped the pretzels, which was super fun, then got to boiling and baking. The pretzels were beautiful. Inedible, on account of the baking soda mistake, but beautiful nonetheless. The insides were soft and fluffy, and would have been perfect had I not buggered up the baking soda bit. I can’t wait to make soft pretzels again, though, knowing how much fun the process is, and how great the finished product will be!

Soft Pretzels

(Recipe from Baking Illustrated, an ATK publication)

Yields 12 soft pretzels

Notes: Soft pretzel dough is super stiff, almost too stiff to knead by hand. ATK recommends using a stand mixer or food processor because pretzels come out most flavorful with the appropriate amount of kneading. I’m writing the recipe for a stand mixer, but check out the book if you want the food processor method. Also, check out the book for cheese and cinnamon sugar variations of this recipe. When rolling out pretzels, I found the dough worked best on a surface that was not floured, even though the recipe recommends rolling dough on a lightly floured surface. I also did not roll my dough into 20-inch long ropes, resulting in small, chubby pretzels. To each her own?

Ingredients

For the dough:

1 teaspoon instant yeast

¼ cup honey

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups bread flour

1 cup warm water, around 110 degrees F

Optional: 2 tablespoons kosher salt, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds

For the boiling water:

6 cups of water

3 tablespoons baking soda

Method:

1. In the bowl of stand mixer, stir together yeast, honey, salt, flour, and water.

2. Fit mixer with a bread hook and knead dough at a low speed 5 to 7 minutes, or until dough forms a smooth, elastic ball. Coat a large mixing bowl with a thin layer of cooking oil.

3. Place ball of dough in oiled bowl, flipping dough over so the top is oiled, too. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Deflate dough, cover again with plastic, and let dough rise until doubled in size for a second time, between 30 and 40 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or lightly oiled aluminum foil. In a 12-inch skillet, Dutch oven, or wide pot, bring 6 cups of water and baking soda to a boil.

5. While oven is preheating and water is coming to a boil, form pretzels. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a 20-inch long, ½ inch wide ropes. Shape ropes into pretzel form by picking up the ends and crossing them over each other to form an oval and pressing ends over the bottom of the oval. It helped to pinch the dough together there, but a dab of water will also help the ends adhere to oval.

6. When water is boiling, use tongs to place 3 to 4 shaped pretzels face down in boiling water. After 30 seconds, use a slotted spoon to flip pretzels. After another thirty seconds, use tongs to drain pretzels thoroughly and place them directly on prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all pretzels are boiled. Since pretzels will not spread, you can try to fit all 12 pretzels on the same baking sheet. Sprinkle pretzels with salt, if desired.

7. Bake pretzels in preheated oven for 12 to 16 minutes, until pretzels are well browned, turning the baking sheet halfway through baking time. Remove pretzels to a cooling rack and cool until cool enough to eat or room temperature.

ATK says pretzels are best the day they are made, served either warm or at room temperature, but will also keep for two days at room temperature in an airtight container or frozen up to 2 weeks.

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