Pretzels. Big and soft with a chewy crust. They were definitely not on my radar for October baking, but Jeff had mentioned them the other day and I thought why not? I’m so glad I did. They’re fun to make and the results were really impressive, they taste awesome. They remind me of my first visits to New York City as a child in the 70s. The midtown street corners were always a reliable source for hot soft pretzels. The city felt like a carnival to me, so many people walking about, eating, skating in Rockefeller Plaza, skyscrapers towering above, the smell of roasted chestnuts, which is sadly fading away, it was a place I always wanted to go back to. And still do at times. After living there for 20 years the city never really leaves you even after you leave it. But beyond the nostalgia soft pretzels can be found at some really great places, a couple that come to mind are Lederhosen in NYC West Village and Leopold’s in San Francisco. The food is great at both places but I would sacrifice the pretzel at Leopold’s if only to devour their best dish which is the Braised Beef Short Rib.
Getting back to the recipe, I found everything to work out with the exception of rolling out the pieces of dough. It said to oil the surface before rolling, so I slathered my surface with oil and proceeded, however the dough is already oily from the bowl it’s been rising in, and when I tried to roll it the dough would just slide along the surface, so I quickly pulled out a chopping board, sans the oil, and it worked much better, rolling in one direction. Also I didn’t have pretzel salt so I used Fleur de Sel which was the closest thing I had, and I tried a couple with smoked sea salt but didn’t really get the smoky flavor as I had hoped.
Like I said these are fun to make, taste fantastic and go great with a very tall beer!
Homemade Soft Pretzels
(Adapted from Alton Brown)
- 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
- 10 cups water
- 2/3 cup baking soda
- 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
- Pretzel salt
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.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface (or not oiled as I mentioned) and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-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.
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 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.