Yeast Feast ~ Homemade Soft Pretzels

Did you know April 26th was National Pretzel Day? It just turned out that I was planning to make soft pretzels today in continuing my "Yeast Feast" series.  I'll probably have one more recipe to share before I return to my usual sweet, indulgent posts.  

I've had this recipe from Joy the Baker saved for a while - when I first saw it last summer, I couldn't believe how easy it was to make your own soft pretzels at home!  Joy has a nifty video which really helps for those (like me) that need a little visual aid.  Like Joy, my brain couldn't comprehend the twisting of the pretzel either - it took me a couple tries to get the hang of it.  Thankfully, poor twisting does not affect taste!

The method of making soft pretzels is pretty similar to homemade bagels.  The hardest part is waiting for the dough to rise... oh, and in my case - the twisting of the pretzel.  I've seen recipes recently for pretzel rolls so I may attempt that in the future to un-complicate things a little for myself. 

If possible, serve the pretzels warm right out of the oven. They are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside... a few hours later, I found them to be quite chewy. I'm thinking they could be warmed up in the toaster oven for a few minutes.  Make sure you have some mustard or melted cheese dip on hand - I couldn't believe I didn't have any mustard in the fridge to accompany these pretzels!  I will have to remedy that soon... 

Homemade Soft Pretzels
adapted from Joy the Baker

1 tablespoon sugar
1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
3 3/4 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pretzel salt or grill seasoning
1 heaping Tablespoon baking soda (add to boiling water)
canola or vegetable oil, for greasing pans

Stir together sugar, yeast, and 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (105 to 110°F) in a glass measuring cup. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine 3 1/2 cups flour and 1 tablespoon table salt.  Add yeast mixture and turn on mixer to knead until it forms a dough. Gradually add more flour to make a smooth sticky dough, about 8 minutes. (Dough should be somewhat sticky so it can be easily rolled and formed into pretzels).

Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let dough rise in a draft-free spot at warm room temperature until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.   Remove dough from bowl onto a clean work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Using your palms, roll 1 piece into a rope about 24 inches long.  If necessary, lightly dust your hands with flour if dough sticks to your hands.  Twist dough into a pretzel shape by taking the ends of the rope and forming a large loop (dough will retract as you form the pretzel)- twist ends together and stick to opposite side of loop.

Transfer pretzel with your hands to an greased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining 7 pieces of dough, spacing them 1 1/2 inches apart.  Let pretzels stand, uncovered, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 425°F. Bring a wide 6-quart pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling, add heaping tablespoon of baking soda (the baking soda will help the pretzels brown) to the water.  Using both hands, carefully add 2 pretzels, 1 at a time, to boiling water and cook, turning over once with tongs, until pretzels are puffed and shape is set, about 3 minutes. Transfer parboiled pretzels to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining pretzels.  

Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Grease paper, then arrange pretzels on sheet. Brush pretzels lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with pretzel salt or other seasonings. Bake until golden brown and lightly crusted, about 30-35 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve warm.  Best if served same day they are made (salt may dissolve overnight).