Homemade Soft Pretzels
For as long as I can remember I’ve loved soft pretzels. I can’t recall where I had my first one, maybe at the movies or the ballpark, however I can recall how warm, soft and tasty they were. Now of course they come in all shapes and sizes, even buns to use for a sandwich.
There’s a restaurant here in town, Companion Bakery, where ‘llI frequently order a salad to-go – it comes with a soft pretzel stick. Wow it’s so good, oftentimes I find I’ve devoured the pretzel before even making it home – so much for my salad. So I finally decided to make my own to have on hand, not that I need to extra carbs, mostly just to satisfy my need to make them.
Years ago I made them, but the technique I used back then was different. Recreating the soft pretzels that you get from places like Auntie Anne’s would probably require the use of lye which helps give the pretzel a shiny surface. Lye is a powerful alkali, (typically sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) often used in heavy cleaning and soap making, and it can be highly corrosive.
Alkalies, like lye, are also widely used in the food world, a common one is baking soda (a mild alkali, the soda reacts with acidic ingredients to help leaven baked goods). Commercially, corn is often treated with alkali (“nixtamalization”) to make hominy. Cocoa powder can be treated with alkali (Dutch process) to neutralize the acid, giving the powder a milder flavor and richer color. Lye is also used in the curing of olives, and the canning of mandarin oranges, among other foods.
When using a baking soda (mild alkaline) wash for making pretzels, it creates a noticeable change in color, texture and flavor, but the sheen is not as great, and the results not as dramatic as lye, apparently – although I thought mine looked just fine. An egg white wash, which I’ve used in the past, provides a clear sheen, though it doesn’t do much for color or texture. Whole eggs give wonderful sheen and color, though they won’t produce the same crust and flavor you would get from an alkaline-based wash.
I tested this recipe with a “baked soda” wash which increases its alkalinity. As baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is heated, it undergoes a chemical reaction, forming sodium carbonate. The pretzels have better flavor and color than if I used an egg wash, but it’s still not the same as lye – which is the real deal.
That said, lye can be highly dangerous if used in the home. You can purchase the food grade variety on Amazon, but caution MUST be taken since it is considered a Hazardous ingredient as noted in this document among a slew of others.
While I’m sure someday I’ll probably try making Homemade Pretzels with lye, for now I prefer to stick to the safer alkali, baking soda.
Here’s the recipe I hope you’ll give it a try.
Homemade Soft Pretzels
- 2 Tbsp. plus 1 1/3 cups warm water
- 1 pkg. active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
- 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
- 1 tsp. sea salt or kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
- Unsalted butter, for the pans
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 2 tablespoons warm water with the yeast and stir by hand until the yeast is dissolved.
- Stir in the remaining 1 1/3 cups warm water and brown sugar.
- Fit the mixer with the dough hook and set the bowl on it. Mix on medium-low speed, gradually adding the flour and salt. Continue mixing until the dough forms a ball. (This can be done by hand as well)
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until it is smooth, about 5 minutes
- Heat oven to 475F degrees. Butter baking sheets.
- Combine 2 quarts water and baking soda in a stockpot, and bring to a boil.
- Cut dough into golf ball size pieces. Shape into buns, logs or pretzel twists.
- Drop the pretzels, a few at a time, into the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and place them on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat with remaining dough.
- When all the pretzels have been boiled and salted, bake them for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
* Note: Storing in a zip-lock baggie will cause pretzels to become soggy. Leave out or in a cool oven to maintain their crusty exterior.
Adapted from: Gale Gand - Brunch