I am always, always, always in favor of soft pretzels. We stop at the mall? Soft pretzels. We go to Busch Gardens? Soft pretzels. I stumble across a pastry stand at a local farmers' market? Soft pretzels. It's little wonder, then, that I've tried making them at home. Tried and failed, many, many times. Each time I made a different recipe and each time the pretzels were more...I don't know...more rollish. Now I like rolls as much as the next gluten-lover, but when I want a pretzel I want something noticeably pretzel-like. I want something that twines its little twisted arms around my neck and hugs tight. So when I got my latest issue of Martha Steward Living and the cover featured pretzels with the suggestion of a recipe inside, my heart lippity-lipped. Martha Stewart is just one of those sources that you don't question in terms of "does she know what a good pretzel tastes like." I mean, question her ethics, question how many face-lifts she has gotten in her adult life, but don't question the idea that she probably knows a good pretzel when she tastes it. As soon as I had some time off work, I pulled out my magazine, tinkered with the ingredients and proportions, and came up with a soft pretzel that finally, finally meets my criteria for the perfect edition:
dense, yet light
These pretzels, borne from a deep love and affection, are actually quite easy with little hands-on prep time in comparison with the amazingness of the finished product. The dough is quickly combined, then kneaded for ten minutes (the worst part). The dough is then left in the fridge overnight. The next morning you roll the dough into a rectangle, hack off strips and shape them, dip them with a slotted spoon into a pot of witches' brew, sprinkle coarse salt over their dear little faces, and bake them in an extra hot oven for five or six minutes. For this project I finally got to use the little set of fancy salts given to me by my sister-in-law last birthday:
(Top row: fleur de sel and chocolate sea-salt, Middle row: flaked white Cypress salt and chocolate salt, Bottom row: black lava salt)
You may use any kind of coarse salt on top of the pretzels - I have even heard that there is a specific "pretzel salt" sold online and in some stores. Besides salt, feel free to experiment with any other topping you can imagine! Maybe sharp shredded cheddar, or pumpkin seeds? Maybe you'd like to sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar? Use your imagination!
Now that I have written effusively of my love for pretzels, now that I have filled your eyes with pictures of their beauty and tales of their best qualities, I will share the recipe. Make these. Make them as soon as ever you can. I promise you'll think them better than Auntie Ann's.
Homemade Soft Pretzels
(adapted from Martha Stewart Living)
2 cups warm water
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons fleur de sel
2 Tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup. baking soda
1/4 cup brown sugar
8 cups water
1.) In a medium bowl, combine warm water, yeast, and brown sugar. Mix and allow to sit 5-10 minutes, until foamy.
2.) In a second, larger bowl mix the flour and salt with your hands. Add chunks of butter and work into the dough with your fingers until well incorporated. Add the wet ingredients to this and blend with your hands until a shaggy dough forms.
3.) Turn onto counter and knead for ten full minutes until dough becomes smooth and elastic. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
4.) In the morning, preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahreneheit. put the second set of ingredients (baking soda, brown sugar, and water) to simmer in a medium stockpot on the stove.
5.) Roll dough into 14" by 12" rectangle and cut off strips with a pizza cutter. Shape into the classic pretzel shape or pinch the bottom curve into a point for a heart. Tie the dough in knots or roll up snail shells. Have fun.
6.) Dip each pretzel into the simmering pot for 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon onto a well-oiled tray. When all pretzels are finished with their water bath, sprinkle them with desired varieties of salt or other toppings. Bake the pretzels for 3 minutes. Turn the tray in the oven and bake for 3 additional minutes. Remove from oven when a rich golden to auburn shade. Allow to cool slightly, then remove from trays to cooling rack
My work here is done! You hold in your possession a recipe for pretzels sanctioned by a girl who loves pretzels more than almost any other variety of carbohydrate. It's a beautiful, beautiful day.