Photo by John D. Ivanko
In that “everything old is new again” category, we re-introduce the pretzel. According to research firm Mintel, 160 pretzel products came out in 2013, a record number and heaps higher than the 60 back in 2009. From savory pretzel buns to all sorts of sweet chocolate-dipped variations, this crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside bread product is making a sincere comeback.
While there’s no definitive answer as to why this current revival of the pretzel (the first pretzels date back to European monasteries in the early Middle Ages), opinions range from health (a notch better for you than a potato chip) to comfort-food nostalgia. There’s a clear option to the fast-food, processed pretzel options: Make your own pretzels in your farmstead kitchen.
This easy DIY pretzel recipe is the soft, bready type—a healthier, homespun version of what you’d find at the mall. Giving your dough a dip in the baking-soda solution is a key element in pretzel perfection; otherwise, you’ll just end up with an average bread roll—tasty, but not a pretzel. The baking soda’s alkalinity is what causes the pretzel to turn deep brown and crispy on the outside, contrasting with the chewy bread inside. The browning through the baking-soda solution is also what differentiates the pretzel from the bagel, which typically uses straight water.
Not that you’ll need encouragement, but these pretzels taste best straight out of the oven. Your extras (if you have them) will harden a bit the day after baking. Stick them in the microwave for a few seconds to soften up.
This pretzel recipe includes the classic sprinkle of salt on top, but feel free to experiment with other toppings. A cinnamon-sugar topping will sweeten things up. Of course, being loyal Wisconsin cheeseheads and living in Green County, the highest cheese-producing county in the country, we love dipping them in a warm cheese sauce.
Yield: 8 large pretzels
- 1½ cups warm water (105 to 110 degrees F)
- 2¼ tsp. active dry yeast (one 1/4-ounce package)
- 2 T. brown sugar
- 4 cups bread flour
- 1¼ tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. vegetable oil
- coarse sea salt
- 4 T. melted butter
- 1 cup warm water
- 1/4 cup baking soda
In small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until yeast starts to bubble, about 10 minutes.
In large mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour and salt. Add yeast-water combo and vegetable oil. Knead dough (either by hand or stand mixer) for about 5 minutes or until smooth.
Place dough in lightly oiled bowl; turn over once. Cover and place somewhere warm for about 1 hour or until dough doubles in size.
Combine warm water and baking soda in a 9-inch cake pan or similarly sized container. Stir until baking soda dissolves.
When dough has risen, punch down dough. Divide into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece into as long and thin a rope as possible. Each should be about 3 feet. Shape dough into a pretzel shape. (It helps to have a pretzel picture in front of you for a pattern.)
Dip pretzel quickly in baking-soda solution so entire pretzel is lightly covered. Sprinkle with salt. Cover and place in a warm spot for 1 hour or until dough doubles in size again.
Bake in a 450-degree-F oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack for a few minutes before brushing with melted butter. Sprinkle with extra salt if desired.
Savoring the good life,