Soft Pretzels

I really love a good soft pretzel. They are truly one of my favorite ballpark/sporting event treats – though, if we’re being honest, they’re usually kind of disappointing in that context. Someone is usually pulling them off a rack in a heated box, where they’ve been hanging (and drying out/getting hard) for several hours; alternatively, they’re pulling the pretzel out of a giant, steamy, insulated bag, which has totally destroyed any crispness the outside of the pretzel once possessed. Depressing, all around.

The solution to this problem?? Make your own pretzels at home! They are way easier than you think they would be; while they do take a little time (most of it inactive, while the dough is rising), they are totally worth the effort!

Once you make the dough, you can shape it in several ways: small, bite-size pretzel balls, big pretzel sandwich rolls, or traditional pretzels (just to name a few). More often than not, I go with pretzel bites, if only because it eliminates the need to roll the dough out and shape it into pretzels, which takes a bit of extra time.

Soft Pretzels
makes about 20 small (3″ wide) pretzels, or about 40 pretzel bites

3 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 tsp sugar
1 cup very warm water
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
6 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 1/2 cup hot water (as hot as your tap can get)
Sea salt

1.) In a small bowl, combine warm water, yeast, and 3/4 tsp sugar. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is very foamy on top.

2.) While the yeast is getting going, whisk together your flour, 6 T sugar, and salt. When the yeast mixture is ready, pour it and the canola oil into the flour mixture. Use a wooden spoon to stir everything together, until a sort of shaggy dough forms.

3.) Lightly flour your counter, and dump the dough out on to it (including any dry or floury bits). Knead the dough for a couple minutes (folding the farthest part of the ball of dough over itself, toward you, and pushing it away with the palm of your hand – turn the dough slightly and repeat, turn and repeat, turn and repeat), until a fairly smooth dough has formed, and all the ingredients are evenly moistened, about 3-4 minutes.

4.) Spray a large bowl with some nonstick cooking spray, and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place it in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour. As I do with pizza dough, I like to heat my oven to about 150°, turn it off, and then stick the bowl with the dough inside and close the door. This speeds up the rising process a bit, and also keeps the dough from catching any cold drafts you have going through your kitchen!

5.) When the dough has risen, preheat your oven to 425°. Place the dough on to a lightly floured surface, and gently knead it a couple times to push the air out.

6.) Pinch off small pieces of dough (a bit smaller than a golf ball), and roll them into balls between your palms. Set the balls of dough aside, on a parchment lined baking sheet. (Alternatively, you can pinch off pieces slightly larger than a golf ball, roll those into long snakes of dough – about 8″ long – and then shape those into pretzels.)

7.) When all your dough is rolled out and ready, put 1/4 cup of baking soda into a bowl, and top with your 1 1/2 cups of VERY hot water. Quickly whisk the mixture together with a fork. Dip each pretzel into the mixture for just a second, shake off any excess water, and place the dough back on the parchment. Once all the pretzels have been dunked, sprinkle sea salt on top of them.

8.) Bake until the pretzels are a dark golden brown – probably 7-8 minutes for pretzel bites, 8-10 minutes for pretzels, and 12-14 minutes for pretzel rolls.

If you want to put any kind of special topping on your pretzels, you’ll want to do it once your pretzels are almost done (and you’ll want to leave off the sea salt before baking).

For cinnamon sugar pretzels: remove the pretzels from the oven when they are lightly golden. Brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Return to the oven for another few minutes. (Instead of cinnamon sugar, you could use parmesan here.)

For jalapeno cheddar pretzels: remove the pretzels from the oven when they are just past looking wet, but not brown yet. Place well-drained, sliced, pickled jalapeno slices on the pretzel, and top with freshly grated cheddar cheese. Return to the oven until the edges of the pretzel are deep brown, and the cheese is fully melted.

For “everything” pretzels: mix together 2 tsp each of poppy seeds, dried garlic flakes, dried onion flakes, and sesame seeds, and 1 tsp coarse salt. Sprinkle the topping on to the pretzels before baking them at all, lightly pressing it into the pretzel to help it stick. Bake as usual.

There are so many possibilities with soft pretzels! You can make up all kinds of flavor combinations with the pretzels themselves… not to mention the potential dipping sauces! Mustard, honey mustard, cheese, marinara, ranch dressing, etc etc etc! So many pretzels, so little time. Any variation of these would be great for a party – they’re always a huge hit when I make them for my friends!

These are best served within an hour or so of baking them (ideally, right after being baked). If you want to bake them earlier, just pop them into a 350° oven for about 5 minutes right before serving to crisp them back up. This method also works well for leftovers that have softened from sitting overnight.

I’ll take one with cheese to dip it in, please,


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