Sunday afternoon we braced for potential damage and power outages from Hurricane Sandy. We stocked up on water and checked the flashlights. I surveyed the kitchen and realized we were good on non-perishable food for at least a few days – a benefit of having a well-stocked kitchen and a mom who gives me jars of homemade pickles, dilly beans, applesauce, and more. Knowing the storm wouldn’t arrive until the next day, I thought it would be nice to bake something we could snack on if we lost power. Our power stayed on through the storm (thank goodness and it’s hard to comprehend the destruction in NYC, Jersey, and other coastal areas), but I was glad for the excuse to make pretzels for the first time.
I haven’t had much luck with yeast in the past (failed miserably with sourdough, other yeast bread attempts have fallen flat – literally), but I find comfort in flipping through the pages of my fantastic Baking Illustrated cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen and the editors of Cook’s Illustrated. And that’s exactly where I found this simple recipe for soft pretzels.
The whole idea behind America’s Test Kitchen is to test recipes until they are perfect – sometimes hundreds of versions are made before a final recipe is determined. So there is no need to change the recipes in Baking Illustrated – the one in this post is replicated nearly verbatim from the book. That said, I didn’t have all of the suggested equipment and ingredients, so here are the changes I made:
The recipe says to use a standing mixer with a dough hook (best option) or a food processor (also good). I have neither. So I mixed the ingredients with a wooden spoon, kneaded the dough by hand, and hoped for the best. I also only had regular all-purpose flour, instead of bread flour as the recipe lists. The recipe worked! But I’m sure it would be even better if you follow the recipe exactly. After all, they did test it a few times.
Soft Pretzels (from Baking Illustrated)
makes 12 small pretzels
Ingredients1 teaspoon instant yeast ¼ cup honey 1 teaspoon salt 3 cups (16 ½ ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface 1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees) 3 tablespoons baking soda For salted/seeded pretzels 2 tablespoons coarse salt, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds For cinnamon sugared pretzels 1/3 cup sugar ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 tablespoons melted butter
- Mix yeast, honey, salt, flour, and water in the standing mixer bowl. With a dough hook, knead at a low speed until a smooth ball of dough forms (5 to 7 minutes).
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size (1 to 1 ½ hours). Deflate dough, cover, and let rise again until doubled in size (30 to 40 minutes).
- Adjust oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat oven to 450 (F) degrees. Pour 6 cups of water into a 12-inch skillet, add baking soda, stir, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil. Set aside.
- Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 20-inch-long, ½ inch-wide rope. Shape each rope into a pretzel (overlap ends to make a loop, twist ends around each other, and secure at the bottom of the loop). Place on prepared baking sheet.
- Gently place pretzels into the boiling water, top-side down, and cook for 30 seconds. Using tongs, flip pretzels over and boil for another 30 seconds. Remove pretzels with the slotted spoon, drain off water, and place back onto prepared baking sheet (all 12 pretzels should fit on sheet).
- If making salted or seeded pretzels: sprinkle topping onto pretzels before placing in oven. If making cinnamon sugared pretzels, bake without topping. Bake for 12-16 minutes or until pretzels are browned on top, turning the sheet halfway through baking. Remove pretzels from baking sheet to wire rack.
- If making cinnamon sugared pretzels: mix sugar and cinnamon in a shallow plate. Once pretzels are baked (and still warm), brush tops of pretzels with butter (or just press pretzels, top-first, into the melted butter), and then press into the cinnamon sugar.
- Serve pretzels warm or room temperature.
These pretzels are amazing. As much as you think 12 pretzels will be more than enough…we couldn’t stop eating them and they were gone before we knew it! Cinnamon sugared pretzels are my favorite when I grab a snack at the mall, but these are at a whole different level. What’s most interesting to me is that the salted pretzels really have more of a ‘pretzel-y taste’ than the sugared ones, even though the bread is the same. I made 6 sugared, 4 salted, and 2 sesame – it was easy to mix them up and the variety was great. Next time I’m going to try a batch of cinnamon sugared pretzel bites (yes, like at the mall!).