I have a weakness for soft pretzels but not for paying for them. How a pretzel can be worth $1 to $3 is beyond me (yet this is the same lady who will pay $4 for a latte …. so you never know). Lately I have craved them so I got to work. But lest us not forget – these would be whole wheat, not the crisp white all-purpose flour that I have shunned (you do realize at times like this all I want is a 5 pound sack of it. But then I’d have to admit to buying it. Keeps me honest.)
Mmmm…hot bread! See below, way below for these, they are from version #3:
My first try wasn’t my best try, mostly because I took the recipe too far into “roll” style when attempting vegan. I kept at it though….Walker (The Toddler) loves hot baked bread and so does Ford (The Teen). Oh who am I kidding? We all love bread.
When I was little my Mom and I would make items out of her copy of Betty Crocker’s Breads often. The soft pretzels were always well received and easy/fun to make, but also because most folks back then hadn’t had a real one to compare to. I adapted the recipe to make them vegan but also swapped in rye flour and white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. They were hearty, more roll like. These are not like having a sinful hot pretzel from a street vendor.
As you can see, these are not that dark brown/crispy you might have wanted. They were not simmered nor were they dipped at all in a baking soda solution. To veganize them I had left out the egg wash, which provided a crispy exterior of sorts.
Still, they were not a fail in the taste department – but not worthy of transcribing the recipe …which says something. Still, they deserved a photo and mention –
My next attempt came out of a new cookbook I received this past week for review, How to Be a Breadhead: A Beginner’s Guide to Baking. I loved his last cookbook, Thursday Night Pizza and found both books easy to use. His books are written for the average home cook/baker. No snooty book here, just a relaxed feeling. You will learn and feel great about it!
His version came closer. Not perfect, but closer. The author uses the “simmer” method before baking, similar to how bagels are made. It gives a chewy exterior and a soft interior. But as Kirk noted, it was more like a bagel in the end than a pretzel. Still? We couldn’t keep Walker (The Toddler) out of them. The recipe uses the Basic White Dough recipe found on page 36 and is adaptable. I’ll admit I changed it up a bit (following notes that using molasses instead of granulated sugar would give a hearty flavor, which it did), using white whole wheat flour, and halving the base recipe (the recipe makes 2 loaves worth dough).
So let’s get baking! They are quite pretty, no?
Whole Wheat Pretzels
- 1 cup warm water
- 2¼ tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
- 1 Tbsp molasses or brown sugar
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil
- 2½ to 3 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
- 8 cups water
- ¼ cup baking soda
- Pretzel or kosher salt for topping
- Cinnamon sugar for topping
Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large mixing bowl. Add molasses, oil and salt, mix well. Add the flour in, one cup at a time, mixing well. The dough should be sticky (I added 2 cups in). Liberally flour a work surface with some of the remaining flour, knock dough out and knead for 8 minutes or so, adding more or the remaining flour as needed to achieve a smooth elastic dough that is barely sticky.
Lightly oil a clean mixing bowl, add dough, flip over and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap,. Set aside in a warm are for one hour to rise.
Punch dough down, knead gently to release any air bubbles. Let rest for 10 minutes.
Divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a rope about 18″ inches long. Shape ropes into pretzel shapes. Place pretzels on a parchment paper or silicone mat lined baking sheet, let rest for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 375° and bring the 8 cups water to boil in a wide/deep skillet. Add in the baking soda, then gently add two pretzels at a time into the water.
Simmer for a minute, gently flip over and simmer for one more minute (while I started on high, after adding the first batch I kept it on medium-high to keep up the boil). Transfer to a clean kitchen towel to drain, then transfer to a parchment paper or silicone ,lined baking sheet. While still damp liberally sprinkle with slat or cinnamon sugar. Repeat till done.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden and smelling baked. Let cool and enjoy.
Makes 8 pretzels.
Note – LINE your baking sheet! If you don’t you will be chiseling baked bread off of it. Don’t ask how I know this, OK?
The third version came from another new cookbook, Pretzel Baker: Recipes and Techniques for Professional Results, which is a digital e-book in Kindle format:
I came across this book awhile back when it was offered for free on Amazon for a few days. A couple of times a week I peruse the free offerings there, often finding hidden gems, here and there. When I find ones to grab I share them on the Facebook page as well. Being that it was all about pretzels, well it wasn’t hard to figure out I would pick it up. Just took me a month or so to get to is all. Researching the author, Anne, and her son Griffin was interesting. They make pretzels for sale in Oregon, on the coastal strip, near the California border in the town of Brookings and as well wrote the book this year. Check out the pretzel website, Griff’s Pretzels and Anne’s website, The Gourmet Guide.
Anyhow, after reading the first part of the cookbook I realized a few good pointers. One it wasn’t enough to just boil/simmer then. They needed to be slashed after that step, before being baked. Well duh. Wow, that was simple. And really, really easy to overlook. She offers two methods for the part that gives you the crispy exterior. One is using food grade lye – which for most home cooks will be a head scratcher or a look of horror. It isn’t though, I am oddly comfortable with lye. Little known nugget: I used to make soap for my business and taught soap making classes. Food grade lye is actually sold in some Asian grocery stores, I used to see it hidden in the Philippine stores on the Island (it was a Navy town where I lived). Anyhow, since food grade lye isn’t easy to buy and if you are not sure you’ll keep making pretzels, you can use the baking soda method. Go either way. Personally? I recommend starting with baking soda and working up. If you are interested in the lye method please pick up the book (hey, you should anyways! It is a fun one.)
So knowing me, I took her whole wheat recipe and played with it a bit, swapping in molasses for 1/3 of the sweetener (playing on the rye caraway recipe) and made it all white whole wheat flour. It does use less flour, with ww being denser. Still, this came the closest to what I wanted. These are good – and make great buns as well!
Up first is the recipe for the baking soda “dip”. I have listed it first as you it needs a good hour to be ready, you can bake it an advance, but be sure to store it in an airtight container, such a Mason jar. The baking increases the strength of the baking soda, raising the alkalinity to mimic the reaction that lye causes in pretzel making. It does make the baking soda more caustic so do wear food grade gloves when handling it! If you get it on your skin, be sure to rinse with cool water. And of course, keep it away from kids and pets!
Roasted Baking Soda
Preheat oven to 300°
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, spread 1 cup baking soda on it. Bake for 1 hour. If making in advance store in an airtight container, such as a Mason jar, once cooled. Wear food grade gloves when handling.
Whole Wheat Pretzel Dough
- 1½ cups lukewarm water
- 2 tsp instant or active dry yeast
- 1 Tbsp vital wheat gluten
- 1 Tbsp molasses
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 cups white whole wheat flour
- Pretzel or kosher salt or sesame seeds, for topping
In a mixing bowl add water and yeast. Stir well to wet yeast, add vital wheat gluten, molasses, brown sugar, salt and oil.
Stir in 2 cups flour until dough comes together as a thick batter.
Add 1 cup more flour, stir in. Liberally flour a work surface with ½ cup more flour, knead for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and without stickiness, adding more of the remaining flour if needed. (Humidity plays in on how much you need)
Place dough into a lightly oiled bowl, roll dough over, cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes in a warm area.
Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Take one piece dough and begin rolling it to make a long coil of dough about 2½ feet long (The author mentions doing this on a lightly damp counter, do not flour the work area as you need the friction to roll it out, I found the light sheen of oil on the dough was plenty of moisture).
Fold and twist into pretzel shapes. Or well any shape you want really – the traditional pretzel shape is easy enough to do.
Place on parchment paper or silicone mats, on baking sheets, freeze uncovered for a minimum of 20 minutes or up to a couple of hours, they bake fine from frozen. (Well there you go, the second thing I was missing – the freezing keeps the dough from coming out of its “shape”.)
Preheat oven to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Put on a set of food grade gloves.
Add the baking soda to 5 cups water in a shallow bowl. Fill a second shallow bowl with 5 cups plain water.
Dip the frozen pretzels, one at a time, into the bowl and leave for two minutes.
Remove from the bowl, dip into the second bowl to rinse off the baking soda, for 2 to 3 seconds.
Place pretzels onto the prepared baking sheet. Take a sharp serrated knife. make a slash across the widest part of the bottom (the “belly” of the pretzel), cutting about 1/8″ deep. Sprinkle as desired with salt or sesame seeds (or cinnamon sugar if desired).
Bake for 12 minutes. Enjoy while hot! Eat within the day, or freeze for later eating once cooled. Pretzels can be reheated frozen in a 400° oven for 5 minutes.
Now…I was intrigued by her recipe notes on making pretzel rolls so yeah, I actually did half pretzels and half rolls with my dough:
Divide dough into 6 balls,shape into circles about the size of burger. (Note: I only did 3 as I was dividing my dough.)
Float them in the baking soda solution, as described above, you don’t need to freeze the rolls though. Rinse as described. Sprinkle salt or sesame seeds as desired. Take a sharp serrated knife, make a large “X” across the top, going no deeper than ¼”. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes. Split in half to use for buns or for sandwiches.
PS: Honestly? The rolls are the way to go. All the taste and less hard work. Or I could have just gone and used Somer’s awesome Pretzel Roll recipe. But do anything the easy way? Probably not. I live to review cookbooks and find new methods…lol!
FTC Disclaimer: We received a review copy of a book used in this post.