Homemade Soft Pretzels are a thing of beauty – soft and chewy with a darkened exterior accented by flecks of coarse salt. They’re perfect on their own, but also make a fantastic delivery device for a variety of mustards and dips. When cut into a bite size before baking, they’re an ideal party appetizer or game day snack. Not to mention Oktoberfest is just a few days away!
They’re also incredibly easy to make.
The trick is getting the exterior right. It’s what separates a pretzel from a breadstick. Traditionally, this is achieved by using lye, an alkaline substance that breaks down the dough’s surface proteins and starches. The gelatinized exterior then solidifies into a beautifully browned crust. My only hesitation? Food grade lye is difficult to source and a strong substance to work with. The solution? Baked baking soda. Per Harold McGee, this process causes the baking soda to act in a manner similar to lye for the purpose of making soft pretzels. Regular baking soda also makes a great alternative and will save you an hour, but the exterior will be slightly softer.
To make baked baking soda, spread a layer of baking soda on sheet pan lined with foil and bake at 250ºF for one hour. Store in an airtight container and use when needed. Avoid touching or spilling as, while not as strong as lye, it is strong enough to irritate.
Active Time: 30 to 40 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
(+) 1 hour for making baked baking soda
1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115ºF) Oktoberfest (or Brown Ale)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoon) active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup baking soda (baked baking soda if possible! see notes above)
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
pretzel or other large grain salt
Combine beer, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low-speed until well combined. Increase to medium speed, kneading an additional 4 to 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl. It should be tacky, but not sticky. Flour or water can be added to adjust.
Lightly grease a large bowl with oil. Add dough and cover with plastic wrap; leave in a warm place for an hour, or until doubled in size. Alternatively, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. The cold environment will cause the dough to rise slowly which produces a more complex flavor.
Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil (or use a non-stick baking pan liner). Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add reduce to a simmer; add baking soda.
While water heats, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 6 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into 1/2″ thick rope. Use a pastry scraper or dinner knife to cut rope into 3/4″ pieces. It’s okay if the pieces are slightly different in size!
Working in batches, add dough pieces to boiling water and allow to e for 30 seconds. Transfer to prepared sheet pan using a large slotted spoon.
Brush the top of each pretzel piece with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture; sprinkle with pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 9 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving. Once cooled, pretzels can be stored in an airtight container for a day or two, but are best when eaten same day.