Pretzels!!! They’re so chewy and delicious.
But one look at the ingredients list of commercially made pretzels is enough to make you gag.
Like most made-for-mass-market breads, they’re full of preservatives, including Calcium Propionate (Preservative 282) which causes hyperactivity, irritability and attention deficit in a large percentage of kids (and adults). (Click here for more details). It’s not exactly the great lunchtime snack to send with your child to school, or to take to work for that matter.
Luckily enough, this homemade version is simple to make and taste just like the commercially made thing. It’s also fully FAILSAFE (assuming you’re using failsafe brown sugar).
The recipe below is my own creation, modified with trial-and-error from several different versions that I found online. It yields 12 pretzels.
For this recipe, you’ll need:
16g active dry yeast (close enough to 2 packets)
710g bread flour (about 4.5 cups)
4 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons room temperature butter
2 cups milk
good quality salt (I use “Fleur De Sel” from France)
1/3 cup bicarbonate of soda (sometimes called baking soda)
kitchen scales or measuring cups (depending on which method you prefer to measure ingredients)
stand mixer with a dough hook (or arm muscles… as much as the advertising states otherwise, the results from hand kneading are just as good)
wire cooling rack
parchment (baking) paper
Dump all dry ingredients (EXCEPT the bicarb soda) into the mixing bowl and start her up on the slowest speed. Many recipes will tell you to sift the ingredients and add them gradually. Ain’t no-one got time for that. It’ll mix.
Add the butter. If you get to this step and realise that you’re out of butter (been there, done that), you can substitute with canola oil just fine.
Measure out your milk into a microwave proof pouring container. Microwave for approx 1 min, or until the milk is warm. DON’T allow it to boil! Besides being a nasty mess to clean up, it will start to make custard. We’re making pretzels. Not custard.
With the mixer still going, pour the warmed milk into the bowl. The warmth will activate the yeast in there.
Keep the mixer going and watch all the ingredients come together. It will start off looking somewhat like a cake or cookie batter.
Keep going. Depending on the quality of your mixer and dough hook, you may need to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Do NOT be tempted to add more flour or milk to “improve” the consistency. Be patient. Just keep mixing (or kneading if you’re doing it the old fashioned way). It will eventually come together into a beautiful smooth looking ball. It will been a bit tacky to touch, but shouldn’t be too sticky.
This is a good time to turn on your oven. You’re going to want it warm, not hot. I generally turn my oven on for 5 minutes, then turn it off again.
Unhook your bowl from the mixer and put the mixer away or to the side. We’re finished with it.
Dump your big ball of dough on your countertop. Then give the bowl a quick spray with spray oil. This step isn’t 100% necessary, but it does make it easier later on.
Plop the dough back into the bowl. Yes, I said “plop”. You try and and see if you can find a different word to describe it. 😉
Cover the bowl with cling wrap and put the lot into your pre-warmed oven.
(Many recipes will say to use a separate bowl for this rising stage… I have no idea why. Who wants extra dishes to wash? I’ve never had any issues using the same bowl through the recipe.)
Leave the dough in the warmth until it has doubled, or around 30 min or so.
In a shallow dish (I use a pie dish), combine the bicarb soda with 2 cups of boiling water. It WILL bubble and froth, so don’t freak out. Stir to dissolve. Add another 1/2 to 1 cup of cold water (to reduce the temperature so you don’t burn your hands in the next step).
Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Yes, it is possible. First, divide the entire lump in half, then in half again to make 4 quarters. Now each quarter can be divided into 3. 4 x 3 = 12. 🙂
Put the little lumps of dough to the side, out of the way. Grab one and start rolling it out on your bench. Don’t use extra flour. If you’ve done your dough right, you won’t need it. Yeast doughs are really springy, and keep trying to transform themselves back into lumps, especially if you’d prefer them to be a different shape. Actually, the perfect surface I’ve found for this rolling is my electric (flat) stove top. You’ll want to roll it until it’s about the thickness of your thumb. Ish. It’s not an exact science.
Create your pretzel shapes. Don’t worry if some of them are rather odd shapes. That’s the fun of doing it yourself! If you have kids, they LOVE helping with this step. You don’t need to make traditional shapes, be creative and have fun. Twists look great. Valentines Day is coming up, so I made some love heart shaped ones.
Now would be a good time to turn that oven back on to 330 F.
Rip off a piece of parchment/baking paper the same approx size of your baking tray. Have it ready to go.
Carefully lift your pretzel and dunk it in the bicarb soda mix. This takes a little practise and it’s easiest if you hold it near the joins, otherwise it will all come undone. This step is what gives the pretzel it’s chewy-ness and distinguishes it from regular bread.
Did you prepare your parchment paper earlier? If not, you’ll be regretting it now, as you stand holding a dripping pretzel that’s falling apart and you need somewhere to put it. 🙂
Arrange the pretzels on the paper. Sprinkle salt from a height (so it spreads more evenly and you don’t end up with salty clumps). If you use a spoon for the salt, you avoid getting wet soda-y fingers in your salt container.
Cook the pretzels until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool them slightly on the tray, then finish the cooling on a wire rack. This stops the bottoms from going soggy.
Some recipes involve spreading melted butter over the still-hot pretzels. I guess this would give them a glossy look, but it would also increase the soggy factor, and I don’t like adding unnecessary calories to an already carb-and-calorie-dense food. Try it if you want, and let me know how it goes!
Enjoy the chewy goodness!! These make fantastic after school snacks. Or you could make mini ones to put in school lunches!
They also freeze really well. They do not contain any preservatives, so are best either eaten or frozen on the day you make them.