Soft pretzels. I’ve been known to make a meal of them from time to time. I’m not a snob… I like ‘em all, pretty much; homemade is best, but I’ll still happily munch on airport, mall, or frozen pretzels. There is one, though, that I come back to time and time again and that is a simple soft pretzel that is brushed generously with garlic butter when it is still hot, hot, HOT from the oven.
I just… Man, they’re so good.
I am not exaggerating in the least when I tell you I could eat an entire tray by myself. Bread with butter is the staff of life, right? I know. It’s not license to eat my own weight in it. I’m behaving. Mostly.
Mercifully, God has given me five sons who are as fond of soft pretzels as I am. They wouldn’t dream of letting me clean off a tray by myself because that would mean they didn’t get their fair share of the chewy, salty, soft pretzel bliss.
- I form these into rods because they’re fast, simple, and uniform and that helps them to cook more evenly. Fancy a different shape? Go for it. The only real ‘rule’ here is that you form the pretzels from dough pieces that weigh about the same amount. This keeps them roughly the same size which should help them be done cooking at the same time.
- If formed as directed in the recipe, these pretzels are actually large enough to split lengthwise and use as a small sandwich roll. You know that’s good.
- Don’t confine these soft pretzels to the snack hour, serve them as breadsticks with salad, soup, or stew. You’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.
- If you have leftovers (you will-power superhero, you), store them wrapped in a clean towel (preferably) or a bread bag at room temperature. To reheat them, sprinkle a couple of drops of water on a paper towel (do NOT soak it), wrap the pretzel and microwave in 10 second bursts until hot to the touch. If you’d prefer, you can wrap it in foil leaving one end open a bit and refresh them in a 350°F oven until hot all the way through.
- 4 cups (1 pound 1 ounce, by weight) bread flour
- 1 tablespoon non-diastatic malt powder (preferably) or sugar
- 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup hot tap water
- 2 teaspoons SAF or instant yeast
- 2 quarts water
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar or sucanat
- Coarse sea salt, kosher salt or pretzel salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted, mixed with 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced (or ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic)
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, malt powder or sugar and yeast. Set the whisk aside and switch to a sturdy wooden spoon. Stir in the milk and tap water until a soft dough forms. Turn onto a generously floured surface and knead, adding small amounts of flour as needed to keep the dough from adhering to the counter. You do not want a firm dough… it should be fairly slack, a little tacky and soft, yet smooth. Place dough in a clean bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and set aside to rise in a warm, draft-free place until nearly doubled in bulk and puffy, about an hour or so.
- In the work-bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, salt, malt powder or sugar and yeast. Mix on low just to combine dry ingredients. With mixer still on low, carefully pour in the milk and water. Continue mixing on low until you have a smooth, soft, slightly tacky dough. Remove bowl from the mixer, cover with a damp tea towel and set aside to rise in a warm, draft-free place until nearly doubled in bulk and puffy, about an hour or so.
- Add the milk, water, flour, malt powder or sugar, and yeast to the pan of your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select the “Dough” or “Dough Only” cycle and hit start. Allow the cycle to complete.
- Line two 11×13-inch baking sheets with silicone or teflon pan liners. These pretzels have a tendency to stick to parchment. If you don’t have silicone or Teflon pan liners, generously grease your pans. Set next to your work area.
- Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface. Use a bench knife to cut the dough into four equal pieces. Cut those pieces in half again, then once more, yielding 16 pieces. Roll the piece like play-dough until you have a snake of dough about 8 inches long. Transfer the dough pieces onto the lined baking sheets, being sure to leave generous amounts of room between pieces and rows. They will expand both as they rise and again as they boil and bake. When you have dealt with all the dough, cover the pans with tea towels and let them rise in a warm, draft-free place until puffy looking, about 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a stainless steel or other non-reactive pan (enameled cast-iron, tempered glass, etc…) When water boils, add the baking soda and sugar. Gently lift the pretzel rods one at a time into the boiling water. (You can boil more than one at a time, but be sure not to crowd the the pan as they will expand as they boil. Let simmer for about 45 seconds, flip the pieces and simmer for another 45 seconds-1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to drain and return each piece to its place on the pan. Continue until all pretzels have been boiled and returned to the pan.
- Sprinkle with coarse salt then use a sharp knife to make a couple of shallow, diagonal slashes in the top of the dough. Place pans in oven and bake at least until golden brown (at least 20 minutes), but you can bake until they are deep brown. It’s up to you!
- Remove the pans from the oven and brush the pretzels with the garlic butter. If you have leftover garlic butter, you can place the pretzels in a large mixing bowl and toss with the remaining butter.
- Serve warm or room temperature. I like mine with classic yellow mustard.