Fresh from the oven, soft and oversized, sprinkled with salt or sugar, homemade pretzels are a snack that’s as much fun to make as they are to eat. These are very different from the hard pretzels that come in varied shapes and flavors on your market shelves.
Pretzels were first introduced in Germany centuries ago. When immigrating here, Germans who ended up settling in Pennsylvania, New York, and Maine brought their favorite recipes with them, especially one that became more and more popular with Americans as the years went on — pretzels.
The basic dough remains about the same; flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and water. Bakers see them as a simple introduction to bread making, especially with the fun of shaping and decorating into an individual snack or bread with a meal. The key difference in making pretzels is the “water bath,” which is when pretzels are dunked in a solution of water and baking soda before being baked. This process helps to bring out the starch from the flour and is what gives them their sheen.
Once you become comfortable with the basic recipe, it is time to involve the kids — they can experiment with different toppings and different shapes. Even though you will want to make a few classic pretzel twist shapes, children can mold the dough to spell their names, or form shapes such as hearts and logs.
When making regular pretzels make sure to use a coarse salt such as kosher salt.
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional if needed
1/2 teaspoon canola or olive oil
For baking soda bath
1/3 cup baking soda
4 cups warm water
Place yeast, sugar, and warm water in a large mixing bowl and stir. Allow to sit for 10 minutes or until foamy.
In another bowl, whisk 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt with the flour. Add to yeast mixture 1 cup at a time and mix until dough forms. Sprinkle work surface with flour and knead, squeezing dough with your hands, folding it over and pushing it down with the heel of your hand. Continue kneading for 8 to 10 minutes until dough feels smooth and flexible. If it feels too sticky to work with, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time (slightly sticky is OK).
Wipe any dough from mixing bowl, and then add oil to bowl. Use a paper towel to coat the bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place in bowl. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.
Punch dough down to remove excess air bubbles, then roll into a ball. Divide the ball into 12 equal pieces and place on a work surface. Rinse bowl, then make soda bath by mixing baking soda and warm water in the bowl. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or spray sheets with cooking spray.
To form traditional pretzel shape, roll each piece of dough into a snake about 22 inches long. Form a letter U and cross the two ends over each other, once then twice, to make a twist. Pull the ends down and attach them to the bottom of the U, pinching the dough so that it sticks together. OR, make any shapes you like; letters, knots, plain circles.
Stir soda bath. Dip pretzels, one at a time, into mixture, then blot on a kitchen towel. Place 6 pretzels on each baking sheet; sprinkle each with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, and bake 12 minutes or until pretzels are golden brown. Serve immediately. Makes 12 pretzels.
Note: These freeze well; microwave each 30 seconds on high to heat.
Garlic Sesame variation: Add 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder to flour before baking. Sprinkle pretzels with sesame seeds when ready to bake.
Popular dipping condiments for soft pretzels:
Warm cheese sauce
Cinnamon sugar (lightly brush with butter 1st)
Good to Hear From You
Hi Pat: I have been away for awhile (not feeling well). I am back and doing well but I missed your page very much. Could you please send me your recipes for: lemon squares and tips for them as well as your recipe for scallion biscuits. I hope you are doing great.
Have a super summer, Fran
Dear Fran: I have missed hearing from you, saved many of your emails and recipes you sent. I have sent you both recipes that you requested with my regards for continued good health. Hope to hear from you again soon.
Dear Pat: Always follow your column. I too would like your lemon square recipe, our favorite too!
Thank you in advance, M.L.
Hi M.L.: Hope you like this particular recipe for lemon squares.
Hi Pat: I look forward to reading your column every week. My family loves your recipes. Last year, I saw a recipe for lobster and corn chowder (bisque) in the paper. We loved it and now I can’t locate my copy. I am not sure if it was yours or another columnist. I remember making the stock with lobster shells and corn cobs. There was also sherry in the recipe. I tried searching on line but have been unable to locate it. Would you happen to know what that recipe is? It was by far the best I ever made.
I appreciate your help. Stay cool and thanks again.
Dear Karen: It wasn’t my recipe, but fellow food columnist Heather Atwood’s, http://www.gloucestertimes.com/lifestyle/x550074167/Chance-meeting-inspires-meal.
Dear Pat: This is the recipe! I am not sure why I couldn’t find it when I searched. I really appreciate your help. I had tried Ina Garten’s recipe but this one was much better.
Patricia Altomare invites feedback. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a self-stamped, self-addressed envelope when writing care of Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930.