Like bagels, pretzels are boiled before baking. The key is adding baking soda to the water, which gives pretzels their distinctive flavor and brown, glossy crust. The recipe here produces perfectly chewy pretzels with dark, burnished exteriors. If you like your soft pretzels to have a little more crunch on the outside but remain tender and chewy in the middle, just lower the oven temperature and bake for a little longer. Serving these without a little mustard for dipping is heretical.
Makes: 8 pretzels
Time: About 4 1/2 hours, largely unattended
3 1/2 cups all purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Neutral oil (like grapeseed or corn) for greasing
2 tablespoons malt syrup or brown sugar
1/3 cup baking soda
Coarse salt for sprinkling
1. Put the flour in a food processor. Add the yeast, sugar, salt, and melted butter and process for 5 seconds. With the machine running, pour (don’t drizzle) 1 1/4 cups water through the feed tube. Process for about 30 seconds, then remove the cover. The dough should be in a well-defined ball, only slightly sticky and very easy to handle. If the dough is too dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time and process for 5 or 10 seconds after each addition. If it is too wet, add a tablespoon or 2 of flour and process briefly. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand, adding flour as needed, until the dough is tacky and smooth, 4 to 6 minutes.
2. Lightly grease a large bowl with oil and dump in the dough, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough has roughly doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If you would like to let the dough rise for a longer period of time, which will help it develop flavor, refrigerate for up to 12 hours; bring it back to room temperature before proceeding.
3. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Keeping the rest of the dough covered with a kitchen towel as you work, shape each piece into a pretzel (see illustrations below). When they’re all shaped, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until puffy, 30 to 45 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 450°F and line baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease with oil. When the pretzels are nearly done rising, fill a large pot with 8 cups of water and bring it to a vigorous simmer. Add the malt syrup and baking soda; as soon as you add the baking soda the water will foam up considerably, so be careful, and if it looks like the pot will overflow, just remove from the heat until the foam subsides. Stir to dissolve the baking soda and adjust the heat so the water simmers steadily but not violently.
5. Drop the pretzels, one at a time, into the boiling water; don’t crowd. Boil for 45 seconds on each side, then remove them with a slotted spoon or slotted spatula and put on a lightly greased rack to drain. When they’re all boiled, transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Beat the egg with 2 teaspoons water to make an egg wash. Brush it over the tops of the pretzels and sprinkle them with coarse salt.
6. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the pretzels are deep golden and glossy. Cool on a rack until you can handle them and serve while still warm. Alternatively, these will keep in a paper bag or bread box for about a day.
Pretzel Rolls Or Twists
For an alternative shape, you can form the dough into rolls or twists: For twists, fold each long rope in half and tightly twist the two sides around each other. Press the two ends together. Boil and bake both as directed (rolls will take a little longer than twists or regular pretzels).