One of the breads that I’ve always wanted to bake is soft pretzels. I honestly haven’t been putting off making them because I thought they’d be hard; it’s more the fact that I just haven’t given much time to bread baking lately. My husband loves soft pretzels, and he’ll regularly buy soft pretzels from the freezer section of the grocery store. When I worked as a retail wage worker, my 15 minute “lunch” breaks usually included a trip to Auntie Anne’s for a (very greasy) hot, soft pretzel, cheese dip, and lemonade. So, as a bread baker, I’ve felt very silly that I hadn’t tried to make pretzels before. On the flip, as a bread baker, there’s just not enough time to try baking everything I want to (unless I decide to make a living through baking. And, frankly, I don’t want to get up at 3 am every day to bake other people bread. My friends and family are lucky when I get up at 6:30 so that we can have hot, homemade cinnamon rolls.)
So, despite the impending heatwave, a few weeks ago I decided to try my hand at Alton Brown’s Soft Pretzel recipe. I generally have success with Alton Brown’s recipes, so I felt pretty confident trying this one. I was extremely pleased with the final product. The only change I made is that I used kosher salt to top them instead of pretzel salt. Both Aingeal and I find the large grains from kosher salt to be just a bit too much; the kosher salt adds a bit of the saltiness without overwhelming the taste buds.
This is the easiest dough that I’ve ever worked with. It came together nicely (thanks to our stand-mixer), and it was extremely easy to handle. It wasn’t temperamental; it was very pliable. Unlike my previous frustrations trying to shape pizza dough and pie crust (yes, I know pie crust is not a yeast bread), I felt no qualms about really forcing this dough to stretch out (it never felt like I was going to tear it), and it was very easy to shape. I loved working with it, which meant that the pretzels shaped quick, and I see lots of potential for other shapes, like pretzel sticks or pretzel bites. As I found with bagels, the baking part was a cinch. Boiling bread dough is far less intimidating than I thought it would be way back before I made my first bagels.
I only had two problems. First, I didn’t use parchment paper (because I didn’t have any), and for some strange reason I didn’t pull down my silpats. For some reason, I thought a well oiled baking sheet would do the trick. Not so! The egg wash that got brushed on right before they went into the oven cemented these puppies to the baking sheets. Seriously, use parchment paper or a silpat. Second, because I used two baking sheets, I had to stack the racks in our tiny home oven, so the pretzels on the lower rack browned far slower than the ones on the top rack. I left them in for a couple extra minutes, and they caramelized to that nice pretzel color, although on the light side, without over baking.
The finished product was a plump, soft pretzel, with a nice crust. The crust wasn’t nearly as hard as the mass produced kind you get at the grocery store or the ball field, but instead pleasantly chewy. They’re was enough body to them, that Aingeal and I think they’d make great sandwich rolls too, and I might make them sometime to do hot ham and cheese sandwiches. (That sounds like a nice fall meal!)
This recipe made eight, which I thought would be far too many for two people. But we each ate two (which we probably didn’t need) right after they came out of the oven, and I smashed another one in a tragic vacuum sealer accident. We ended up freezing the last three to have for late night snacks in the future.