This is a cautionary tale of sorts, about a home cook who worked for nearly three hours to create a treat that goes from street to sublime when dressed with an elegant Herbes de Provence sea salt. These soft pretzels amaze with a chewy-crispy exterior that gives to a soft interior, all the while teasing your taste buds with lavender, rosemary and sea salt.
I found myself skipping lunch just so I could savor yet one more pretzel. Yes, they’re that good. So if you’re prepared to fall under the spell of warm, soft, homemade pretzels, read on. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I discovered this recipe through Jey of The Jey of Cooking, my assignment for this month’s secret recipe club. Last month I whipped up these M&M Peanut Butter Blondies which quickly caught the attention of some of my fellow San Diego Food Bloggers. This month, I switched from sweet to savory.
Jey and I have a lot in common. We both started our blogs to challenge ourselves to cook beyond our comfort level. Jey took her personal challenge a step further by creating 11 in ’11, her personal road map of recipes that she can’t wait to try. Encouraged by her determination, I picked pretzels from her list of 11 new recipes to try (she’s also got bagels and croissants on her list, I knew I liked this woman!).
Making soft pretzels by hand is time consuming, I won’t lie to you. But the process of breaking each step into tasks, of combining the science of baking with the creativity of intuition was thoroughly rewarding. This method involved hand kneading, which I find both therapeutic and rewarding. If you’re interested in using your electric mixer to knead the dough, check out this option by Alton Brown. Who wouldn’t want that precious little pretzel waiting for them? I thought so. And if you want to step it up a notch, consider using the herbed sea salt I used, which was a gift from friends of a friend at Sel Magique.
Gluten-free update: I haven’t tried making pretzels since going gluten-free, but when I do, I’ll give one of these recipes a try:
- How to Make Gluten-Free Soft Pretzels by Elizabeth Barbone
- Gluten-Free Soft Pretzels by Shauna Ahern
Soft Pretzels with Herbed Sea Salt
Standing electric mixer with dough hook
Baking sheets, preferably three or four
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water, 110-115°
1 envelope dry active yeast
½ teaspoon white sugar (optional)
4 cups (17 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 quarts cold water
½ cup baking soda
Herbes de Provence Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
- Prepare the yeast: In a small glass bowl, mix 2 tablespoons warm water and the yeast; the water should be between 110° and 115° degrees, which is hotter than you think. Use a thermometer, or gauge this way: if the water’s too hot to run a kid’s hand through it, then it’s the right temperature.
- Let the mixture rest until foamy, like a beer when you first pour it. If you don’t notice any activity, add ½ teaspoon sugar, this should encourage the yeast to grow. This might take 10-30 minutes.
- Prepare the dough: Once the yeast mixture is foamy, scrape it into the bowl of a standing electric mixer. Add 1 1/3 cups warm water and the brown sugar, stir to combine.
- Add the flour and, using the dough hook, mix at medium-low speed until the dough comes together.
- Plop the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough for at least five minutes. This is a wet, sticky dough. To knead, pull it straight up from your work surface, then slap it back down, create a mound, then repeat. Resist the urge to add more flour; to prevent sticking, lightly splash your hands with water, but take care and don’t add too much extra water.
- Using a dough scraper, cut the dough in half and roll each half into a 12” roll. Cut each roll into 10 pieces; you should have 20 pieces, roughly the same size. Lightly cover with plastic wrap or, even better, a kitchen towel (but not one made of terrycloth). Let rest for 20 minutes.
Form a U, then cross the ends over the curve
- Shape the pretzels: Prepare two baking sheets: line each with parchment paper and lightly dust with flour. Using your hands, roll each piece of dough into a 12” long rope; you can lightly dust your hands with flour, but keep your work surface tacky. Pick up each end of the rope and form a U, lay the curve of the U on the baking sheet. Cross the two ends of the U, one over the other, almost like the U is crossing its arms. Pinch each end where it meets the curve of the U. Repeat for the remaining 19 pieces. Try to leave an inch or so of space between each pretzel on the baking sheet. Lightly spritz the pretzels with oil and cover with plastic wrap; let rest for at least 30 minutes.
- Boil the pretzels: While the pretzels are resting, prepare the oven. Place the racks on the top and bottom third of the oven; preheat the oven to 425°. Meanwhile, in a large pot, boil 2 quarts cold water; when it boils, add the baking soda. Carefully slide 3 or 4 pretzels into the water, they’ll expand quickly so allow room. Boil for 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining pretzels.
- Bake the pretzels: Prepare two baking sheets by lining with parchment paper and lightly oiling with vegetable or canola oil. Arrange the pretzels, right side up, allowing an inch or so of room. Sprinkle with the salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until browned all over. Remove from oven, let cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to clean cooling racks.
- Serve warm.