Simply Sweet Goes Savoury: Soft Pretzels



Soft pretzels are one of my biggest food addictions.

Seriously.

I grew up in a town that didn't have any of those soft pretzel stands in the malls or the movie theatres, so on the rare occasions that my family and I took a visit to the "big city" of Toronto to go shopping, I would hunt down that Auntie Anne's pretzel stand like a hungry little blood hound. Every time. Now that I live in Toronto, this treat is far more accessible to me, and therefore far more dangerous. Even more dangerous, though, is the fact that I now know how to make these from the comfort of my own home ... and by the end of this post, so will you (you kind of want to kiss me and kill me at the same time now don't you? It's okay, I understand).

This endeavour for the perfect homemade soft pretzel, however, was not an easy one, as I am what I would call a "pretzel purist". For me, the pretzel has to be soft with the right amount of chew, buttery without being too greasy, and with the perfect amount of salt ... and that's it. No cinnamon, no cheese, no other flavours (although I have listed a few optional changes such as these after the base recipe below for those that would like to experiment), just pure, unadulterated, pretzely goodness, which I think I achieved, but not before experimenting.

... and experimenting, and experimenting. I went through quite a bit of sub par pretzels before this recipe emerged, like a shining beacon of snackdom, to the point where I wasn't sure if I wanted to eat another pretzel ever again ... but I quickly got over that. Let me tell you, this recipe has it all: soft and chewy, salty and buttery ... twisted deliciousness. It's not too difficult, AND it's baked so you can pretend you're eating something healthy. Bonus! The hardest part of it all is the actual shaping of the pretzel, and I've tried to describe the directions in the clearest way possible. The good thing though, is that whether it looks like a pretzel, or an anatomically correct diagram of a human being's small intestine, in the end if you follow the recipe, it'll still taste delicious!

Happy (savoury) baking!

For Pretzel Dough:
1 1/2 scant tablespoons dry active yeast (approx. 2 packets)
1 1/4 cups warm water (not hot)
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
5 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons table salt
1 tablespoon canola oil

Preheat oven to 450F and grease two baking sheets. Add water, 1 teaspoon sugar and yeast to a small bowl, and let stand, approximately 10 minutes. In a spot with ample counter space, mix together remaining sugar, flour, and salt, making a well in the middle. To the well, add oil and yeast mixture, and mix, collapsing the walls of the well towards the centre, and forming a dough. Knead dough for approximately 8 minutes, until smooth. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning to cover, and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for approximately 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Shaping the Dough:
Once the dough is risen, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and divide equally (should make 12). Roll each piece into a rope, approximately an inch and a half in thickness. Holding one side of the "rope" in each hand, make a "U"with the dough. Still holding each end, wrap the ends around each other twice, then take the whole twisted top and pull it back down towards the bottom of the dough, edges just overlapping. Press lightly to seal.

Baking Soda Bath:
4 cups hot water
1/2 cup baking soda

In a large bowl combine ingredients. Set aside. Once dough has risen, and has been shaped, submerge pretzels completely into baking soda solution, and place upon the prepared baking sheet. Bake for approximately 8 minutes, or until just beginning to brown.

Topping (Traditional)*
1 pastry or basting brush
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup kosher salt

Place melted butter and salt into individual bowls. When baked pretzels come out of the oven and are still warm, dip your pastry brush into the melted butter and lightly baste the topside of each pretzel. Sprinkle with salt, and enjoy.

Flavour Variations

Cinnamon:
1 pastry or basting brush
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Combine sugar and cinnamon in one bowl, place unsalted butter in another. When baked pretzels come out of the oven and are still warm, dip your pastry brush into the melted butter and lightly baste the topside of each pretzel. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture, and enjoy.

Sesame or Poppy Seed:
Same as traditional, but sprinkle with desired seeds.

Cheese:
1/2 cup mild cheddar cheese, grated

After approximately 5 minutes of baking time, pull pretzels out and quickly sprinkle each with cheese. Return to oven and bake for remaining time, or until cheese is melted.


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"A party without cake is just a meeting."

-- Julia Child