Homemade Soft Pretzels!

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Food writing can be very, very memorable.  In 1978, I read a marvelous essay in the New York Times by Mimi Sheraton.  They say that tastes and smells are the most memorable senses, which explains why when we re-create food we ate as children the smells bring us back in the blink of an eye.  The same’s true of great food writing, at least for me.

Mimi’s article on homemade pretzels she ate in Stuttgart, Germany is one of those great food articles that stayed with me.  I clipped the article and forgot all about it.

Until Zoe and I started writing Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (click here to purchase). I’d never made Mimi’s recipe, adapted from her Stuttgart hosts, so I adapted it for Artisan Bread (page 127 in the book).You can make soft pretzels like these from the Master Recipe in the book on page 26 (click here to see our web version), but they’re much better with a high protein (bread) flour — just decrease the flour to 6 1/4 cups, and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar (like our bagel dough, on page 122).  When the dough’s ready to use (see Master Recipe, starting on page 26), take it from the fridge and start a boiling pot going, filled with 8 quarts water, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar.  While you’re at it, pre-heat a baking stone in the oven to 450 degrees F.  As those heat up, shape and rest the pretzels.

Take a 3-ounce piece of dough (about the size of a small peach), and form a rope a little less than 1/2-inch in diameter and 12 inches long.  Use your fingers and roll it back and forth with flour on a work surface.  Don’t be impatient, it’s got to be skinny:

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Cross the ends over each other:

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Fold them back in and loop them around each other:

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Then, twist to the opposite side…

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… and press firmly onto the loop to attach:

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Use your fingers to stretch out the holes so they don’t close up during boiling and baking, then rest for 20 minutes loosely covered under plastic wrap.   Bring your pot of water to a boil, and drop the pretzels in, taking care that they’re not crowded (you can boil in shifts if they are touching, otherwise they’ll be mis-shapen).   It’s two minutes on the first side, flip with a slotted spoon, and then one minute on the second side:

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Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a lightly floured towel or in a strainer.  Place on parchment paper, use a pastry brush to paint with egg wash (1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water), and sprinkle with very coarse salt, pretzel salt if available.  I used “rock” salt intended for salt grinders (not for making ice cream) — a terrific and more available substitute.  Bake in the pre-heated oven with the parchment right on the stone (with steam– see page 30, step 9).  In the book we suggest 15 to 25 minutes depending on how soft you like your “soft” pretzels, but today I went about 30 minutes before I was happy.  Look for a nice brown deep color.   Consider peeling off the parchment when they’re 2/3’s through the baking.

Eat with coarse-ground prepared mustard and it will take you back (well to Philadelphia, anyway, where they sell these on the street).

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84 thoughts on “Homemade Soft Pretzels!

  1. Ohhh another great idea to try! Thank you so much.

    A friend of mine who works at a local health food store made your recipe for the first time over the holidays, and this is what she emailed me and said – (another great idea) She tried it at her daughter’s place while visiting. She used the basic recipe…

    “Here is my daughters recipe using the dough. Turned out incredible. Roll out entire bucket of dough into large cinnamon rolls using bwn sugar, cinn. and raisins. ,pinching off enough for one big roll at a time. and pack in a big cake pan. We used one of those non stick kind. Let rise and then before baking, Drizzle melted butter over top, then about l/3 cup whipping cream and then sprinkle one package of vanilla pudding mix on top.We put the pan over the broiler pan, then added the l.c water. We reduced the heat a bit maybe 400 and baked a bit longer. Maybe not too healthy but delicious treat. Everyone raved over them.”

    Thanks Zoe and Jeff, for your continued new takes on your fabulous recipes!

  2. I love soft pretzels and we have an Amish market nearby, so I can get them easily. They make a few interesting products by wrapping the pretzel dough around such things as sausage and cheese, ham and cheese, hot dogs and mustard, etc. Wow, are they amazing! Any thoughts about making these?

  3. I am so excited to try these! Some of my fondest childhood memories of my Dad are when he used to take me to the pretzel cart for one of these babies. I haven’t had one in years.

  4. Thanks for all the comments… about wrapping around cheese, sausage, etc., yes that will work. Just like our calzone recipe in the book and others like it. You’d just be doing it on a smaller scale.

  5. I used to make these all the time when my kids were younger. I just love eating homemade pretzels. Thanks for the reminder. I have been adventuring into artisan bread. I must check out your book.

  6. The pretzels look yummy – think I might try them today as I have both master and peasant that are going onto their second week and need to be made into something. This morning I took the last bit of my “triple rich” dough and patted it out about 1/4″ on pizza peel brushed with melted butter and sprinkled a crumb topping (butter/sugar/flour/cinn-like for apple crisp) over the top and baked on stone (no steam) for about 15 min. Wonderful sweet breakfast treat – a sweet version of an “onion board” perhaps.

  7. Hey, my apologies to whoever it was who left the lovely note from Philadelphia… about Philadelphia soft pretzels. I accidentally “spammed” your note– my mistake. Please forgive me and re-post here.

    Sorry,
    Jeff

  8. oh yes thanks for the reminder that these were on my to try list, I think this sounds like a great snack for tomorrow but I’m thinking I’ll be dipping them in a cheese sauce yum

  9. I sent a copy of your book to my son and today he sent me a picture of his first loaf – since he usually bakes with a bread machine he was pleasantly surprised at the ease of your method – he is planning on trying some more whole grain recipes next week.

    I baked ciabatta for the first time yesterday and it came out great – good crumb and lots of holes!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/akbakes/3205796633/

  10. Thanks, Jeff. I will send him the link – I had forgotten about that part of the blog – there’s soooo much great information in the Q&A that it’s hard to keep track. That ciabatta was even better heated up in the oven the tonight. I took challah dough out of the freezer tonight to defrost in the frig – first time I will be trying to bake anything with previously frozen dough – any tips on using it that I should be aware of?

  11. hi i just saw all those pics along with the ciabatta. are they all from the book? they look so professional, how do i get the crusts to open up like that i always slash the bread just before baking but it doesn’t open up too much. also i made a batch of master dough today but i added a handful of full cream milk powder will this have any effect on the bread do i need to make any changes.
    thanks. waiting on the book. delivery takes ages.

  12. I made that ciabatta from the master recipe to which I had added some wheat bran for fiber. I posted another flickr pic of the ciabatta which was today taken by a better photographer (maybe my next hobby will be food photograpy?) – I will leave the questions about slashing and milk powder to the experts.

  13. Nads and Amy K: Dust the surface with flour and then cut deeply, and straight down (not at an angle like in traditional recipes). At least a quarter-inch deep.

    Milk, especially full-fat milk, is a tenderizer– you’ll have a tender soft bread that probably won’t get a crackly crust. Fat really softens the crust especially.

  14. This is too funny. I was just bemoaning the fact that we were almost out of frozen pretzels (which my son loves) and pulled out the book to see the pretzel recipe. Then, I thought i’d check the website to find any advice on freezing them. Lo and behold you had a pretzel post. *grin*

    So, do these freeze well? Can I freeze them after cooking and microwave in a jiff?

    Thanks!

  15. Jennifer: You can always freeze our baked breads or pretzels, though it’s not my favorite way to be “ready-in-a-flash”— I’d rather keep refrigerated dough and bake it fresh– but I know that doesn’t work for everyone!

    Just wrap them well, as airtight as you can and they usually don’t pick up freezer odors. If they do, you know you kept them in there too long or didn’t wrap well enough.

    Whole wheat swaps OK with white flour in our recipes up to about 1 or 1 1/2 cups of the full flour amount… you may need to add a little more water. If you go beyond that, you need lots more water, and maybe some vital wheat gluten (see http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=142).

    And one other thing– the texture of traditional pretzels– chewy, etc… is dependent on white flour, in particular, high protein white flour. You won’t get that effect once you substitute some whole wheat. That’s the tradeoff with WW– it’s not going to achieve the exact traditional effect of European baking, but of course, it’s healthier. That’s what our next book will be about (“Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” release date 12/09).

  16. Thanks Jeff! I have a toddler who demands pretzels and wants them fast….hence the freezing. I’d prefer them baked fresh too.

    Thanks for the advice for the whole wheat swap. I’ll give that try. Looking forward to your new book!

  17. http://www.flickr.com/photos/akbakes/3209415231/
    Made the Onion Pletzel (onion board)from your book using defrosted Challah dough. Very rich and delicious, but Jeff’s warning about not browning the onions too much ahead of baking should be followed as these burned a bit. I added some sesame seeds along with the poppy seeds and salt and baked it on a Silpat on my baking stone.

  18. Last week, my 5 year old son was a hit during “share time” at school – he brought a loaf of deli rye that he made all by himself! (OK, so I did the oven bit). He loves to cook and these recipes enable him to be successful – thank you!

  19. Jeff:

    I had to write a quick note to thank-you for your wonderful book.

    I grew up with home-made bread, made by my Mennonite grandmother. I’ve made bread myself quite often over the years, but my job as a lawyer has prevented me from considering home-made bread as anything but an occasional treat. My husband stays home and takes care of our 2 girls, and while he is an excellent cook, he had no experience with making bread, and I never would have asked him to undertake it.

    I came across your method over Christmas in an article in “Mother Earth News” (which we had bought as a stocking stuffer for my sister-in-law). I was so taken with the idea of having home-made bread without having to use a bread maker or spending hours kneading and letting dough rest that I immediately knew I wanted to try it. I casually pointed the article out to my husband (not wanting to pressure him, of course). He was equally intrigued, and we tried it as soon as we could. After making the basic recipe twice, I ordered the book on-line, and we are now complete addicts. We’ve stopped buying bread altogether. The 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf is our new stand-by, and we’ve discovered that the European Peasant Loaf makes the best pizza crust ever.

    Last night I knew your method had actually changed our family’s culture. I made a loaf of peasant bread to go with our meal. At the end of the meal, my four year old daugher, who is known for her sweet tooth, announced: “Mommy, I know what I want for dessert! I want this bread, but with jam!” We opened a jar of the strawberry fig jam I made last summer, and enjoyed a wonderful dessert, finishing up the rest of the loaf.

    Thank-you very much for your book, and for your passion for good bread!

    Regards,

    Lilac

  20. Amy K: Yeah, you’ve got to watch those onions, don’t saute them too much before they go onto the bread.

    Linda: Love hearing about little guys and gals baking this stuff. Very fun.

    Lilac: So glad you found us in Mother Earth, and that this is bringing back memories of grandmother. My favorite for pizza is the peasant dough as well. Happy baking, and thanks for the kind words.

    Elle: Let us know how you make out.

  21. Jeff and Zoe, I cannot be too enthusiastic in my praise for your book. I have just finished my first loaf of the Master Recipe and my husband thinks I’m a paragon of virtue!

    One of my favorite things about traveling in Germany is their pretzel bread (lauden brotchen). For years I was sad it could not be found in this country. Recently I found them at a new store (Wegman’s), which opened about a hour and a half from us. Hey, it’s better than flying to Germany!

    How much better to be able to make them myself and eat them fresh. They are round, very dark crusted and have a cross cut deeply into the top showing the creamy interior. They are very shiney. Do you think if I used your bagel dough and pulled the dough off as if I were making bagels and let them rise as balls into which I could make the cross cut it would work? I assume I’d have to do the boiling pot part to get the shine on the crust. How will that effect the dough visible in the cross cut? There is such a huge difference in color between the outside crust and the interior of the cross on the original rolls, and I don’t know why when I bake them the cross won’t get as dark as the rest of the outside. Your help will be appreciated.

  22. My guess is that they’re egg-brushed, then cross-cut. Otherwise you wouldn’t get that pretzelly color on the crust. And the contrast. The bagel dough is worth a try but I wonder if there’s not some enrichment in brotchen. Since I’m not sure…

    I need to do a bit of research on brotchen recipes and then do a post on it. There’ve been lots of questions lately, from Germany, from Americans who’ve travelled there, and from Germans living in the US. Look for a post on this in the next month or so. Jeff

  23. We just made these pretzels to take to our neighborhood Super Bowl party. I am addicted to your book! We have fresh bread all the time now. A question though – the recipe in the book says it will make 5 pretzels. We got many more than this from our first batch of dough. How many should we expect to get?

  24. All depends on how big you make them. I meant five pretzels for a one-pound piece of dough, but the entire batch makes closer to 3.6 or 4.0 pounds. That’s the confusion, sorry about that.

    Hope there were a lot of people to eat the pretzels! Jeff

  25. You have changed our household – YAY! Since the day of Zoe’s class at CCH our home has smelled of fresh bread of all kinds.
    After my first batch – successful thanks to you guys – my hubby took me to Hockenbergs to stock up on 6qt tubs for various flours and fridge-batches, stainless measuring cups and those neato flexible scrapers.
    Our uber-dry 1911 house is murder on breads – so we take the day-old stuff, cube it, and toss it in a bit of olive oil for the best-in-the-biz homemade croutons.
    Tonight is a bagel bread night – can’t wait to experiment and play with this batch – you can’t go wrong!
    Our favorite is a fougasse using the olive oil dough with artichoke hearts, shredded (not powdered) parm, and a sprinkling of chopped kalamata olives. Just take the other 1/2 can (or so) of drained arti hearts, some light mayo, olive oil, and some more shredded parm, food processor it until smooth and chuck it in the oven (on a lower tier) with the baking bread. Voila – fougasse and dip in a flash – and you look like a hero.

  26. Thanks Erin, so glad the book’s working well for you guys. I live in a 1916 house so I know what you mean.

    Thanks for the recipe idea too! Jeff

  27. I got super lazy the other day and wanted pretzels, but didn’t feel like all that rolling. (how bad is that?)
    Anyway, I rolled out the dough into a rectangle and used a pizza cutter to cut 3/4″ strips. Followed the rest of the instructions as is, and came up with great little crudite bases. Hubs spread cream cheese atop and piled on some deli meat.
    They’re much smaller and flatter – perfect for an alternative to Wheat Thins or Club House crackers.

  28. I read your book cover to cover. My first bread came out great.. I ate half of it! I look forward to making the more whole grain versions of your bread.
    The stacks of traditional bread making books are going back on the shelf. I don’t have the time to make complicated bread right now!

  29. Hi there, it’s been a long time! So I finally saw Aunt Becky in action over the weekend, and I am embarrassed it’s taken me so long to try your bread. It is incredible, she and another aunt made bread and focaccia, amazing! On the way home, my husband and I were wondering about making pretzels with the dough…you are one step ahead! Can’t wait to try these. Thanks!
    Min

  30. Same as with the brötchen post: The dark crust of German Laugenbrötchen and Bretzeln comes from the lye that is brushed on before the rolls are baked. No eggwash. Never! And the Bretzeln and Brötchen are not cooked like Bagles. I don’t have any recipes to share, but you might try to google Bretzeln, Laugenbrötchen + Rezepte and use google translator to read them in English…

  31. The recipe– now that’s the challenging part. I’m not sure I’ll find a lye-containing recipe that most of readers would go for.

    Agree that Brotchen aren’t boiled…

  32. Hi, these look great and I would really like to try them. However, I am not a very experienced cook so I need to ask….do I NEED to have a stone to cook these on, or can I just use a baking sheet?

  33. Thank you for posting the photos. I was trying to follow the written directions in the book with no success. The direction to “make a knot” is somewhat misleading – I kept trying to knot the middle of the rolled out dough and it all stuck together (leading to much frustration and flour on the floor). The photos greatly clarify – if you do a second edition of your book, I would recommend including them with the recipe.

    Back at it – round 2!

    Thanks!

  34. Vicki: Yeah, the pix help, for sure. The publisher only allows us so many for our books, which try to come in at an affordable price. So often we’ve relied on the website becoming an easy way to get as many pix as we’d like to the readers.

    If I could have anything I’d want for the books, I’d say photo spread for each recipe. Probably won’t happen!

  35. These look great! I’m definitely going to make some with whole wheat!

    I’m another huge fan of both books, but HBin5 is quicky becoming my favrotie. My health nut mom visited last week and I had just whipped up the master recipe from HBin5. She was amazed and went and bought herself a copy as soon as she got home! I think she’s going to join me in Michelle’s bake-along now :)
    Made my first Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich bread today nad it is awesome!

    • Sarah: So nice to see you here, please say hello to MM for me!

      I spent a lot of time with that pretzel recipe, but I have to admit I never froze it after shaping. My guess is that it will work, but you will lose some definition and it may end up with an odd cosmetic look. Definitely worth a try though, let us know how it comes out. Jeff

  36. I would really like to try to adapt the pretzel recipe into full size bread loaves or sandwich roles. I LOVE restaurants that serve sandwiches on pretzel bread and I never see it in stores or bakeries. How could we adapt the recipe?

  37. In the boiling water, when the recipe calls for “It’s two minutes on the first side, flip with a slotted spoon, and then one minute on the second side”, is that a typo?
    I followed the books directions and got a mushy mess of wet dough. When it says 2 minutes does it really mean 2 _SECONDS_?
    Soft pretzels are my 6 year old daughters favorite, and I have yet to make a pretzel as good as the ones at the mall.

    Please help,
    Jason Worden

    • Hi Jason,

      The bagel dough is a bit drier than most of our other recipes so that it can hold up to the boiling. I find if I am using another recipe to make these I do decrease the amount of time in the water. If you find that your pretzels are falling apart in the water you can certainly do it for less time, or it may be that your dough is too wet?

      Thanks and I hope this helps! Zoë

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