I have an extra large weak spot for good bread. In my utopia, I could nibble at baguettes, throw back crusty pizzas, and chomp down on chewy pretzels with abandon. But, of all breads, pretzels are my absolute favorite for snacking. I’m not a particularly choosy pretzel snacker as I crave soft buttered, hard sourdough, honey wheat sticks, and small twists equally.
So, when the crew at Eat Real Los Angeles asked which bread I’d like to do for a hands-on cooking session, it was soft pretzels. I first developed my pretzel recipe a few years ago when I dreamed up a pretzel grilled cheese. Since then, I’ve finagled, fussed, and refined that recipe to this one that’s soft in the middle, chewy, malty, and a deep browned exterior. The perfect homemade soft pretzels if I say so myself.
Buttered Soft Pretzels Recipe
The key to the flavor in these pretzels is the use of barley malt syrup and the distinct crust comes from a dunk in the baking soda solution (as opposed to the foodsafe lye used in commercial pretzels). If you can’t find barley malt syrup, you can omit it, but its well worth the search because it will reward you with well-browned pretzels with a distinct malty flavor.
For the dough:
1 cup whole milk or water (heated to 100°F to 115°F)
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup or granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 (1/4-ounce) envelope) active dry yeast
Melted butter, for the bowl and for brushing pretzels at end
2 2/3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
For the wash:
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup barley malt syrup (optional)
A pinch of ground spice (such as cinnamon sugar, curry, paprika, sesame seeds, etc) for garnishing pretzels, optional
Line two baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place the warm milk or water and syrup or sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted on the stand mixer base and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside to rest until the mixture bubbles, about 5 minutes. (If the mixture does not bubble, either the liquid was not at the correct temperature or the yeast is old.) Meanwhile, coat a large mixing bowl with a generous brushing of melted butter and set aside.
Place the flour and measured salt in a large bowl and whisk briefly to break up combine. Once the yeast has bubbled, attach a dough hook, and add the flour mixture. Mix on the lowest setting until the mixture becomes a ball, then increase to medium speed and mix until the dough is elastic and smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. (To test if the dough is ready, do the windowpane test: grab a piece of dough between your thumb and forefingers and open finger to pull dough into a 2-inch square (ie windowpane). If the dough stretches, without breaking, you’re good to go. Otherwise, keep mixing.)
Form the dough into a ball, place in the oiled mixing bowl, and turn the dough to coat in oil. Cover with a clean, damp dishtowel and let rest in a warm place until the dough doubles in size and, when you poke it, an indentation stays and the dough doesn’t spring back, 30 to 40 minutes. (If you have time, cover and refrigerate the dough and let rise 12 to 36 hours. Bring to room temperature for at least 15 minutes before using.) Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (about 3 ounces each), cover with a clean, damp dishtowel, and let sit aside for 5 minutes.
Working with 1 piece at a time, roll into a 24- to 28-inch-long rope. Shape the rope into a circle, leaving 3 inches at the end of eaach rope. Cross ends over each other then twist around each other to form the inner twist of the pretzel. Fold the the twist and place it into the middle of the circle. Press the end of the rope to the edges of the circle to form it into a pretzel shape. Place 4 pretzels on each baking sheet and repeat to use up all the dough.
Heat the oven to 425°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Meanwhile, mix together warm water, baking soda and malt syrup in a shallow dish. One by one, lay a pretzel into the mixture for just a few seconds, then, using a slotted spatula, wooden spoon, or your hands, carefully remove the pretzel to the baking sheet. (Don’t worry if it falls out of shape, you can reform it once it’s on the baking sheet.) Sprinkle lightly with salt and let sit aside, uncovered, while oven heats, 10 to 20 minutes.
Bake one sheet at a time, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Brush with melted butter, desired seasonings (if using), and top with additional salt as desired. Eat quickly as they’re best when warm.