As treats go, pretzels have a long history, going back hundreds of years to European bakers. German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania during the early 1800s were responsible for the pretzel proliferation. Julius Sturgis opened the country’s first
commercial pretzel bakery in Lancaster County, Pa, in 1861. Rumor has it that the average Philadelphian consumes 12 times as many pretzels as the rest of the population. In 2003, Governor Ed Rendell declared April 26 as National Pretzel Day, to commemorate the commonwealth’s long history with the salty snack. And talk about creative, one Philly pretzel factory recently rolled out a Tim Tebow pretzel after the quarterback signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In preparation for the upcoming twisted celebration, you can make soft pretzels at home. We’re not going to lie, the recipe takes some time and is a bit tricky, but the results are so worth it. Soft and warm, these babies are great with a little mustard or some nacho cheese.
A couple of pointers: Rolling out the ropes to 30 inches is not a typo. But you won’t be able to do it in one try. Roll out the ropes one at a time as long as you can get them, then let them rest a bit. The gluten will then relax. Roll them out some more, and you’ll be able to get to 30 inches. Place the shaped pretzels in the freezer for a couple of hours to prepare them for the alkaline bath. This will allow the pretzels to hold their shape as they are dipped. About that alkaline bath, commercial pretzel bakers use food-grade lye to get that rich, brown color and distinct flavor. But lye is caustic. You can re-create that chestnut brown finish with a baking soda bath. (Baking soda is about 9.5 on the pH scale while lye is about 14, at the top of the scale). Make sure you dip both sides of the pretzel for about 30 seconds total. If you leave out this step, you will have baked bread in the shape of a pretzel.
If you’re near Lancaster, PA, prepare to take a tour of one of the six pretzel factories in the area.
- 1 ½ cups warm water (heated to 110 degrees)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 package yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 to 4 ½ cups flour
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Cooking spray
- 10 cups water
- 2/3 cup baking soda
- 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
- Kosher salt
Heat 1 ½ cups water in saucepan or microwave. Water should be warm, not hot, to the inside of the wrist. In the large bowl of a stand mixer, add warm water, sugar, salt and yeast. Let sit a few minutes or until yeast starts to bubble. Add flour and butter. Use the dough hooks and mix on low speed until just combined, then switch to medium speed until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Cover bowl with a tea towel and let sit in a warm spot for 50 minutes to an hour or until the dough has doubled.
To prepare to roll out the pretzels, first spray the work surface with a generous amount of cooking spray. Punch dough down and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a long rope. Let sit a few minutes for the gluten to relax, then roll out each piece to 30 inches. Form dough into a pretzel shape by making a U, twisting about two inches from the ends and then pressing the ends into the bottom of the U. Place pretzels on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Place in the freezer for at least 2 hours.
When ready to bake pretzels, boil 10 cups of water with 2/3 of a cup baking soda. Remove pretzels from freezer. Dip each pretzel into the alkaline bath for 15 seconds on each side. Place each pretzel back on the baking sheet and brush with the egg yolk mixture, then salt. Bake for 12-14 minutes at 450 degrees or until pretzels turn chestnut brown.