Soft Pretzels

This is a recipe I've been working up to for a long time. Pretzels have always been something I've wanted to make but they looked kind of difficult to get that iconic shape right and that chewy but soft consistency they’re famous for, but I decided to finally get over myself and give them a go! I just made the classic pretzel with sea salt on top but of course, you can make them like a pizza with cheese or even sweet versions rolled in cinnamon sugar, but I thought I'd try and master the basics first and move on to more interesting toppings another time (*cough* Halloween and Christmas pretzels *cough*). I’ve also started tuning down the yield from each recipe because I just want to make a small amount and hope they come out really well rather than a large number of failures that will inevitably be wasted, so this recipe only makes 4 but of course, just keep doubling it if you want more pretzels! 

Makes 4 

180ml Warm Water 
1/2 tbsp Salt 
250g Bread Flour (makes for softer pretzels) 
4g Dry Yeast 
15g Dark Sugar 
2 tbsp Oil 
2 tbsp Bicarbonate of Soda, baked
1 Egg, beaten 
Sea Salt, for topping 

First of all, we want to bake our bicarbonate of soda, I also wondered why you might do this but on looking it up, traditionally pretzels were made by dunking the raw dough in Lye (basically ground up tree ashes) that would help form carbon dioxide within the dough and make sure it rises properly and is fully aerated. Looking at the ingredients of Lye it doesn’t look very safe to me so I assume that's why we moved over to bicarb, but anyway it does the same thing when baked and boiled in water, it helps the dough to produce lots of carbon dioxide which makes for a beautifully aerated dough! 
So to bake our bicarb preheat the oven to 120C/ 100 Fan/ Gas Mark 2 and very slowly bake it in a pile on a non-stick baking tray for an hour. It won't change in colour or consistency but it just needs heating through. Once baked, set aside. 
Now onto the pretzels! In a large bowl add the water and yeast and let it sit undisturbed for 5 mins until you start to see it bubble. Then add in the salt and sugar and stir until everything is fully dissolved. 

Tip in the flour and oil, then combine with a wooden spoon to make a rough dough. 

Tip the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 mins until you have a smooth, rounded dough. Add a tsp of oil to the bottom of your mixing bowl, spread this around to cover the bottom and sides, then add the dough back in, cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place to double in size for 1 hour. 

After the dough has risen, punch the air out of it and separate it into 4 balls. Now we’re gonna shape them into pretzels so I’ll leave a series of pictures to explain how I did it in case my explanation isn’t good enough! One ball at a time, roll the dough into a 60cm long sausage shape, I did this by rolling the dough downwards vertically in my hands like you’re making sausages with play dough, as you move your hands down the dough it will start to elongate, once you get to the bottom, flip it over and repeat from the top of the other end until its roughly 60cm.

Curve the dough into a ‘U’ shape, with the curve of the ‘U’ facing you. 

Take both ends and fold them across each other so the dough looks like bunny ears.

Then take the bunny ears and fold them back towards the curve of the ‘U’ and press them into the dough to seal. 

I know that seems like a process but once you try one you’ll get the hang of it and see it isn’t very difficult at all! Repeat this process with the other three dough balls and lay your pretzels on a nonstick baking tray or silicone baking mat, cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise for 20 mins. Preheat the oven to 220C/ 200 Fan/ Gas Mark 5. 

Now it’s time to use our baked bicarb! Heat about 1L of boiling water in a medium-sized pan and tip the bicarb in, stir until the large clumps break down and the water is just a little cloudy then reduce the heat to low-medium to simmer. One pretzel at a time, lower one into the water and leave for 30 secs before flipping over and leaving for another 30 secs then using a slotted spoon/spatula, transfer it back onto the baking tray. Repeat until each pretzel has been dipped in the water. This process helps not only the aeration but also creating that waxy/chewy outer texture we all know and love from a classic pretzel. 

Now brush the beaten egg over each pretzel making sure you get into the gaps and down the sides, then liberally sprinkle on sea salt. 

Bake the pretzels for 15-20 mins until crispy and a deep brown, I turned mine around after 10 mins and put foil over them for the last 5 mins to stop them darkening any further. Leave to cool for 15 mins then you’re ready to eat! 

I was so impressed with how they came out in the end! Like I said at the start, I know they don’t have the really pronounced holes between the curves like some thinner pretzels do but this recipe is for soft pretzels, not those rock hard pieces of cardboard that you sometimes find, next time I make these I think I will roll the dough even longer to try and get large, thinner ones but I was so happy with how thick the dough was, how well it cooked, how soft and chewy they were and what a beautiful colour they baked into! My partner made it pretty clear he wasn’t sure about them but I’m choosing to ignore him because I think this is the most successful dough recipe I've had in a long time, and one that I actually want to continue trying and working on (which I will over the coming seasons). 
I know because I've had to write it all out, it looks like a really long process but really it's only the proving time that takes the longest, actually shaping the pretzels, boiling them then baking them takes less than 40 mins and what you get out of it is the perfect lunch accompaniment or super filling snack! 

I hope you agree with how much I’ve been bigging these pretzels up in this post because I am genuinely proud of them and I'd love for you to have a go, as long as your dough rises properly, this recipe can’t go wrong and each time you’ll end up with beautifully chewy on the outside, fluffy on the inside pretzels to enjoy at any time of day! 

H x