Soft pretzels are one of my favorite snack foods. I like the ones you get on the street in New York, and I'm just as happy with the ones you buy at Wetzel's. (I've been known to "treat" the kids to a pretzel and a lemonade because I actually wanted a pretzel. Shh!)
This recipe from King Arthur is quick to put together. The dough just has to rest for 30 minutes, so you can go from zero to pretzels in under an hour. That's my kind of recipe! Did I mention they're also delicious? Perfectly bready and chewy with just a hint of salt and sweet. The only shortcoming is that I have yet to find a way to store them that preserves the immediate freshness of a pretzel straight out of the oven. The salt melts a little, ruining the exterior crust. Guess that means they should all be eaten right away!
One more note: twisting the pretzels. It's actually quite easy if you can wrap your brain around it. I'm not always super spatial, and it took me a few tries to get the hang of it, after which it was a cinch. You'll see I made some pretzel twists just for fun. I also made the pretzels about half the recommended size so I could eat more and feel less guilty.
King Arthur Soft Pretzels (printable version)
Makes 6 large pretzels or 12-15 small pretzels.
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) flour
1 tablespoon sugar (or 2 tablespoons non-diastatic malt powder - I don't know what that is)
1 tablespoon King Arthur Easy-Roll Dough Improver (optional, and I didn't have any)
1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup (8 ounces) water
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) water
2 teaspoons sugar (or 1 tablespoon non-diastatic malt powder - still don't know what that is)
2 teaspoons baking soda
pretzel salt, cinnamon-sugar, or pearl sugar
melted butter (optional)
Mix and knead the dough ingredients together (it's okay to use the mixer or do it by hand) until the dough is cohesive and fairly smooth. It should be slightly sticky. If it seems dry, sprinkle it with a tablespoon or two or water. Cover the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes.
When you're ready to start shaping the pretzels, preheat the oven to 400F. Turn out the dough onto a lightly greased work surface. Fold it a few times to gently deflate it. Divide it into 6 large pieces (or 12 or more small pieces). Roll each piece of dough into a 24" (or 12") rope and form pretzel shapes. Here's how:
Bend the dough into a u-shape. Twist the ends together twice, leaving about two inches of each tail free. Lift the tails up and bend them forward toward you. Press them down on the bottom part of the u-shape to seal. Or here, just look at this diagram from Auntie Anne's, another well-known name in mall pretzels.
In a shallow bowl, stir together the water, sugar (or malt), and baking soda. Dip each pretzel into the baking soda solution, which will help them brown. Lay them on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper and sprinkle with salt or sugar, if desired. Bake for 12-15 minutes (maybe less for small pretzels) until golden brown. Remove from the oven. Brush with melted butter (or don't - you won't miss anything and you'll feel so virtuous!), dip in cinnamon sugar, and serve warm.
Tip: you can also sprinkle on the salt after baking, or dip in cinnamon sugar without coating the pretzels in butter. Use a spray bottle to mist the pretzels with water, and then sprinkle on the appropriate toppings (or dip in cinnamon sugar).
Anyone with a great storage idea that keeps pretzels fresh, let me know, please!