You know pretzels and have probably eaten them in many different forms, but do you know how they're made?
They begin with a dough, not unlike any you've made before, with flour, water, yeast, salt, and butter. After fermentation, to help get that tang we all love, they are shaped into the classic twist. Before they're baked, they are dipped in a food-grade lye solution, which is responsible for the brown, shiny exterior that calls to us from a bakeshop window.
Pretzels are a staple of school lunches, but usually it's the crunchy variety that we can buy in the store. And while those hit the spot, what could kids love more than a home-baked pretzel made with their own tiny hands? With this recipe for Soft Pretzels, you and your family can get “back-to-school ready” with a fun kitchen project.
The recipe from The Culinary Institute of America's book “The Young Chef” calls for a baking soda solution to replace the not-so-kid-friendly lye that we use in our bakeshops. The results won't be as shiny and dark as the professional kind, but it's still pretzel-y.
These pretzels are shaped into classic twists, which can be hard some. Luckily, a pretzel is a pretzel no matter the shape, so if you prefer, you can roll the dough into logs and then cut little bite-size pretzel nuggets. You can also make small, round rolls or bagel shapes – anything little minds can imagine!
And the variations don't stop there. “Young Chef” author and Mark Ainsworth suggests: “Add raisins to the dough while it's mixing, or dust the pretzels with cinnamon sugar before baking to make a great sweet pretzel.” And don't forget the dippers! Spicy, whole grain mustard is classic, but kids might also love nut butter, melted chocolate (sweet and salty), and the mall-classic cheese sauce.
The best part of this recipe is that it can be made ahead of time and frozen (we do not expect your little student to be up baking bread at 4 a.m. like ours are). Homemade bread can get stale quickly, but you can bake and cool the pretzels, then freeze them in a resealable bag to help extend their shelf life. If you've made small bites, you can even put them into your kids' lunchbox frozen, and they'll be ready by the time they eat lunch.
2 cups bread flour
11/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3/4 cup warm (but not hot) water
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon honey
21/4 teaspoons salt
4 cups water
3 tablespoons baking soda
Coarse sea salt, as needed for sprinkling
To make the dough, in a small bowl, mix together the flour and yeast.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the water, butter, honey, and salt. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until the ingredients are combined, about 1 minute. Raise the speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth, about 3 minutes.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 20 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into 4 pieces. Use both hands to roll each piece of dough against the counter into a short log. Place the logs on the counter, loosely cover all with plastic wrap, and let rest 15 minutes.
Roll each piece of dough under your palms until it is 30 inches long and tapered so that the center is slightly thicker than the ends.
Hold the two ends of the dough in your hands and cross them over each other, to form an X, with the thicker center of the dough at the bottom. Twist the ends again and then bring the two ends down and press each end into the bottom of the pretzel, leaving about 2 inches in between. Press gently to seal the dough.
Transfer the pretzels to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature until the pretzels have doubled in size, about 30 minutes, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator until the dough forms a skin, about 10 minutes.
To make the dipping solution, combine the water and baking soda in a large bowl. Stir until the baking soda is dissolved. Dip each pretzel in solution and return to the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the salt while they are still wet.
Bake the pretzels until they are dark golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool before serving. Makes 4 servings.