bretzellen, or soft (salted) pretzels, were always a welcomed treat and one which certainly got gobbled up faster than it took to make. i remember watching in amazement as my mother grabbed a piece of dough, rolled it and twisted the long snake like rope together with one or two flicks of the wrist. before you could blink, they were perfectly formed into that familiar pretzel shape.
according to my parents, these were/are very popular at this time of the year in certain parts of europe. not only do them come salted, in various places, they are even made with powdered or coarse sugar. who knows, i've only ever had the salted kind. we sometimes coated them with slightly browned onions also.
for a bread recipe, this one takes very little time to make — even the proving time is very short! there are a few things to keep in mind, however, when making (these) pretzels. in order to achieve the best results, it goes without saying, to follow the recipe the first time you make these twisted goodies.
pretzels typically have a certain flavour to them which can only be attained by using baking soda. if you don't use it, you'll get a baked, very plain tasting, twisted bread and not a pretzel. the baking soda not only helps in its taste, it also helps to brown them properly. i've tested recipes in the past without using it and it just doesn't yield the same results. remember, cooking & baking are indeed science and this chemical reaction is only achieved with NaHCO3.
the soda can be applied in two way — one way being easier than the other. the simplest way is to just apply the solution with a (pastry) brush; this gives a very decent result. the more complicated way, if you can call it that, is boiling the pre-baked pretzels in a solution of water and baking soda very very briefly. this helps to give a chewier crust and is how it is typically done in europe. the solution however is not always baking soda (not important for our purposes).
in terms of using the egg wash, it's totally optional. because of the baking soda, the pretzels will brown on their own nicely and the salt adheres to the dough perfectly. just make SURE to use the right type of salt. table salt is not appropriate. kosher salt is also a bit too fine. i use fleur de sel or maldon. just find a salt which is coarse in texture.
the pretzels also need to be cooked quickly in a hot oven. as they are quite thin, they need a high temperature and short cooking time. while they are great served warm, i have found they benefit greatly in terms of texture once they've cooled down. they seem to become chewier, they way they are meant to be, once they've rested a bit.
if you're one of those cooks who doesn't feel s/he does well at baking, don't be intimidated from trying your hand at making pretzels, they're terribly easy in spite of the instructions. read through the whole recipe first before starting to get a feel for what you need to do.
have fun twisting and turning!
bretzellen — salted soft pretzels
makes 7 (double recipe for 14)
proving your yeast:
1 1/4 tsp instant (rapid rise) dry yeast
1 tsp sugar, white (or brown)
6 oz warm water
1 1/2 tsp regular active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar, white (or brown)
6 oz warm water
1 tbsp + 2 tsp sugar, white (or brown)
1 1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp dry ginger powder, heaped
282 g / 14 oz bread (strong) OR all purpose flour*
1/2 tsp gluten flour, optional -- to use with AP flour
*if using all purpose flour, i recommend adding the 1/2 tsp of gluten flour which approximates bread flour. if you can't get it, well.... just proceed with AP flour. if you're using bread flour, don't worry about the gluten flour as the protein percentage is correct. why gluten flour? to make more of a chewier pretzel; AP flour doesn't have as much gluten as bread flour.
baking soda wash:
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp hot water
baking soda "bath":
ratio is 1 1/2 tsp per cup of water — i use 2 1/2 tbsp & 5 c water
1 tbsp water or milk or soymilk
alternative "egg" wash:
flax seed replacement, strained
fleur de sel or coarse sea salt (not fine or table salt!)
1/3 c browned minced onion, optional
the yeast proof:
make the proof by combining the yeast, sugar and warm water in a small bowl. let it prove for about 10 to 15 minutes.
stir both after proofing times. make sure all is dissolved.
in a medium sized bowl or processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt and ginger powder.
if using the gluten flour add it also.
add the wet to the dry and combine with your hands or a wooden spoon OR if using the processor, dribble in the yeast mixture to combine. pulse the mixture until it is kneaded.
by hand, knead the dough without extra flour until it is smooth. it should be extremely soft and only slightly tacky.
my finished dough weight is ~282 grams.
divide to make 7 equal sized balls of dough. 72 grams is what i always use. if you don't know metric, then it should be the size of a small (moroccan) tangerine / golf ball sized. well, maybe a little larger than a golf ball!
you do not need to prove the dough prior to shaping. it will be done after the bretzellen are formed.
you will roll out each ball of dough, one by one. keep the others covered.
the typical shape is one which has an only slightly fatter central portion and tapers to a point on each end. i highly recommend a long rope which is approximately 33 inches long (84 cm).
place the dough on an unfloured board or surface. make SURE to deflate them if any have started to puff up. just squish them in your hand to release any air. i suggest forming torpedo shapes and storing them in a ziploc, leaving a little space between each, until you are ready to roll them. this keeps the pretzel dough from drying out. don't delay in forming them or they'll start to rise.
if you find you are having difficulty stretching them, let them rest covered a bit longer as the gluten needs to relax in order for it to be flexible. they should be fine.
starting from the center with both hands, roll out the ball of dough several times until you get the length and shape you want. don't worry if it's not perfect, it takes practice (they're very easy however). make sure the "arms" on either side are tapered and end in a point. the central portion/barrel should be about 3/4 of an inch or so (depends how much dough you've used and how long you roll them out).
as they become VERY long while rolling, i like to hold the left side up in the air with my left hand and roll the right out with my right hand to extend it further and further. find the technique that you like. look here for a variety of european techniques (short videos) for traditional rolling out of bretzellen.
form the pretzels or bretzellen as follows:
take one of the extended piece of dough and make a loop.
twist the central knot one time. some people double twist it.
bring the top of the loop towards you folding it down over the X shape.
transfer the pretzels to a parchment lined or greased sheet.
cover and prove the bretzellen for 15 minutes.
preheat the oven to 450F.
at this point, you have a choice:
 pre-cook the pretzels as is done with bagels. this is said to create a chewier texture; personally speaking, i find the difference negligible. it's worth experimenting with, however, to see for yourself.
 use a soda wash on them (the easier procedure).
to pre cook the pretzels:
place 5 cups of water in a fry pan and bring to a boil.
add the 2 1/2 tbsp of baking soda. the water will fizz a lot. this is supposed to happen.
add the pretzels, one by one, and let them cook for 15 seconds. count out loud to 15 and remove to the baking sheet. be careful when removing them as they like to slip and slide!
either egg wash the pretzels or just salt them, as is, and bake for exactly 15 minutes. they will be a mahogany brown once fully baked. you do not need to use the soda wash (below as you've just done it here).
"washing" the pretzels:
this step cannot be skipped if you want real bretzellen (and haven't opted for the above procedure). the baking soda wash helps to provide the necessary final flavour and with the maillard reaction (browning). for those who do not use eggs, it is sufficient to coat them with the soda wash. they will brown beautifully.
mix the 1 tsp of baking soda with 2 tbsp of HOT water. mix well.
wash each pretzel completely with the soda mix. make sure the whole exposed surfaces are covered.
either make your egg wash and salt the pretzels or you can skip the eggwash and just salt them.
sprinkle the pretzels WELL with the coarse salt. they are supposed to be salty.
in either case, bake the pretzels for 15 minutes ONLY. they will be a deep golden brown.
remove from oven and let cool a little. best eaten the day they are made, just after being baked.
honey mustard while still warm!