Pretzels are so good, and so easy to make at home!
But what makes a pretzel different from normal bread? The ingredients and preparation are very similar.
The key step is dipping the pretzels in a solution of water and baking soda. The baking soda coats the surface of the pretzel, creating an alkaline environment (it has a PH greater than 7). Originally, pretzels were dipped in a mixture of lye (sodium hydroxide)! But... since lye can be dangerous if used incorrectly, most pretzels are now made with baking soda.
The wonderful brown, chewy outside of a pretzels is thanks to the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction, if you hadn't guessed, really excels in alkaline environments! This reaction is sort of like caramelization, and is created when sugar reduces and reacts with amino acids. So, without this, pretzels just turn out as twisty bread!
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Step 1: Ingredients
4 tsp active dry or fast rise yeast
1 1/4 c. warm water
1/2 c. + 1 tsp white sugar
5 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil + extra to oil your bowl
1/2 c. baking soda (does not go into pretzel dough - set aside for later!)
4 c. hot water (does not go into pretzel dough - set aside for later!)
1/4 cup kosher salt (for standard pretzels)
1/2 c. melted butter
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
You will also need
Additional large bowl to let dough rise in
Clean kitchen towel, large enough to cover bowl ^^
Bowl or pot large enough to hold 4 c. water and 1/2 c. baking soda
Step 2: Making Dough
To your 1 1/4 c. warm water, add your yeast and 1 tsp of white sugar. Mix to combine, and let set to proof for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, it should be nice and foamy. If it's not, your yeast may be dead, and might not rise. It's probably best to start again! Make sure your water is warm, but not hot. You should be able to stick your finger in the water without burning yourself! It should feel just warm to the touch.
After the yeast proofs, add 1/2 c. sugar, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 tbsp vegetable oil. Slowly add the 5 c. all purpose flour. Around the 4th cup of flour, you may have to mix by hand.
Flour your surface, turn out your dough, and knead it for about 8 minutes. This dough will be thick, but should have some bounce back when poked. If your dough is too dry or crumbly, you can add a few drops of water to help soften it some. But only add a few drops of water at a time, thoroughly kneading between each addition.
Step 3: Rise and Wait
Coat your large, clean bowl with oil.
Roll your dough into a smooth ball, and place in the bowl.
Toss the dough ball around in the bowl to thoroughly coat in oil (you can add some if needed)
Take the clean kitchen towel, and wet it with hot water. Squeeze out all the water you can! Drape the towel over the top of the bowl, not letting it touch the dough. This step is optional, but it helps keep the dough warm and moist.
Set the dough aside, and let rise for about an hour (or until doubled)
Step 4: Pretzel Time
Turn your dough out onto your counter again. Work it some until it becomes easy to handle.
I cut mine into 12 pieces, and they came out about 4-5 inches wide when baked. Of course, your pretzel size will depend on how many pieces you cut, and how thin you roll them.
Once your pieces are cut, roll out long strands, and form them into pretzels. You can really make these into any shape you want, or even just cut them into sticks or bite sized bits.
Step 5: A Little BASE-ic
Preheat your oven to 450 and have 2 greased baking sheets ready.
In a large bowl or pot, combine your 4 c hot water and 1/2 c. baking soda. This will fizz up, so add it slowly!
Stir until combined. Don't worry if not all the baking soda dissolves.
One at a time, dip your pretzels into the baking soda solution. You just need to coat the pretzels, they don't need to be in the solution long. Every couple of dips I like to stir the baking soda solution, to make sure it's not trying to settle at the bottom.
Place your dipped pretzels directly onto the baking sheet. If you want to add salt, add it while the pretzels are still wet so it sticks.
The size I made, making 12 pretzels, took 8 minutes to bake.
If you want to make garlic herb pretzels, melt your butter, garlic and herbs together. As soon as the pretzels come out of the oven, brush the butter mixture over them.
Step 6: The Results
I used some dough to make pretzel sticks. The stick on the far left was not dipped into the baking soda solution before baking. The stick in the middle was dipped into the standard baking soda solution. And the stick on the far right was dipped into a baking soda solution that I added twice the baking soda to. All 3 sticks were baked on the same baking sheet, for the same length of time.
I don't think the extra baking soda made any difference because the standard solution was already saturated. The outside of the stick did crack some, but I think that was from the way the dough was rolled - not the extra baking soda.
But look how pale the undipped stick is! The outside is also rather soft compared to the chewy pretzels.
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Science of Cooking