For some reason, I’ve been subconsciously avoiding the task of figuring out how to create some fantastic soft pretzels. Sure, I’ve taken a stab at pretzel rolls, but those were mostly just rolls in a pretzel-y shape. In fact, the reason I even thought of making pretzel rolls was because my first attempt at soft pretzels ended up puffy and round rather than lanky and chewy like they should be. So I guess I fell off the pretzel horse for awhile, and I’ve been overdue to get back on it. (Don’t worry, I did, there’s a recipe soon).
One of the reasons I have such a deep-set perfectionism about pretzels is because I happened to spend a good part of my life in the 30% of Pennsylvania that likes to think it’s Philadelphia. As a result, I have a few deep and confusing instincts that prompt me to be extremely opinionated about some things, in particular cheesesteaks and soft pretzels (and sometimes sports teams, and New Jersey). If you haven’t had a pretzel from Philly or New York, then you’re destined to read a lot of snotty blog posts from the rest of us who have, and you’re also missing out on an amazing bready experience you can’t find elsewhere.
The pretzels I have here aren’t shaped quite like the giant rows of squished ovals you can find in Philly, and I won’t claim that they’re quite as good as the real deal, but they’re fantastic and about as good as you can get from your own kitchen. They’re what a pretzel should be: dense with a firm and almost crispy skin, yet soft and chewy inside, with a ton of flavor despite their humble breadiness.
The recipe came from a post on Philly Soft Pretzels from the Reluctant Gourmet blog (adjusted slightly), and it’s fantastic. If you don’t like the traditional shape I chose in this recipe, use this same dough anyway if you go for a bigger or differently-shaped pretzel. The second time I made it, I left it in the fridge to rise overnight, and I’d say that definitely helped the flavor develop even more. But this is a fast recipe if you want it to be, so don’t let yourself procrastinate like I did– go make some pretzels.
Philly Soft Pretzel Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups bread flour
11/2 cups water
11/2 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tb brown sugar
2 tb melted butter
coarse salt (or pretzel salt) for on top
for the soda bath:
2 quarts water
1/3-1/2 cup baking soda
The dough: This dough is pretty easy; you can honestly just slam it all together and start kneading if that’s what you’re in the mood for. If you want something more methodical, start by mixing the water, butter, yeast and sugar together and let sit for a couple minutes:
Then, mix in the salt and add the flour gradually. This dough actually works better on the dry side, so I’d adjust it to be a little stiffer (more flour) than I typically would for something like a pizza dough. Other than that it’s the same process as always. (If you need pointers on getting doughs together and kneading them, check out my post on kneading dough).
Great. When your dough is smooth, shape it into a tight ball and leave in a greased bowl to double in size. That might take about an hour, but this is one of the few recipes where you can skimp a little on the rise if you’re in a hurry.
Next, divide up your dough into even sections. I got about 12 medium sized pretzels, so you could probably get 6-8 of a street-style size if you wanted to go bigger.
Stretch and roll your sections into long ropes of dough. If the dough is too rubbery and springs back or starts tearing, just give it a few minutes to rest and come back to it. Shoot for at least 18 inches in length if you can.
Shape the snakes into a classic pretzel shape (or whatever you want). Set them aside, but you don’t need to let them rise a second time unless you’re looking for more of a dinner-roll texture.
Meanwhile, bring the 2 quarts of water to a boil. Once it’s there, add the baking soda and reduce to a lively simmer (but not a full boil). The soda will fizz up in a surprising manner, but it’ll calm down in a minute. The goal of an alkaline bath, by the way, is to help give the pretzels a browner and crispier outer crust.
In batches, drop your pretzels into the simmering water. Give them about 30 seconds in the bath, flipping them over halfway through. Remove them and drain them briefly, then set on a baking sheet.
Also meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375-400°F. Once you have enough pretzels for a pan, sprinkle them with salt and bake them until they’re golden brown and kind of crispy looking. If you want even darker color and for the salt to stick better, you can mix an egg with a little water and brush it on before adding the salt and baking.
Once they look good, take them out and cool on a rack, then eat! You’ll thank yourself for it.
This is also a great food to freeze, by the way. I made a double batch and froze almost all of them once they had cooled, and they heat up pretty fast and taste just as good as they did in the first place. Definitely a huge improvement over freezer-section boxes of soft pretzels. Try it, it’s one more little way to make your life a little simpler.
Thanks, and enjoy!