Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weekend Cooking...Homemade Soft Pretzels

Hey, it is still Lent, and there is nothing more Lenten than...PRETZELS!

Yes, pretzels.

In keeping with the strictest Lenten restriction, they contain no dairy or eggs and look, their little arms are crossed in prayer. (OK, ignore the touch of butter and the egg wash in mine...)

As our friends from Wikipedia say..."...pretzels were regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape. Pretzels made with a simple recipe using only flour and water could be eaten during Lent, when Christians were forbidden to eat eggs, lard, or dairy products such as milk and butter.
As time passed, pretzels became associated with both Lent and Easter. Pretzels were hidden on Easter morning just as eggs are hidden today, and are particularly associated with Lent, fasting, and prayers before Easter.

 In particular, {the pretzel} became iconic with Philadelphia and was established as a cuisine of Philadelphia for snacking at school, work, or home, and considered by most to be a quick meal. The average Philadelphian today consumes about twelve times as many pretzels as the national average.

Pennsylvania today is the center of American pretzel production for both the hard crispy and the soft bread types of pretzels. Southeastern Pennsylvania, with its large population of German background, is considered the birthplace of the American pretzel industry, and many pretzel bakers are still located in the area. Pennsylvania produces 80% of the nation's pretzels."

12 times the national average. 80% of the country's production. A Lent connection and a Philadelphia connection!

But I must say that one thing scared me off trying to make pretzels.
Traditionally, you need to us a lye bath before you bake pretzels.
I did not really want to cook with something that requires wearing protective gloves and goggles. But fear not, because while there are recipes out there that boil the pretzels pre-baking in a lye/water bath, most now use a baking soda/water bath which is a lot safer.

Homemade Soft Pretzels
courtesy of Alton Brown


  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt


Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving. 

So, how did thing go?
Did I break my curse of working with yeast?
Why, yes I did it seems!

True, my house is so chilly (by choice) that I had to throw that 50 minutes rising time out. Moving the bowl closer to a radiator helped.
OK, on the radiator with a book as insulation.

And I should have worked at stretching the rope out to the 24-inch suggested. The dough was very stretchy and I only realized at the end that swinging it like a jump rope would do the trick. Oh, and let me just mention something I read in another recipe. Be sure to put the baking soda in the water before you boil it. Do not, repeat do not, add it to the boiling water. It will bubble up and make a mess on your stove that will not make you happy.

Unlike these warm, chewy, tasty pretzels, perfect with some mustard and a beer.
Except I gave up beer for Lent....

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


  1. Yay you!!! Nothing is better than a homemade soft pretzel! I've always used baking soda in the water -- I think I learned that trick in HomeEc way back in 19#*. See yeast isn't scary! Now you have me craving pretzels and thank goodness I don't have to give up anything in the spring. Beer here I come!

    1. Do you think I could have used more exclamation marks?

    2. first, it is mean to rub in the beer issue.
      second, there are, in fact, a place or two you could have added another exclamation mark. I am disappointed in you!! ;-)

  2. Oh Caite, I can't wait to move in with you some day. Because I **am** invited, right? And you will be the cook? And I will, um, yes! I will read aloud to you while you prepare our meals!

  3. I love soft pretzels! I have never tried to make them before. It has always looked too daunting but your turned out beautiful! I may have to give this a try. Thanks for sharing!
    Rebecca @ The Key to the Gate

  4. I have never tried making soft pretzels before but now I'm seriously tempted to try. And I never knew about their religious associations. Thanks for sharing!

    P.S. A lye bath does sound a tad terrifying to me too.

  5. I love soft pretzels, but would neer have thought of making homemade pretzels. They look delicious. Thanks for sharing the recipe, Caite! Hope you have a great weekend!

  6. I love soft pretzels too, but had never thought of making my own. You did a great job here; yours look delicious! Also laughed at your comment about swinging the dough like a jump rope. :D

  7. I haven't had a homemade pretzel since I lived in PA. And only native Pennsylvanians call the state PA! Looks great and since I have a new mixer, this will go in my fat To Try folder.

    1. I am a Jersey Girl, born and bred but there are some great things from PA..cheesesteaks..soft pretzels...Yuengling beer

  8. I just bought Pennsylvania brick oven pretzels yesterday at the Italian grocery store. I am not brave enough to make them myself, yours look so fantastic.

  9. I've actually made soft pretzels before but mine didn't look as pretty as yours.

  10. I am going to try these! I don't mind yeasted bread recipes but they usually take too long. Thanks for mentioning the tip about not adding the baking soda to the boiling water. I've noticed sometimes salt can explode a little when added to boiling water, too, but not so messily!

  11. They turned out fabulous!

    I wonder what my kids would do if I took to hiding pretzels on Easter instead of candy eggs? I think they informed me last year that they were too old for the Easter Bunny, anyway, so this could be the perfect time to make that transition...

  12. Lye...seriously?! I'm having trouble getting past that one.

    Seriously, I love pretzels but have never attempted them myself. You've convinced to to give it a try!

  13. How clever you are to make your own! Have a great week.

  14. Hi Caite,

    I have not, nor would ever, attempt to make pretzels myself, although unlike many 'Brits', I do like pretzels a lot.

    It is a little ironic that the pretzel is so synonymous with Philadelphia, as my favourite way to eat them, is either as they are, or toasted, split and spread liberally with 'Philadelphia Cheese'.

    This is always a treat I enjoy for breakfast, whenever we visit the US, but just doesn't taste the same, with the pretzels we can buy over here.

    Thanks for sharing such an interesting post and I hope that you are having a good weekend.


  15. Thank you for sharing this recipe - can't wait to give it a try! I haven't had a good soft pretzel is a long while!

  16. I love it! I have never tried these. I guess I will have to be brave and just do it!

  17. Pretzels are not something I've tried to make, but these look so good. Such an appealing color.

    1. I think that is from the baking soda bath...

  18. oh .. looks good ... a lot of work but i am sure you're sharing those .. right?

  19. Your pretzel looks delicious!! I guess you only made one?? You didn't bring any over for us to try yesterday :( . Oh well, we can't complain since you made an absolutely delicious dinner yesterday of Chicken Cordon Bleu w/a lovely gracy- rice - creamed caulifower - peas - turnips and rolls with apple tarts for dessert!! Next time maybe we can get a pretzel!!

    1. The recipe actually made eight..I ate two and froze the rest.
      I will make you some fresh ones one day.

  20. What a terrific post. I had no idea of the religious significance of pretzels. Thanks so much for the recipe and the tips. Is it the recipe for bagels?


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