Full disclosure: this one is kind of boring. It’s boring because it was straight forward and it turned out fine and I didn’t lose my phone or wrangle family into helping or add twice the amount of flour or any of my usual melodramas. The closest I came to a misstep was trying to twist the pretzels while multi-tasking on a phone call and doing something odd which resulted in a not-quite-pretzel shape. I remedied this with efficiency by untwisting the misshapen lumps and retwisting them correctly. It lacked drama.
I suppose I learned a few things, broadly speaking. Firstly, I now know about what makes pretzels pretzel-y. Like bagels, they do a stint in poaching liquid which helps give them that brown outside and chew when they bake (at least that’s what I think it does…maybe I didn’t learn anything after all). In legit pretzel enterprises this poaching liquid contains lye, which is apparently a poison and one of those ‘for professionals only’ kind of situations. No thank you. The home cook workaround is to use the much more benign baking soda + sugar combo. Yes please. This mixture is prone to making a mess, which, I don’t know, just be aware of? Baking is always kind of messy in my opinion – flour on bench tops (and all over me), bits of dough that fly the coup, dry ingredient dust that settles on everything – so I’m not sure that this recipe calls for more mess-acceptance than usual.
The second thing I ‘learned’ is that while this recipe looks fairly quick (1 hour rise + 15 minute rise + 15 minute bake = 2 hours max!) there are some hidden time costs. Rolling 32 equal-size miniature soft pretzels takes a wee while. I don’t know exactly how long because after I did 16 I couldn’t stomach doing 16 more and made the other half of the dough into 8 larger pretzels instead. I reckon I spent a good 20 minutes on that stage. The other time trap is the poaching itself – each pretzel wants a minute on each side in the liquid, but you can only do 3-4 at a time. Basically if you have 32 (I didn’t, but you know, you could) and you do batches of 4 and you’re as efficient as you can be (you won’t be because having to keep doing things every minute on the minute is exhausting) then you’ve got 20 minutes (16 if you somehow waste no time, which is basically impossible). So that’s 40 minutes that isn’t immediately obvious from looking at the recipe and which you should be aware of.
The last thing I learned was more of a reminder and it’s just that I am weird. Specifically, I am weird about which aspects of a recipe I want to follow meticulously and which ones I consider flexible. In this example I was meticulous about ensuring that all my pretzels were the same weight – each of the smaller ones was 37g (with a max 2g deviation), each of the larger one was 115g. I was not meticulous about rolling the pretzels into the same length of dough strip before twisting. Smitten Kitchen (yes, I once again ignored all my cookbooks and went back to this well) suggests 18 inches, but I didn’t even bother to google the metric conversion. As a result, while all my pretzels might have the same amount of dough the sizes varied wildly. Rustic charm? Perhaps. Urban laziness? Definitely.
Care of ever-reliable Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen
Makes 32 miniature or 16 regular sized pretzels. Or 16 miniature AND 8 regular sized. OR 8 miniature AND 12 regular sized. You get the idea…
2C warm water
1 tbsp + 2 tbsp sugar
1x 7g packet active dried yeast
5-6C all purpose flour + more for dusting
1 tbsp salt
¼C baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse/pretzel salt or flaky sea salt (I used Maldon and it was quite fine)
I mixed completely by hand – Smitten Kitchen has instructions for a mixer if you’d prefer, but it’s totally not necessary here.
You can start this the day before (as I did) by doing everything up to the poaching process and leaving your shaped pretzels in the fridge overnight.
Combine the water, single tablespoon of sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Leave for 10 minutes until frothy.
Add 1 cup of flour to the yeast mixture and stir to combine with a wooden spoon. Add 4 more cups of flour and the salt and mix until a dough forms. I switched to using my hands at this point and keep mixing the bowl. Add another ½ cup of flour to the dough and mix further – if you’re still experiencing stickiness then add the final ½ cup. Knead until combined, then turn out onto a floured bench and knead a bit more until dough feels smooth (I found this happened very quickly and that the dough was quite soft and lovely).
Clean out your mixing bowl and coat the sides with oil. Deb recommends canola/another neutral oil, but I used olive oil and no one was harmed. Return your dough to the bowl and roll it around in the oil so it’s coated. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.
Prepare a baking tray (or trays) by lining them with baking paper.
Once the dough is risen then knock it back and get ready for the rolling. I worked with half the dough at a time to minimise the risk of the pieces drying out.
Take the first half of the dough out of the bowl and cover the remainder with a tea towel. Split the dough into equal pieces (either 8 for regular size or 16 for small size). While you’re not working with them it helps to keep the other pieces covered. Deb recommends wrapping each in plastic wrap, but if you’re working quickly and the dough was well oiled then you will likely be fine cover them with a tea towel.
Take each piece of dough and roll it into a long thin strip (approx 18 inches apparently, but I didn’t concern myself with that), then turn the ends up so the dough is in a U-shape. Twist the ends around each other a couple of times and then fold them back onto the bottom of the U. Basically copy this much more informative set of instructions on wikiHow.
Place each pretzel onto the prepared baking tray and cover with a tea towel while you work on the others. Once your tray is full then cover it loosely with cling film sprayed with cooking spray.
Either: leave to rise for 15 minutes, if you’re going to bake them on the same day.
Or: put the baking tray/s in the fridge overnight. Remove them 10 minutes before you want to resume the next day.
Preheat your oven to 230°C/210°C Fan.
Prepare your poaching liquid by filling a large shallow pan (I used a wok) with a couple of inches of water. Bring the water to the boil and then add your baking soda (it’s foamy, so step back) and sugar. Turn the heat down to a simmer.
Poach your pretzels in batches of 3-4. Add to the liquid and cook for 1 minute, then, using a slotted spoon or spatula, flip them over and poach for another minute on the other side. Remove them to a tray lined with baking paper and repeat with the remaining pretzels.
Beat your egg together with about a tablespoon of water. Brush all the pretzels with this egg glaze and then sprinkle liberally with salt.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown and irresistable-smelling. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Like everything bready these are best eaten on the same day, but if you do have leftovers then it’s apparently key to store them uncovered at room temperature, as covering makes them soggy.