With my German heritage came my love for pretzels. Like many iconic foods, the origins of the tender, salty treats are clouded in legend and anecdotes. One such story claims that an Italian monk shaped ropes of dough and baked them to resemble a praying child as a reward to his young students for saying their prayers. There is culinary evidence that brezels (German for pretzel) have been made and enjoyed for centuries in Germany and Bavaria. Whatever their origins, pretzels have become a beloved snack around the world.
As a perennial snack food, soft pretzels moved their way from bakeries to entertainment venues like circuses and carnivals. Food courts in most shopping malls have at least one shop that specializes in soft & hard pretzels in different flavors with a variety of yummy dips. There’s nothing like biting into a fresh, warm pretzel and savoring its imitable flavor notes of salt and yeasty sweetness. They are even better with a complementary sauce or dip!
If you enjoy pretzels as much as I do, you don’t have to wait until you go to the mall to get one. They are easy and fun to make at home! With common, inexpensive ingredients you usually keep in your pantry, you can make a batch of warm, salty pretzels in no time! After you get the hang of pretzel making, you can do a little experimenting with different styles and flavors to see what you like the best. Making pretzels is a fun project you can do with the kids. They get to learn valuable lessons in the kitchen and enjoy the tasty results. Allow me to share some of my best tips & tricks for making delicious homemade pretzels.
The original pretzels were the soft variety. Later, bakers found that if they baked the pretzels a little longer, they would turn into the crisp, crunchy delights we call “hard" pretzels. This primer deals with my favorite: the soft, buttery Bavarian-style ones.
Most soft pretzel recipes feature four basic pantry ingredients: flour, salt, sugar, and yeast—mixed with water. That’s it! Some recipes, like my Ballpark-Style Soft Pretzels, may call for milk and honey. Although you may see a few variations, the standard ingredients are the same.
Preparing the dough
You can still mix and knead your pretzel dough by hand the way it has been done for centuries. I prefer to save a little time (and elbow grease) by using my stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. It does an excellent job mixing and kneading.
Shaping & Rising
To get the classic pretzel shape, roll dough sections into ropes, create a circle, and criss-cross the ends toward the middle. This is the step that kids love to help do!
Pretzels have yeast and need time to rise. Find a warm place in the kitchen that is free from drafts. Cover your pretzel dough with a clean kitchen cloth (or plastic wrap) and let it rise according to the recipe’s timing.
Soft pretzels get their trademark sheen and chewy goodness from a quick dunk in boiling water mixed with a little baking soda before baking. This easy process gives pretzels the tender, shiny coating we all love. I use a slotted spoon to make this step quicker and easier.
Don’t Forget The Egg Wash & A Sprinkle Of Something Special (maybe)
For optimal browning, pretzels are brushed with butter (or an egg wash). Then, you sprinkle them with coarse salt, like Kosher or pretzel salt. Please note that some pretzel recipes do this step after they are baked. Modern topping variations include cinnamon & sugar, garlic & Parmesan, and Ranch-style seasoning. You are only limited by your preferences and imagination!
You will need a couple sheet pans to bake your pretzels. I line my sheet pans with Sil-pats, but you can still get great results with parchment paper. The secret to a golden-brown pretzel is a hot oven. After my oven dings to let me know it is preheated, I always wait about 15 minutes before adding the pretzels, since a substantial amount of heat is lost by just opening the oven. Most pretzel recipes require a preheated 450- degree oven. After they are baked, transfer your pretzels to wire racks to cool a bit. They are best served warm!
The only thing better than a homemade pretzel is an accompanying dip or sauce! Some of my favorites I am sharing include a classic German mustard dip and a savory Cheese & Beer Sauce. Like sweet pretzels? How about a tempting cream cheese icing dip or dark chocolate truffle cream? Consider creating a pretzel “bar" with a couple varieties of soft pretzels and some yummy dips. I like having an Oktoberfest-style pretzel bar with pretzels, dips, sauces, and plenty of German beers & ales. Try my scrumptious soft pretzel recipes and dip ideas and treat your family & friends to an honored snack tradition. The aroma of pretzels baking in the oven is absolute heaven! My helpful hints will add pretzel -making to your culinary repertoire.