Oct 10, 2011
4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. white sugar
1 1/4 c. warm water (110F/45C)
5 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. white sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 c. baking soda
4 c. hot water
1/4 c. kosher salt, for topping
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tsp. sugar in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center; add the oil and yeast mixture. Mix and form into dough. If the mixture is dry, add one or two tablespoons of water. Knead the dough until smooth, about 7-8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours*.
Preheat oven to 400F (230C). In a large bowl, dissolve baking soda in hot water. When risen, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12-16 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope (at least 20-24" long – the dough will expand) and twist into a pretzel shape. Once all of the dough is all shaped, dip each pretzel into the baking soda solution and place on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake in preheated oven (Use a higher rack to prevent burning the pretzel bottoms.) for 8 minutes, until browned.
Why is baking soda solution necessary? Old world Germans used to dip their brezels (pretzels) in a solution of sodium hydroxide (lye) and water before baking. Lye is a very strong and caustic alkaline. Because most people aren't comfortable mixing lye and water to make pretzels, baking soda - a much weaker alkaline - is now used in most pretzel recipes. Once the pretzels begin baking, a 'Maillard reaction' occurs. This is a chemical reaction sort of like carmelization which allows the exterior crust to become a deep rich brown color. The reaction accelerates in an alkaline environment, which has been provided by the baking soda bath. The baking soda, and resulting reaction, is also responsible for the unique taste of a pretzel. Without the baking soda bath the pretzel exterior ends up pale/white, and taste more like bread. The baking soda step is paramount in making a pretzel a pretzel.
• Let dough rise in your oven, no heat, just turn on the oven light. This will provide a draft free, warm place for dough to double flawlessly. Also use a damp kitchen town instead of plastic wrap to cover bowl and you won't have a dry crust to your risen dough.
• When rolling out the dough, make them much thinner than you think (about the thickness of a finger, or a little less) because they puff up a lot.
• Bring the soda solution almost to a simmer and remove from heat. (I microwaved the mixture for about a minute and half) Soak the pretzels for about a minute, turning once. I did one pretzel at a time.
• Once baked, these freeze up really well. Just thaw and pop in the oven for a couple minutes for an awesome snack! Or, microwave fraozen pretzel for 30 seconds.
• These can be made using the dough hook on a mixer. Just add flour until the dough is no longer sticky.
• Brush with butter after they come out of the oven. It's what gives pretzels the shiny appearance and keeps them from becoming hard, like dough does after baking.