Up until I joined with Hartwood Grove, I took the ‘cakes’ part of ‘Cakes and Ale’ pretty seriously. If I was going to be doing a ritual, you could be pretty well assured that I’d be making cookies the afternoon before the ritual. However, some people in HG really preferred to watch their sugar intake, which put the kibosh on my cookie habit.
For awhile I struggled with what savory foods I could do in lieu of cookies that would still afford their conveniences: quick and easy preparation, able to be stored well for at least 24 hours, delicious at room temperature, low-mess to eat, and not requiring any special utensils, plates, or napkins.
I’m pleased to say I now have a whole arsenal of savory recipes at my disposal, but my most favorite to prepare for a crowd are these soft pretzels.
I have to admit that these pretzels are not my all-time favorite pretzels. Alas, this recipe skips poaching the formed pretzels in a baking soda/water solution prior to baking, so they don’t develop that chewy, mahogany exterior that screams “pretzel!” to me. However, they are pretty darn good in their own right, and I have a feeling that people who love “Auntie Annie’s”-style pretzels would completely adore them. Better still, this recipe tolerates a good portion of whole wheat flour, so there’s no great need to make these a refined white flour bomb. In fact, I prefer these pretzels made with half white and half whole wheat flour. (I also prefer them at room temperature instead of oven-warmed, which is a definite bonus when they’ll be sitting on the altar for an hour or so while ritual happens.)
In my opinion, though, the best part about these pretzels is that they have a time commitment that’s exactly what it takes to whip out a batch of drop cookies: 30 minutes. Despite the fact that these pretzels are a yeast bread, you don’t have to punch down a dough or wait hours for it to rise. If you have a stand mixer, you don’t even have to expend muscle energy to knead the dough for 5 minutes. The most laborious part of the whole process is rolling out the ropes of dough. Easy, right?
In 30 minutes, you’ve got (potentially) healthy, savory ‘cakes’ for an entire coven. Can’t really beat that, can you?
30-Minute Homemade Soft Pretzels
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon (or 1 envelope) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 – 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or mix of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour)
1 large egg
course sea salt for sprinkling
- Preheat oven to 425°F degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Set aside.
- Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir with a spoon until fairly mixed, about 1 minute. Some clusters of yeast will remain. Add salt and sugar; stir until fairly combined. Slowly add flour, 1 cup at a time. Mix with a wooden spoon until dough is thick. Continue to add more flour until dough is no longer sticky. Poke the dough with your finger – if it bounces back, it is ready to knead.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes and shape into a ball. With a sharp knife, cut ball of dough into 1/3 cup sections. This measurement does not have to be exact – use as much or little dough for each pretzel as you wish – the size of the pretzel is completely up to you.
- Roll the dough into a rope with an even diameter. A 20-inch long rope will give you ample space to twist the pretzels and still have open spaces after they rise in the oven. Once you have your long rope, take the ends and draw them together so the dough forms a circle. Twist the ends, then bring them towards yourself and press them down into a pretzel shape.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg and pour into a shallow bowl or pie dish. Dunk the shaped pretzel into the egg wash, or use a pastry brush to brush the wash on. Place the pretzel on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 425°F degrees. Turn the oven to broil for the last 5 minutes to brown the tops. Watch closely to avoid burning.
- Allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Pretzels may be stored in an airtight container or zipped top bag for up to 4 days (will lose softness). Pretzels freeze well.
I’ve noticed that this recipe is almost identical to Alton Brown’s Homemade Soft Pretzels. The only differences here are that Alton adds a couple ounces of butter to his dough, includes an hour or so of ‘rise time’, bakes the pretzels 25°F hotter, omits the egg wash, and poaches them in that baking soda solution before baking. I’m sure his tweaks make an already great pretzel recipe tons better!