Alternate title: So Easy a Middle Schooler Could Make Them. Seriously. My middle school students make this exact recipe. Now, there are plenty of simple recipes that my middle schoolers make that I wouldn’t deem bloggable, but this is not one. These pretzels have a crisp exterior with a chewy center; the flavor has just a hint of sweetness which offsets the salt so well. I considered playing with additions but then I thought, why mess with perfection?
In my elementary school every Thursday was “pretzel day” (my small Christian school didn’t have a cafeteria) and it was pretty much the best day ever. If you brought your quarter you could get one of those Philly soft pretzels that came all stuck together in a row. They’d arrive at the classroom in a brown paper bag and I remember a real stressor in my life at that time was that I couldn’t seem to avoid getting mustard on my shirt. Oh but life used to be simple.
I’ve avoided making my own soft pretzels in the past only because I couldn’t nail the twist and didn’t feel like googling it again. After teaching it to a group of 12-year-olds I think it’s been permanently burned into my brain. The yeast dough is basic but what sets a soft pretzel apart from say, a dinner roll, is that it takes a dip in baking-soda-water before being baked. This helps with the crust formation as well as the color. It’s crucial, don’t skip.
This recipe makes just 8 medium pretzels; I froze the ones we didn’t immediately eat in pairs in ziplock bags, thinking we’d get to them another time. A whopping 24 hours later my husband had taken all 6 pretzels out of the freezer, toasted them, and ate them. Just to test the flavor post-freeze I had a nibble and if possible, they were even better. If reheating frozen pretzels for a crowd I would place them on a foil-lined baking sheet and heat them for about 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees.
Simple Soft Pretzels
1/2 c. warm water
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 2/3 all purpose flour
1 tsp. quick or rapid rise yeast*
2 tbsp. baking soda
3 c. water
kosher salt, to taste
*If you only have active dry, don’t despair! Just add the yeast to the warm water (along with the brown sugar) and let soften for about five minutes before mixing it into the flour.
1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour and yeast until combined.
2. Add brown sugar to warm water and stir to combine.
3. Add water/brown sugar mixture to flour/yeast and stir until mixture forms a ball.
4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surfaced and knead until smooth, tacky and elastic (about five full minutes). You can use a standing mixer with dough hook attachment).
5. Spray a bowl with nonstick spray and place dough inside. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rest in a warm place for about 1 hour. At school we let the dough rest overnight in the fridge – you can do this too!).
6. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place water and baking soda to simmer in a skillet. While you’re waiting, transfer dough to counter and divide into eight equal parts. Roll each part to a 15 inch rope, then shape into pretzel following these photos.
Form a “U”
Twist it once…
Twist it twice…
Then pull those ends down to the bottom of that teardrop shape…
And then fix it so it looks more like a pretzel..
7. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment or foil. If using foil, spray with nonstick spray. Lower formed pretzels into water and simmer for 30 seconds (you can simmer multiple pretzels if they fit in your skillet). Use a slotted spatula to scoop pretzels out of the water and place on prepared pan. Immediately sprinkle with kosher salt.
8. Once all the pretzels have simmered in the water, bake in preheated oven for 8 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool slightly. Serve.