Soft Pretzel Bites
In the time B.C.19, I traveled to Pacific Palisades to help wish my niece good travels as she returned to Australia for vet school. One evening, the family visited a neighbor’s home where I encountered a blast from my 70’s childhood: cheese fondue. But it was never as amazing as this. Smooth raclette cheese was paired with fresh vegetables and a local shop’s unbelievable pretzel bread. Dip after dip with that iconic long fork was simple and luxurious at once. But that bread! I soon found myself nibbling away at the bread alone.
Back home, I dreamt of the bread on and off for months as the Covid lockdown started. Almost a year passed, and I was really craving soft pretzels. After scouring the internet for ideas, I fell upon a recipe by Two Peas & Their Pod. The recipe includes the boiling step–important to creating the puff and crispiness necessary for the chewy interior. Because we bake in an apartment kitchen with a temperamental oven and do not have a stand mixer, this is a riff on their recipe.
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4 ½ to 5 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
- Vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup baking soda
- 1 egg white beaten with 1/2 tablespoon cold water
- Kosher salt
Combine the 1 ½ cups water, sugar, yeast, and butter in a metal bowl and stir until combined. Let sit for 5 minutes or so to allow the yeast to activate, and the mix begins to foam.
Add the salt and flour in 1/2 cup intervals while mixing with a pastry blender (or utensil of your choice). Once 4 1/2 cups are incorporated, and the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, dump the dough onto a lightly floured flat surface to begin kneading in a ball for about 5-7 minutes. The dough should be quite firm and slightly tacky, but not sticky. If the dough is sticky, knead the flour in 1 Tbsp. at a time until the dough is smooth.
Oil a bowl with vegetable oil, add the dough, and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap leaving a small vent along the side. If you live where humidity is low (lucky you!), dampen a clean towel and place that over the dough. Place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size. While most recipes say this takes an hour, we both had work to do and left it for 5 hours. The extra proofing worked wonderfully, so we are sticking to it.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bring the 2 1/2-3 quarts of water to a boil in a medium-sized pasta pot over high heat and add the baking soda in 3 batches. The reaction will cause the water to boil over, so add slowly.
While you are waiting for the water to boil, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope measuring approximately 20 inches long and 3/4″ in diameter. Cut the dough into one-inch pieces with a pastry scraper or kitchen shears. Once the pretzels hit the baking soda water, they will puff to almost twice the original size, so consider what size you would like as the end product.
Slide small batches (approximately 15 pieces) into the boiling water and boil the pretzel bites in the water solution for about 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon, being sure to drain well. Place pretzel bites on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray, making sure they are not touching each other. Brush the tops with the egg white wash and season liberally with kosher salt. Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown. We had to rotate the pans at 13 minutes because our oven doesn’t heat evenly, but it all worked in the end.
Serve with cheese dip and an assortment of mustards (we loved French’s yellow) and pair with Lagunitas IPA.