Some foods have the ability to conjure up different expectations for different folks. I believe that pretzels are one such food. In my youth [as if 25 is soooo old and decrepit], I only ate pretzels that came in a bag. Why? I’m not sure, except to say that my mom sometimes purchased said pretzels [fascinating, I know :)]. And truth be told, I didn’t even really like them… especially after building a log cabin in 5th grade out of cheez-wiz and pretzel rods… blech!
However, my husband is of a different breed. He loves the shopping mall classic: hot, soft pretzels, complete with gooey cheese, spicy marinara, and/or rich frosting for his dipping pleasure. My frugal self gasps at the outrageous prices of those mall establishments, and my desire to keep Ben healthy also cringes at the caloric and fat content of those babies as well. So one day I set out to make a healthier homemade version to take to our small group with others from our church. Ben even helped! We brought home an empty plate, and my husband couldn’t stop “sampling” them… and I even had a few myself! This recipe is great. We served them with nacho cheese sauce, but they are also great plain. Enjoy!
Bite Size Soft Pretzels [slightly adapted from a Food Network Magazine recipe]
- 1 cup skim milk
- 2 1/4 teaspoons [=1 package] active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- Crisco for greasing [butter or cooking spray should work too]
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/3 cup baking soda
- 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
Warm the milk in a saucepan until it reaches about 110 degrees. A candy thermometer can be used to measure this, or the warm milk can be tested on the inside of the wrist as with a baby bottle. Pour milk into a large bowl and slowly add the yeast. Let the milk and yeast rest for about 2 minutes, then stir in the flour and brown sugar with a wooden spoon. Dice 2 tablespoons butter, add to the flour mixture. Mix in remaining 1 1/4 cups flour and the fine salt. Dough should be sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface [we used the counter], and knead dough until it is smooth but still tacky. This should take about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, add to a greased bowl and cover with Saran wrap and a dish towel. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, approximately an hour. My kitchen isn’t the warmest spot, so I left it resting in a sink full of warm water.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a large baking sheet. A hot oven is essential for proper baking of these pretzels. After dough has doubled, punch the dough to deflate [Ben enjoyed this part!]. My dough was fine, but if the dough is “tight,” cover and let rest for a few minutes until it relaxes. Divide the dough into 6 pieces so it is easier to work with, and roll and stretch each piece into logs that are approximately 1 inch in diameter. Using your fingers or a butter knife, section off the logs into about five or six pretzels each.
Dissolve the baking soda in 3 cups warm water in a shallow bowl. Dip each pretzel into the mixture, turning on all sides to coat thoroughly. Arrange 2 inches apart on baking sheet, and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Bake until slightly crisp yet still golden, about 10 minutes or so. Pretzels will darken somewhat as they cool.
Serve the pretzels warm or room temperature. For best results, serve within 2 days. If serving the day after, reheat in a 300 degree oven for a few minutes.