I live less than 30 minutes from Philadelphia which, according to official rules, makes me a Philadelphian. It’s because of this close proximity that I totally get to claim the city’s food as my own and that includes the venerable soft pretzel. Now I know what you’re probably imagining–the kind of pretzels you get from some loud, bombastic street hawker selling pretzels at some sketchy roadside food cart–but you’re wrong. (By the way, those sketchy food carts are kinda awesome.)
If you’re not familiar with the Amish, they’re pretty much master bakers (and master quilters…and master builders) and in my corner of the world, they’re quite famous for their pretzels. Slightly crispy on the outside with a soft and chewy inside, they get a healthy sprinkling of salt and brushed (sometimes fully submerged) in melted butter. The result is a delightfully salty, greasy mess. I take every opportunity to grab one (or three) when I’m at my local farmers market or the famous Miller’s Twist at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.
I never knew how easy they were to replicate at home. Try this recipe and you may never purchase another store-bought pretzel again.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees and line a large baking sheet or two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Combine yeast with warm water and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with hook attachment. Once mixture becomes “frothy,” the yeast is ready. Stir in salt and 1 tbs of melted butter. Add flour 1 cup at a time until a dough forms and is no longer sticky. You may need more or less depending on temperature differences. If you press your finger into the dough and it bounces back, it’s ready to knead. Knead dough for 5 more minutes until smooth and pliable. Form dough into a ball and place it back into the bowl to rest for 15 minutes; cover with a tea towel. During this time, prepare the baking soda bath.
In a medium sized pot, boil 2 cups of water with 4 tbs of baking soda. Once the baking soda is mostly dissolved, take mixture off heat and allow it to come down to a lukewarm temperature. Pour into a 9×9 baking dish once cooled down.
At this time, 15 minutes of dough resting time should be up. Take dough out of the bowl and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand. Cut dough into 8 sections (like logs). Roll each log into a long rope, about 19-20 inches long. Shape dough into pretzel shape and place in baking soda bath for 2 minutes. If the whole pretzel isn’t covered by the water, spoon it on top of the areas is doesn’t reach. Once the 2 minutes is up, carefully pick pretzel up either by your hand or with the help of a spatula and place on prepared baking sheet. You may have to re-shape slightly. Sprinkle the pretzel with coarse salt while still wet (optional). Repeat these steps until all 8 pretzels are prepared and on the baking sheet(s).
Bake pretzels for 8-9 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately from the oven, brush (heavily) with 6 tbs of melted butter.
These homemade soft pretzels are best served hot and fresh out of the oven but will keep for about 2 days stored at room temperature in an airtight container. A few seconds in the microwave and they’re good as new!