Wild Thistle Kitchen: Easy Soft Pretzels


I’m a big believer that the best things in life — and in the kitchen — are often the simplest. “Life’s simple pleasures” is a phrase for a reason.

This easy soft pretzel recipe is just one example of that. It really is the best … and the absolute simplest. Soft, buttery dough topped with salt or cinnamon sugar eaten warm from the oven? I mean, come on. My kids would literally eat these soft pretzels every day if I could keep up.

I think I started making these in 2018. One of our sons asked if I could make soft pretzels (like the infamous shopping mall variety) and I accepted the challenge. I can’t remember how many recipes I consulted, but the first one I made had me brush the pretzels with a baking soda and water mixture before baking. It was messy, gritty and really just didn’t do anything for me — or for the pretzels. So I got rid of that step, opting for an egg wash instead. I played with the sugar and salt ratios and added some butter to the dough.

This recipe makes 12 nice big pretzels, but I have also used it to make smaller pretzels, as well as pretzel buns. It is super versatile and really easy to work with.

As I wrote above, simple is best in my opinion. I love these plain with salt and I LOVE them brushed with butter and coated in cinnamon sugar. But if you want to get carried away, feel free to jazz up this recipe with add-ins, toppings and dipping sauces. Here are some of my suggestions.

Add these to your soft pretzel dough while mixing: chocolate chips, poppy seeds, vanilla bean paste, sprinkles, roasted garlic, dried fruit, chopped olives or diced pepperoni, cheese and herbs (pizza pretzels!).

And what should you top these soft pretzels with? Pretzel salt, pearled or coarse sugar, everything-bagel seasoning, za’atar seasoning, dried herbs, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sprinkle, shredded cheese or, after baking, cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar or cocoa powder.

And, finally, some dipping and drizzling options: mustard, cheese sauce, chocolate sauce, caramel, any veggie dip you love, marinara, hummus, cream cheese or frosting/glaze.

So many options! You really are only limited by your imagination. I think of bagel and doughnut flavors for inspiration when coming up with these ideas.

Now, regarding rolling and shaping …

I write this in the recipe, but I have found over the many times I’ve made this recipe that having damp hands while rolling the dough into ropes really makes the process easier. Many recipes for soft pretzels will tell you to use a lightly floured surface, but this just makes everything too dry and frictionless. So I keep a small dish of water nearby and very lightly dampen my hands a few times during the process. Roll from the middle out to the ends, constantly moving your hands forward and backward as you press down lightly and move outward. Just repeat this until you have a 24-inch rope.

I know 24 inches seems like an insanely long rope, but it really needs to be that long. These rise quite a bit in the oven, so if they start out too thick you will end up with buns, not pretzels. Not necessarily a bad thing — just a warning.

And speaking of buns …

If you want to turn these into pretzel buns, there are two options: either make a shorter rope — and therefore a much tighter pretzel, so you don’t have gaps or holes in the baked pretzel — or just roll the pieces of dough into balls and flatten them, as if you were making burger buns. I plan to do a recipe and guide just for pretzel buns, but for now just know that it really is as simple as that and I do it all the time.

This is such a simple yet versatile recipe. No matter which adventure you choose, you will end up with a soft, fluffy interior and a pleasantly chewy exterior.

And that’s pretty much it. I’m not sure why it took me nearly three years to share this, but, alas, it is done! Let me know if you make them.

xo — Anita

Easy Soft Pretzels

Prep Time: 2 hours

Cook Time: 9 minutes

Yield: 12 large soft pretzels

Ingredients

2 cups warm milk (100 to 110 degrees)

2 tablespoons brown sugar (or white sugar, honey or malt syrup if you’re really fancy)

3 teaspoons yeast

5 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ stick soft butter

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons water for the egg wash

Topping suggestions (see post above for a long list of add-ins, toppings and dipping ideas): pretzel salt, everything-bagel seasoning, cinnamon sugar, sesame seeds, poppy seeds

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine warm milk, sugar and yeast. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Add flour, butter and salt and mix until dough comes together. Continue kneading on low speed for 5 minutes, adding one tablespoon of flour at a time until dough pulls away from the sides and you have a firm, smooth, not sticky dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place for one hour.

Dump dough onto your work surface (I do this straight on my counter) and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope — about 24 inches. It helps to keep a bowl of water nearby for this. I have found working with slightly damp hands will help you roll the dough into a rope much easier than using flour, as many recipes suggest.

Cross the two ends over each other to form a circle with overlapping ends, twist once or twice (twice is my signature move) and bring the two points down to make a pretzel shape.

HERE is a useful video on shaping pretzels. I don’t flip them over like in the video, but you should feel free to do so. Once you do a couple, you’ll get the hang of it.

Place the shaped pretzels onto a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking tray. I usually do 4 to 6 per standard baking tray, since they do puff up. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with desired topping (see suggestions above). Bake in preheated oven for 9 minutes.

Notes

  • If you are going to brush the baked pretzels with melted butter and roll in cinnamon sugar or something similar, do not brush with egg wash before baking.
  • If you want to make these into pretzel buns, instead of rolling them into ropes, simply shape each piece into a ball, flatten slightly and bake as instructed.

Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Wild Thistle Kitchen.

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