There are a few secret recipes in my family that I would be drawn and quartered if I shared. This is not one of those, but it is by far the most popular thing I have ever made, far outpacing both the secret gingersnaps and the secret peanut brittle, which makes me very happy.
Every Thanksgiving we share the day with friends and have an old school pot luck T-day. I brought warm pretzels and halfway through dinner someone stood up asked who brought them and would I share the recipe?. So here it is in all its tasty glory. I have included photos and a step-by-description for those who would like to give them a try but have not yet ventured into the land of making bread with yeast in it. I also put the full recipe at the very bottom for those who are experienced and want to skip over the handholding part.
These are great fun to roll out with kids and the recipe doubles and triples easily, just write down the new measurements before you start, experience speaking there. Try them with hot sweet spicy mustard or just slathered in butter. They are best warm but that’s fine because the whole batch will disappear before you know what happened.
This recipe makes about 12 large pretzels. Begin by making your “sponge”, that’s what the pros call the wet mixture with yeast and yeast food in it. In this case, open 2 packages of yeast, (I always use dried yeast because its easiest) and sprinkle it in your biggest mixing bowl. Add to that 2 cups of really warm water. Warm not boiling hot, you want to start the yeast not kill it. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar (that’s the yeast food) and whisk this mixture well. Add 4 tablespoons of salad oil and 3 cups of unsifted flour. You can whisk this mixture but you’ll notice its starting to get pretty thick and not whiskable about now.
Take the whisk out and prepare to get your hands dirty. Anything that will get gooey–like your diamond ring, you might want to remove until this part is over. Add about 2-4 cups more flour and mix it in well with your hands. You are creating a kneadable dough by mixing with your hands, much easier than a spoon, trust me. I always wind up with the full four cups of flour myself and just work harder to work it in.
Sprinkle some flour on your counter top and dump the dough out after you have made most of it stick together by working it with your hands. It is going to stick to you like crazy and glob up on your hands, until you get enough flour in to turn it into dough, at which point it sticks to itself not you.
I’m so short I have to stand on a stool to knead dough. My fantasy is a shorter counter in my kitchen but I’m pretty sure the reality is keep a stool handy. Kneading dough is a zen thing. All the books say ten minutes, but if I kneaded dough for ten minutes I’d be so tired I needed a nap. The goal is to turn this lump of warty looking stuff with bits falling off of it into a smooth elastic ball.
Put the lump in front of you, lean on the front of it with all your weight on the palms of your hands. Push the dough away from you with that weight on it. Turn the lump a quarter turn and go back and do it again. Keep turning and pushing, developing a kind of rocking motion. Its very zen and after a few minutes it feels pretty rhythmic and and accomplished. When you can roll the dough into a ball and it doesn’t pull apart into pieces but stretches like dough elastic, you are there, usually around five minutes, maybe more for beginners until you figure out you do have rhythm.
Trick: Get another bowl out, oil the bottom and the sides, use your hands, you are already covered with flour up to your elbows. Dump your ball of dough in the bowl upside down. Roll it over and you have just oiled the dough and the bowl and they won’t stick to each other as the dough rises.
Cover the dough with a clean dish towel and put it somewhere warm away from drafts for an hour or two. I have been known to heat the oven to 200 degrees and then turn it off with the door open putting my dough in there to rise, just don’t forget its there. Now, go find a beverage and relax for an hour or two. That’s the end of phase one.
PHASE TWO: Pretzel Prep.
Get out your cookie sheets. If you don’t have a Silpat, you should buy one or two. They are horrendously expensive, like 20 bucks each but they will save your life and make you happy when it comes time to clean up.. My cookie sheets are six years old and so are my Silpats. The Silpats look like crap now but still work great. The cookie sheets look like I bought them last week. NOTHING sticks! Nothing, seriously. Sadly, if you are Silpat-less, oil the bejeebers out of your cookie sheets.
Go get your dough and admire it one more time before you punch it in the middle with your fist. It will deflate but it will rise again when you get down to rolling it out.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, put the deflated dough aside and get a good-sized STAINLESS STEEL pot out. Not aluminum. Measure about 8-10 cups of water into it and add one tablespoon of baking soda for every cup of water in the pot. Heat this to boiling while you roll your pretzels. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and let it get up to temperature while you roll out the pretzels.
Take your sad deflated dough and yank a chunk off of it. I am not sure how to describe the amount that works best in terms for publication. Experiment to find out what works best for you. Roll it out into a very long ‘snake’. I have included a how to fold up a pretzel chart because the first time I did it I was really confused. Your ‘snake’ should be about 16 inches long the thickness of a kid’s fat Crayola crayon, not the regular skinny kind. Do the pretzel roll and put it the finished pretzel on your prepared cookie sheet.
By now the soda water should be boiling, set the heat to just maintain a boil. When you have two full sheets of pretzels (one for each rack of your oven) get a slotted utensil, spatula or spoon both work, and lower a rolled pretzel into the boiling water. Ten seconds on one side, flip it over in the water and give it another ten. Fish it out put it back on the cookie sheet and do the same thing with all of your pretzels. The soda boil is what makes a pretzel a pretzel and not just a piece of bread.
When they have all had their bath–which is what gives that wonderful pretzel flavor and color as I mentioned, sprinkle them with salt or poppy or sesame seeds. I love pink Hawaiian salt so that is what I used for these.
When they are salted and ready to bake, slide them into the oven. I always pull them out after ten minutes and switch racks. Bottom goes on top and the ones on the top move to the bottom, this makes sure they all come out the same doneness on the tops and bottoms.
Another 4-6 minutes and you can get the hotpads and fish out the goldern brown pretzels out to cool while fighting the clan off at the same time. Move them to a rack to cool just a little and dig in.
If you have doubled or tripled your batch, after you pull out the first batch and moved them to cool, do the whole thing again. Just keep on rolling and baking two racks at a time until you are done, stopping to enjoy a few tasty morsels on the way.
Try these with soup in the winter for dinner. Slather them with butter and serve with a big bowl of homemade soup, yum. Alternatively, bake them while everyone is out of the house and eat all twelve. Yes, they are that good. Best of all? These tasty treats are stupid easy with no sifting and very few ingredients.
THE RECIPE: PRETZELS
2 pkgs dried yeast, 2 cups warm water, 3 cups flour, 4 tablespoons salad oil, 2 tablespoons sugar.
Approx 2-4 cups more flour as needed, rock salt or sesame or poppy seeds. 8 cups water, 8 tablespoons soda, STAINLESS STEEL pot/pan for boiling pretzels (note: you can use more or less water, just use 1 tablespoon of soda for every cup of water).
Whisk yeast, warm water, sugar, and salad oil together in bowl. Stir in 3 cups unsifted flour and mix thoroughly. Work in 2-4 more cups flour (as needed) to make kneadable dough.
Turn dough out on floured surface and knead until smooth and pliable. Put in an oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place, about two hours.
When ready to proceed: Put water and soda in pot/pan and bring to a boil, preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Use Silpats or thoroughly grease cookie sheets.
Punch down dough and pull off pieces and roll into long (approx. 14″) rolls, twist into a pretzel shape and place on prepared pan. When two cookie sheets are filled (12 pretzels) put each pretzel into the boiling soda water for ten seconds on each side. Lift and drain and place back on cookie sheet. Do this with all pretzels until sheets are filled. Sprinkle with salt or seeds and bake in preheated oven for a total of 12-15 minutes until golden brown. If doubling or tripling recipe, simply repeat process until all dough is used. Serve warm.