I find baking rather therapuetic. Especially at this time of year when I’m looking for something productive to do at the weekend after the weather has derailed my other plans. Making bread, cakes and pastries gives you a real sense of achievement. As well as providing something nice and tasty for lunch or tea. Let’s face it who doesn’t love a freshly baked roll, still warm from the oven?
These pretzels certainly weren’t planned in advance, like a lot of the food I cook. Michael and I were recovering from having rather nasty New Year colds and I made them to cheer us both up. I always like to have the basic ingredients in the house so that I can bake us happy at a moment’s notice! I couldn’t decide between bread or cakes, so had a quick look online for ideas. As soon as I mentioned the word “pretels” Michael’s face lit up. He’s a big fan of them and I’m a good husband – how could I say no?
Part of me was daunted by the fact that Michael is a bit of a pretzel aficionado. I know that he’d be happy to try them, out of politeness if nothing else, but if they didn’t live up to expectations I knew he wouldn’t sugar the pill. A few years ago in New York we spent a morning looking for some decent pretzels and were sorely disappointed by what we ended up with. I think it slightly tarnished the whole trip for him…
Anyway, on to the pretzels themselves. The good news if you want to make your own is that they’re pretty straightforward. The base is a yeasted bread dough, with some added butter and sugar. I chose to make these with vegetable fat – to see if a vegan pretzel would taste as good as a traditional one. (Spoiler alert: yes, it does). The trick here is to knead the dough thoroughly and ensure it’s smooth and springy before it proves.
As I’ve mentioned before, my very kind parents bought us (well, me) a stand mixer for Christmas. This has revolutionised my bread making. As nice as it is to take your anger out on a ball of dough it’s so much nicer to watch a machine do it. Indeed, in the 5 minutes it took to knead the dough I managed to make a cup of tea and empty the dishwasher. A much better use of my time!
After the dough has had its first prove it’s time to shape your pretzels. The first step is to divide the dough into roughly equal portions. It’s then rolled out into long thin pieces, a bit like a very long breadstick, before being formed into the classic pretzel shape. The dough that this recipes makes is very springy, so stretching it and rolling it out takes a bit of work. However, I think that its difficult nature now is worth it in the end result. Persist with it – trust me!
The shaped pretzels are then left to prove for a further 10-15 minutes, whilst the water bath comes to the boil. This solution of bicarbonate of soda and water is what forms the golden brown outer crust on the finished knots of dough. The pretzels only need 20-30 seconds on each side, during which they will slightly swell and soften.
From here it’s just a case of popping them onto a lined baking sheet and into a hot oven. Before baking you can add coarse salt crystals or leave the pretzels plain – it’s up to you. Personally, I love the crunch of salt against the softness of the bread, as you can tell from the pictures. However, I also tried making a few sweet ones. These were baked plain and then rolled in cinnamon sugar afterwards. They were also delicious!
So, there you have it. Lovely golden brown pretzels that are easy to make and are bound to impress everyone you know. This recipe gives a wonderful light texture, with a little bit of chewiness – perfection in my eyes. The flavour is also spot on – whether you have them sweet or savoury.
My one note would be that these really are best enjoyed fresh. Even stored in an airtight container they felt a bit past their best by the following lunchtime. They perked up well with a spritz of water and a few minutes in a hot oven – but weren’t quite as good as the day they were made. Indeed, if you want to prepare them in advance I’d suggest freezing the dough after shaping it. You can then boil and bake them when needed.
Or, failing that, I can recommend toasting a slightly stale pretzel and topping it with some strong cheddar cheese. I know it slightly undermines making them vegan in the first place, but hey ho.
- 500 g Strong White Flour
- 7 g Fast Action Yeast
- 2 tsp Salt
- 300 ml Warm Water
- 50 g Vegetable Fat I used Trex
- 2 tbsp Soft Dark Brown Sugar
- 60 g Bicarbonate of Soda
- Coarse Sea Salt optional
- Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast to one side of the bowl and the salt to the other.
- Meanwhile, measure the warm water into a separate jug or bowl. Add the vegetable fat and sugar, then stir until dissolved.
- Make a well into the centre of the flour and pour in the water mixture. Use your hands or a spoon to mix the water into the flour until it starts to come together as a dough.
- Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes by hand until it becomes smooth and springy. When the dough loses its sticky surface it should be ready. You can also knead the dough in a stand mixer for 5-6 minutes if you prefer (which I certainly do!).
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film or a damp tea towel. Put into a warm, draught free place and allow the dough to prove for an hour. It should double in size during this time.
- When proved, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into eight equal portions. Roll each portion out to form a long thin piece of dough around 40cm in length. Depending on your dough this may take a little more time than you first think, especially as it can be quite springy. When you have a long thin piece of dough fold it into a pretzel shape (see photos) and put to one side. If you have time you can loosely cover the pretzels at this stage and allow the dough to prove for a second time, up to around 15 minutes.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°. Line two large baking sheets with non-stick baking paper.
- Mix the bicarbonate of soda with approximately 2 litres of water. Pour into a large saucepan and bring to a slow boil.
- When boiling, carefully add the pretzels to the saucepan and blanch for 20-30 seconds on each side. When you first add them they will sink to the bottom, then rise back to the top. Turn them over carefully and remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon. Shake off any excess water, then place onto the prepared baking sheet.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of coarse sea salt over the top of the pretzels, if you want them savoury, or leave them as they are if you want them sweet.
- Transfer to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the outside turns dark golden brown.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container until needed.
|Estimated Values per Serving|
|of which Saturates||2||g|
|of which Sugars||4||g|
|Note: Nutritional information shown is per serving of the above recipe. Any side dishes or garnishes shown in photos are not included in these values, unless they are specifically listed as part of the recipe.|