A good soft pretzel recipe is something every mother should have in her repertoire. After all, kids love them, and they’re as much fun to make as they are to eat. Without a recipe to call my own, I scoured the Internet in search of the most appetizing recipe I could find. Two looked promising: the first was a traditional German-style soft pretzel, similar to the street vendor variety; the second, from Food Network, was supposedly a copy of Auntie Anne’s famous mall pretzels. I made both and then lined up a taste test panel of picky pretzel eaters (a.k.a. my kids, their friends and my husband). The Auntie Anne’s copy was the hands-down winner. The more traditional German-style pretzels were dense and chewy, much like they are on the street, but the replicas of Auntie Anne’s were light, a touch sweet, and deliciously buttery, much like they are at the mall. Bake them with your kids on a rainy day — they’ll love the fun, the mess and, of course, eating the finished product.
- 1 cup milk
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
- 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (2 tablespoons for the dough; 3 tablespoons for brushing on finished pretzels)
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/3 cup baking soda
- Coarse salt, to taste*
- Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it’s about 110 degrees (alternatively, warm it in the microwave for about 40 seconds); pour into a medium bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let the yeast soften, about 2 minutes; stir in the brown sugar and 1 cup of the flour with a wooden spoon. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and stir into the mix. Add the remaining 1 ¼ cups flour and fine salt to make a sticky dough. Add more flour if necessary (you'll probably need a few tablespoons) to form dough into a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed, until smooth but still slightly tacky, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, place in a clean, lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Punch the dough to deflate it, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll and stretch each piece with the palms of your hands into a 30-inch rope, holding the ends and slapping the middle of the rope on the counter as you stretch. Form each into a pretzel shape (form a U-shape, then holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press firmly onto the bottom of the pretzel).
- Dissolve the baking soda in 3 cups warm water in a shallow baking dish. Gently dip each pretzel in the soda solution, then arrange on a prepared baking sheet (re-shaping if necessary) and sprinkle lightly with course salt. Bake until golden, 10 – 12 minutes. Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter and brush on baked pretzels. The pretzels are best enjoyed fresh on the same day.
- *If you prefer a cinnamon sugar topping, omit the coarse salt. Brush with butter after baking and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar (1/2 cup sugar plus about 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon)