A good soft pretzel recipe is something every mother should have in her repertoire. 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 best 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, just like they are at the mall.
- 1 cup milk
- 1 package active dry yeast (not rapid rise 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)