Once you have eaten a soft, sourdough pretzel, all other pretzels will pale in comparison. These chewy bundles of delight are perfect dipped in whole grain mustard, washed down with a hearty beer. If you are lucky enough to live near a good, German-style bakery, go purchase some pretzels right now! If not, you can make them yourself.
Making sourdough pretzels is not much different from making any sourdough bread. There is one additional step, boiling the pretzels before baking to give them a chewy crust, but it doesn’t add too much time to the process.
Sourdough pretzels are heavy and flavorful. They bear absolutely no resemblance to the hard pretzels you find next to potato chips in the grocery store. They are much heartier than the pale, white mall pretzels, which are usually only good for dipping up hot processed cheese sauces. No, these pretzels are less snack food and more the backbone of a meal. Serve sourdough pretzels with an aged, sheep’s milk gouda, your favorite beer, my personal favorite Sea Dog Mustard from Raye’s Mustard and perhaps some good-quality sausage for a Sunday evening get-together.
Make a Sourdough Starter
You can make good-quality soft pretzels using a traditional yeast dough. However, sourdough gives the pretzels extra flavor, so that they are not overwhelmed by whatever dip or mustard you use. Make your own sourdough starter by using the method I prefer, found on my website Make Your Own Sourdough Starter. Or follow the methods found in earlier Mother Earth News articles, including Creating Homemade Sourdough Bread From a Starter Mix, and a previous blog post, A Beginner’s Guide to Sourdough. It’s hard to completely fail with sourdough, so use the method that appeals most to you.
Prepare Sourdough Pretzel Dough
Start by mixing the following ingredients in a large bowl or the bowl to your stand mixer. Because this dough is fairly dry, it will easier to prepare using a stand mixer. However, it can be expertly prepared using only your own muscle power, and kneading is excellent exercise!
2 cups sourdough starter
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp malted barley powder or sugar
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup rye flour
3/4 - 1 cup warm, not hot, water
Mix well to combine. Knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes, or using a stand mixer for 8 - 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled, 2 - 4 hours.
Make The Pretzels
Gently fold to deflate. Cut the dough into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into desired shape, pressing dough pieces together where they touch. Set each pretzel on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 – 2 hours, or until puffy.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to a boil. Carefully add ¼ cup baking soda to the boiling water, it will bubble up.
Gently remove pretzels from baking pan and drop into the boiling water. Simmer about 30 seconds, turn and simmer an additional 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and return to the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
Sprinkle pretzels with kosher or flake salt, or sesame or poppy seeds. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Storing Sourdough Pretzels
Sourdough pretzels, like other sourdough breads, will stay fresh on the counter for up to a week. Pretzels can also be frozen, although the salt will dissolve when you thaw them out, leaving polka-dots on your pretzels. Still taste great, just not as pretty.
Changes are storing won’t be a problem. Kids and adults of all ages love sourdough pretzels. I got a little carried away and made two batches for our Super Bowl get-together. Everyone ate pretzels, but none of us could keep up with the three year-old. She ate 4 of them all by herself.