Soft Pretzels

Soft pretzels are a treat that will add a twist to any cook's repertoire!

  • soft pretzels - brushing on egg
    After immersion in boiling water, brush on a coating of egg.
  • soft pretzels - plate of seven baked pretzels
    A full plate of doughy treats.
  • soft pretzels - twisting dough into pretzel shape
    Mix your dough, roll it into long ropes, and twist them into the iconic soft pretzel shape.
    Photo by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff

  • soft pretzels - brushing on egg
  • soft pretzels - plate of seven baked pretzels
  • soft pretzels - twisting dough into pretzel shape

You might think, as most folks do, that the only way to enjoy warm, chewy soft pretzels is to patronize a big city street vendor or a hawker at a summer ball game. In fact the snack can also come from your own kitchen. It's a terrific antidote for the afternoon or evening munchies, can be counted on as a best seller at any bake sale, is relatively easy to prepare — and is sure to increase any cook's popularity!

Pretzels have been around for ages. In fact, one legend traces their origin to a monk in seventh century northern Italy. Careful never to waste a bit of bread dough when baking for his monastery, he is said to have saved all the little leftover strips and shaped them to resemble a praying child's arms. This story claims the snack's name came from a Latin word meaning "little reward," since the kindly monk gave these symbolic biscuits to children for saying their prayers.

There are, in fact, many stories concerning the twisty treat's origin, but I'd have to guess that there are even more variations of its basic recipe. Here's a good "beginner's" version that should yield about two dozen soft pretzels. You'll need the following ingredients:

1/2 cup of warm water
1 tablespoon of dry yeast
1 1/2 cups of hot water
1/3 cup of powdered milk
1 tablespoon of honey
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of shortening
4 to 4 1/2 cups of flour
4 cups of boiling water
4 teaspoons of baking soda
1 egg
coarse (or sea) salt

First, in a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup of warm water and 1 tablespoon of dry yeast. Set this aside for 10 or 15 minutes until it becomes bubbly. Meanwhile, mix 1 1/2 cups of hot water, 1/3 cup of powdered milk, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 2 tablespoons of shortening in a large bowl. Once this concoction has cooled to lukewarm, pour in the frothy yeast mixture and stir. Next, slowly add 4 to 4 1/2 cups of flour and knead the dough until it becomes satiny-smooth. It should then be greased, covered with a clean cloth, and placed in a warm, draft-free spot to rise. After about one hour, punch the dough down to its original size and allow it to rise for another 30 minutes. It'll then be ready to be shaped into pretzels.

You'll likely find it easier to work with half of the dough at one time (put what you're not using under a clean cloth so it won't dry out). Roll out the dough to about 1/8" thick and then cut it into 12 strips. Shape these strips into "ropes" — each 16" to 18" long — by rolling them between your hands. The strands will double in size when baked, so they should be only half as thick as you want your finished pretzels to be.

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