How to Make Pretzels

Is this a Joe-style afternoon snack or what? Home made pretzels are another one of those things that will amaze you for their simplicity and make you wonder if you can ever be happy with the store-bought variety again. As you already know from the recipe below, my version calls for a stater. You want it well fed and rarin’ to go, which is to say, it needs to be able to reach this bubbly active stage within four hours of a feeding (at room temperature):

Starter in hand, you’re good to go. Combine your stater, flour, malt syrup, water and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook…

…and knead for 6-8 minutes until the dough comes together. It should be firm but largely smooth.

Cut it into 3-ounces pieces (for soft pretzels), 1-to-1 1/2 ounce pieces for hard ones. Spritz your board with a little water and roll each piece into a ball. Cover the dough balls with a moist towel and let rise for one hour.

Now you’re ready to shape. Pat each ball into a log, like so.

Now prepare to roll each piece into a long snake. Here the proper technique helps. Start with all four fingertips on the top of the dough log.

As you push forward, spread your fingers apart. This will help stretch this very elastic dough.

When the piece is long enough, put both hands to the task. You’ll want to roll it out to eighteen or more inches in length.

To shape the pretzel, form the dough into a “u.”

Cross the ends.

Cross them again.

Then fold the forked end downward. Done!

Put the shaped pretzels on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate them overnight or up to two days. The next day, when you’re ready to make your pretzels, prepare your lye bath or baking soda poaching solution. If you’re using lye, be sure to take the appropriate safety precautions: put on protective eyewear, gloves and a long-sleeve shirt and make sure no children or pets enter the kitchen. Here I’m just using a boiling baking soda solution, so I don’t need the gear. Dip or poach your pretzels for about 30 seconds.

Poached pretzels will be slightly plumped.

Put them on a rack and let drip-dry for a minute or so.

Transfer to a greased or oiled sheet pan. If you’re not using a lye solution, you’ll need to apply your egg wash at this point.

Sprinkle on your kosher salt…

…and you’re ready to bake. Do it immediately or the salt will begin to melt. Here actual “pretzel salt” is nice, but kosher works just fine too. Bake on a middle rack in a 400 oven for 10 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake another 7-10 minutes until well browned.

For hard pretzels, bake them at 350 for 45 minutes or more until dark brown and crunchy.

Break out the mustard and beer!

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