It’s Lent. Yes, most definitely Lent. When you need to bribe your kids to eat leftovers (yet again) and you’ve given up after dinner desserts, the most effective way to do it is to make soft pretzels. Even acceptable on meatless Fridays! It’s also good for making friends and influencing people… take some to your next meeting or social event. See what happens.
Want to make some? First, prepare some dough. You can use many different dough recipes to get delicious pretzel results. The dough recipe I used is from King Arthur Flour website. Prepare a cooling rack by placing it on a dishtowel and spraying it with cooking spray (you will be baking directly on it). Baking on a wire rack will allow the pretzels to cook on all sides without getting too crunchy or soggy in places. This is my favorite method after much trial and error. I would also use this method for bagels. The towel will soak up drips… don’t skip that step.
While the dough is rising, skip the wimpy baking soda bath and jump straight to the big guns of pretzel-making: LYE. Lye will almost always come in a container where DANGER and/or POISON are printed in a font size bigger than than the contents of the container itself. Make no mistake: lye is dangerous!! Have you seen Fight Club?! It is used in soap making and also as a drain cleaner. Alkaline substances will corrode and discolor your favorite aluminum pans (ask me how I know), so don’t use those with lye or baking soda. Lye can cause severe burns. Which is why you will exercise common sense and protect your skin and eyes as necessary. Got it? Okay. Don’t let lye freak you out… You’re the boss if it! The pretzels will be worth using substances that may get you on some sort of government watch list. Trust me. Of course if you don’t have lye on hand and must make some pretzels right now, by all means use the baking soda as advised by the KAF recipe I linked.
Preheat your oven to 450. If you have convection, turn it on (if you don’t they will still turn out amazing!). Put about 6 cups of water in a stockpot (choose your dirtiest looking stainless steel stockpot… the lye will leave it sparkling!), add a couple tablespoons of lye (always add the lye to the water, never the other way around!), stir to dissolve, and heat to simmering. Lye can get staticky, so be careful when measuring and clean up any spilled lye particles quickly to avoid unpleasantness later.
Roll your dough out flat and chop it into breadstick shapes (4” L by 1/2” H by 3/4”W… ish) with a pizza cutter. Perfection and uniformity are completely optional. Allow it to stand for a few minutes while you make sure everything is in order with your lye bath and wire rack. Carefully place the strips into the simmering lye bath for about 10 seconds, just until they turn a little yellow. I do about 4 at a time since I can scoop that many out at one time. The yellow means the gluten in the surface of the dough has been affected by the alkaline bath, and it will give you the delicious pretzel flavor and golden brown pretzel exterior you know and love. Don’t leave them in too long or they will get soggy. Scoop them out with a mesh strainer utensil or slotted spoon (again, avoid aluminum). The lye in the water on the pretzels has reacted already, so you don’t have to be overly worried about lye burns if you need to nudge them with a finger at that point. Arrange them on the rack, leaving some room for expansion. When the rack is full or you’ve done them all, sprinkle with kosher salt to taste.
Place the wire rack into the preheated oven and bake for 8-9 minutes, or until they are a light golden brown and nicely puffed. Meanwhile, you can pour the hot lye bath down the drain and feel pretty good about it. When done, allow them to cool for a few minutes, and then coax them off the rack. Some may require gentle persuasion with a spatula, but hopefully the cooking spray did it’s job and they slide off easily. I don’t own a nonstick cooling rack, but I imagine that would be a good thing for these.
These pretzels should be eaten promptly… if you try to wrap them up, the moisture of the pretzels will be soaked up by the salt and they will get gluey in parts. Still tasty, but not everything you might hope. They will last out in the open (or in a brown paper bag) for hours with their chewy exterior, and can be reheated in the oven later if you want to serve them at a party but don’t want your guests to see you in chemistry goggles while you cook them (sort of joking, sort of not). They are amazing with a honey mustard dipping sauce. My basic recipe is below (a knockoff from Applebee’s, I think), though I rarely measure ingredients and it always turns out delicious.
Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tbsp prepared or whole grain mustard (the kind with visible seeds)
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp white vinegar
Mix well. Refrigerate to store.
To restore balance to the world, next I will share a delicious gluten-free, low carb recipe. I’m currently limiting my own carb intake, so writing this pretzel post was a little bit of a Lenten sacrifice :)