Friday, August 8, 2014

Rebecca's Pretzels

Bringing one of my personal favorite snacks off the streets and into your kitchen!

While street food is definitely something that can be enjoyed year round, I don't think I'm alone in thinking it's during the summer and spring when wandering around outside cramming food in your face is a lot easier than say, in the middle of a snowstorm, or just bitterly cold weather in general. That being said, pretzels are kind of a year round treat in my book, and I'll eat them pretty much wherever they're available. It's hard not to think of them as sporting event or theme park food though, and so when I was trying to think of a good recipe for Rebecca to do in the summer time, this was kind of a no brainer.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about and research into Coney Island lately (Marvel Cinematic Universe enthusiasts can probably guess why) and fantasizing about being able to head down to a theme park like I usually manage at least once during the summer, and where I'd be eating at least one soft pretzel during my visit, so that pretty much sealed the deal that this was something I definitely wanted to make before summer ended.

(I'm having a really hard time wrapping my mind around that. It seems like it just got here, and now we're almost done!)

Pretzels can trace their history back to over a thousand years ago, and were first brought to the United States by German immigrants in the late 18th century. They got a real foothold in Pennsylvania Dutch territory (for anyone who doesn't know, the Pennsylvania Dutch aren't Dutch at all, the name comes from English colonists not understanding that Duetsch is German for German, not "Dutch" as in the Netherlands), and eventually became popular in cities like Philedelphia, Chicago and New York, which had large immigrant populations and a market for food that can be eaten on the go. They really took off during the industrial age, as it became easier to produce more pretzels and sell them to a bigger audience with advances in technology in food production.

The recipe I'm using comes from The Sophisticated Gourmet and can be found here! This is the same blog I got my recipe for the super tasty bagels I made last year, and I've actually had this one set aside for quite a long time since the bagels turned out to be so easy to make. If you haven't tried to make those yet, I really recommend it! A friend of mine told me recently that she's actually made them several times after seeing my blog post about it, and has had great success every time she's whipped some up.

Like most other bread recipes, this one calls for yeast, and this was something I was kind of terrified of because some of my last attempts at working with yeast did not exactly go as planned. Still, Jessi's reassurance that the bagels had continued to work out fine after multiple attempts gave me some hope that maybe things would activate properly, and to my great surprise and excitement, they did!

While I was waiting on the yeast to get all nice and foamy, I got the dry ingredients together. The recipe doesn't call for much butter, but it's still enough to give the dough a nice buttery flavor you'd expect from a pretzel.

The yeast gets added in, and then this is all combined with your hands until you've got a nice ball of dough.

Once you've got your dough ball, you knead it on a lightly floured surface for about ten minutes. I actually really enjoy kneading things instead of trusting it to an electric beater or something, but you can definitely do that if you don't feel up to it or don't like the way dough feels on your hands.

The dough ball then gets put in an oiled bowl, which is covered in saran wrap and left to rise for about an hour. This is the part where most of my other yeast experiments have fallen completely flat - the dough never rises, or it doesn't rise as much as it's supposed to, and then I get frustrated and upset because I've already spent way too long making the dough for it to just not work, so I was mentally preparing myself for a repeat of that.

Fortunately, the dough actually rose! A lot! And I think the reason my other experiments haven't worked well is because just putting a damp towel over the dough doesn't really give it the atmosphere it needs to rise in my constantly frigid house, whereas the saran wrap helped trap in the moisture and heat a little better and created a better environment for the yeast to thrive in.

Not that I'm a scientist or an expert, but I think I'll be doing this to my bread doughs from now on and see what happens.

See, look at that? I can't even tell you how beyond relieved I was.

The dough is very light and airy, and I was kind of worried manhandling it too much might mess something up, but I think I did okay. It gets separated into twelve equal balls, and then rolled out into eighteen inch long snakes. You can see my mom holding Rebecca next to one for comparison's sake, but this is not actually how we measured out every single one!

Your dough snakes get formed into a U shape, and then the two ends are twisted around each other and folded down to make the iconic pretzel shape. I had better luck with some rather than others, but for the most part, they looked pretty okay.

You need to let them sit for a little while longer so they puff back up again before you start boiling them, just like you do with the bagels. This time, baking soda goes into the pot of boiling water, and according to an episode of Good Eats my mom watched a while ago, this is pretty instrumental to making your pretzel actually look like a pretzel, because it's what's going to give them their dark, glossy coating on the outside.

Transferring them off the baking sheets and into the pot was honestly the hardest part, and made me wish I had greased the baking sheets instead of hoping the nonstick feature would save me. Touching them too much kind of warped the shape and forced a lot of the air bubbles out, so I worried they'd be tough and ugly looking once they were done boiling and baking, and they definitely did look a little weird after I pulled them out of the pot. Not like, unrecognizably weird, but weird.

They get boiled for about thirty seconds on each size, and then transferred to a rack to cool and drip dry.

The pretzels get a nice egg wash (and by nice, I really mean be careful with this because I think I got a little over enthusiastic and some of my pretzels tasted really unappetizingly eggy) which is what helps hold the salt on. You can do this as generously or conservatively as you want, but I'll admit I was pretty generous. I like salt.

Bake them in the oven for about fifteen minutes at 475 degrees, anddd...

Hey, they look like real pretzels.

Although time consuming because of all the time spent waiting for the dough to rise, rerise and then boiling the unbaked pretzels, this isn't really a difficult recipe to make, and was overall pretty painless to do. I didn't have any moments of feeling totally overwhelmed or frustrated by what was being asked of me, and even after almost a year of doing this blog, I can still get frustrated pretty easily.

I wouldn't say I was disappointed by this recipe or the ultimate product - far from it! They were tasty and looked pretty, but they weren't quite what I was expecting. I kind of wanted them to taste just like the pretzels you'd get at a sporting event or a theme park or something, and they weren't exactly that. I mean, obviously, it's not like this is the same exact recipe or anything. That said, mine definitely were a little flat where they'd been manhandled too much, so be careful if you give it a try yourself!

And you should! You won't regret it.

And then maybe take them down to the beach and enjoy yourself, because they're just that kind of snack.


  1. Sorry to be absent for so travel! But now I'm back and let me say the pictures in this post are beautiful! The pretzels are equally impressive. Kudos to you for giving it a go. Well done!

    1. No worries, and thanks! I was really pleased with how it all turned out. Hope your trip was fun. :D

  2. Way to go you! Those look amazing! Yeast is just one of those things om never confident about lmao!

    1. Me neither! It's such a weird thing to work with, I'm not sure I'm ever going to be super confident with it, ahaha.

  3. Those look awesome. I swear, your blog always makes me hungry!

    1. Me too! It's a serious problem ahaha, I really need to make more salads.

  4. Pretzel making always fascinates me... these look fantastic and they look exactly like pretzels! I love your new header, too!

    1. Thank you! I was really pleased with how the pictures came out and had been meaning to update it for weeks. Too bad summer's almost over! I'll probably need to update it again soon ahaha.

  5. Love this post! My first job was at a fast food pretzel joint and it takes me back--I want to roll pretzels again! I've never tried to bake pretzels at home, but I think I'll try these (minus the egg wash--that sounds gross). I'll let you know how they turn out.

    This is the recipe you used, right? (I think you meant to link it, but it was accidentally left out.)

    Looks like there's also a cinnamon sugar version to try!

    1. Oops, thanks for catching that! Blogger and I have been fighting a lot lately, ahaha. Definitely let me know how they turn out! The pretzels that didn't get a ton of egg wash were fine, it was just the ones where it kind of pooled on that got icky, so as long as you're gentle with it, you should be good to go!