However, the tradition dates back to 1810 when citizens were invited to celebrate the wedding of (soon-to-be) King Ludwig I to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on the 12th of October, so there’s no reason one can’t play catch-up and toast in the spirit of Oktoberfest this weekend (or even better, this Monday night, on the official anniversary).
Here’s a recipe for soft pretzels, if you find yourself in the mood…
I scoured the web for soft-pretzel recipes: most were derivative of bread dough with a bit of sugar thrown in; most included a step where the dough is submerged briefly in a water/baking soda bath (an alternative to the lye that was once used). We decided to go with one from Baking Illustrated (because I really do trust the American Test Kitchen), but I also picked up some pizza dough from Trader Joe’s to do a comparative batch. Wouldn’t it have been nice to learn that you can run to TJ’s for pre-made pizza dough anytime you have a hankering for soft-pretzels?
Sorry. No such luck. And no big surprise: the from-scratch dough really was much better.
Soft Pretzels (Adapted from Baking Illustrated)
1 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup honey. We were worried it would be too much, but the sweetness is subtle and—after comparing to pizza dough—very necessary.
1 tsp salt
3 cups (16 1/2 ounces) bread flour. Note: we used all-purpose.
1 cup warm water
(You’ll also need coarse salt, butter, and baking soda.)
Combine in a standing mixer using the dough hook. Knead until stiff and smooth.
Place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and leave at room temperature to rise for an hour or two. It will double in size. (Note: this timeline is forgiving. If you’re away for longer, don’t worry.)
Punch down, re-cover, and let rise again 30-40 minutes.
Prep for baking
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Boil 6 cups of water and 3 Tbsp baking soda in a large skillet (12-inch is recommended): Add baking soda, stir, cover, and bring to a boil. Line a baking sheet with well-oiled aluminum foil and set aside. Pull out a cooling rack.
Shape the pretzels
Divide the dough into roughly 12 pieces and roll each into a long (20 inch) 1/2-inch-wide rope. Tip: If you find the dough is resisting your rolling it out too much, put it down to let it rest, and start on another one—this allows time for the gluten to relax. It will be easier to work with when you come back.
To shape: start with a horseshoe. Cross the ends (forming a circle at top). Do it again, so that you have a double-twisted coil, and then press the ends back up and into the sides of the oval. Here’s a good demonstration. It took a little practice.
Place finished shapes onto the baking sheet.
Boil the dough
Using a slotted spoon or spatula, gently place each pretzel into the boiling water for 30 seconds and then flip for 30 seconds more. You can usually fit about 3 at a time.
Note: We put the lid on the pan and let it steam without flipping half way through—the pretzel still seemed to be homogenous.
Transfer them to a cooling rack before putting them on the baking sheet to let them drain well.
Sprinkle with coarse salt (or other topping as desired). You can still make some slight adjustments to the shape at this point if anything got distorted in the water bath.
Bake for 12-16 minutes, turning halfway, and then transfer back to a cooling rack.
Optional (but recommended): brush with melted butter.
Serve hot with spicy mustard and cold beer.
Bonus: they’re still great the next day, as long as you toast them!