Though there are several theories about the origination of Soft Pretzels, the most common is that they were once used by Monks as a reward for children who said their prayers. It is said to have represented the way children prayed by crossing their arms on their chest, with each of the 3 holes having reference to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Here’s a fun “trivia” – The story goes, an apprentice cleaning up the kitchen in the night accidentally dropped the dough into the bucket of lye he was washing the floor with, and not wanting to get into trouble, he picked up the dough and placed it back on the baker’s bench. The baker came in and not knowing what happened continued the process of baking the pretzels. The baker noticed the pretzels were browner than usual and had a nice shine to them. After eating them, (and surviving), later the truth came out from the scared apprentice. As it turns out, though lye is toxic, it losses its potency when baked at the high temperature called for. As a result, food-grade lye was used for years to give pretzels (and bagels) their patina look.
These days, as we will do in our recipe today, we can duplicate the shine and deep brown by using a baking soda solution followed by an egg wash. Pretzels are poached first is to set the outside crust (this same process is used for bagels) to make the final crust thicker and add density to its interior. If you poach the pretzel for too long in the hot water solution the crust of the pretzel will be too thick and tough.
Soft pretzels can be found in mall kiosks, street vendors and on freezer shelves in grocery stores. You may never have thought about making soft pretzels from home, but when you see how easy they are, you won’t be waiting to go to the mall anymore for this special treat. I decided to make 1/2 with salt and 1/2 with cinnamon sugar. This recipe makes 12 soft pretzels.Proof in a small bowl:
1-1/3 cups warm Water
2-1/2 tsp. Active Dry Yeast 1-1/2 Tabl. Sugar
In a mixer bowl, measure:
2 cups Bread Flour 2 cups AP Flour
1 tsp. Salt
2 Tabl. Butter, soft., cut into pieces
Add the proofed Yeast to the mixer bowl. Mix on low speed until it forms a ball and then 5 minutes on medium speed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise in warm, draft-free place for 1 hour until doubled in size.
After the hour has passed and dough has doubled, punch it down, Cover the bowl again and allow to rise for 2nd time for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each into a 16″ long rope, and shape into pretzels. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place the pretzels on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise for about 15 minutes.
Whisk together the egg wash:
2 Egg Yolks
1 Tabl. Water
When the pretzels have dried from their hot water “bath” , brush each with the egg wash and sprinkle with kosher salt. (the darker pretzels are the ones I covered with cinnamon sugar before baking.)
Bake the pretzels at 450 degrees F for about 12-15 minutes or until dark brown.