A guide to making soft pretzels at home.
As a young adult, Alexander Baur enjoyed German pretzels. His father is German, and his mother is of German descent, so he lived in the European country for 15 years. He and his wife, Julia (who’s also of German descent), now live in Reno. And when she was pregnant, she had strong cravings for … you guessed it: pretzels.
“Back there, there’s a pretzel bakery on every street corner, it seems,” he recalls. “Here, the only option was to buy products made commercially with chemicals, preservatives, and dough conditioners in them. They just aren’t the same.”
Baur went to work. He researched and developed his pretzel-making skills. He began serving them to friends, who encouraged him to sell them; last year they were a hit among area farmers’ market goers. Later this summer, Baur will open Arte Farina, a bakery adjacent to Pasta Fresca in South Reno.
Through his efforts to perfect the pretzel, Baur has learned quite a lot, and he has suggestions for those looking to make them at home.
Kneading the Dough
It’s important to work all the ingredients together without over-kneading the dough. “You basically want to incorporate all the ingredients and follow the rising cycle so the dough can rest,” he says.
About the Twist
“People can do knots, twists, braids, or little buns,” Baur explains. Working with the dough to create a cylinder and twist it into the traditional pretzel shape takes some practice. Just before baking, Baur makes a small cut in the wider center section to alleviate pressure.
Once they’re shaped, pop the pretzels on a sheet pan in the refrigerator to develop the firmer skin. When you bake them, the skin will become smooth, and the cooling process helps develop the shiny exterior.
Baking Soda Bath
Dip the cooled dough in a baking soda bath before the pretzels go in the oven to achieve the beautiful caramel-colored finish. Professional bakers use lye, which is a strong alkali that can be dangerous if misused or used in an area that is not properly ventilated. “Baking soda will give home bakers the results they want without the possibility of getting hurt with lye,” Baur adds.
Get creative with toppings. Baur likes to sprinkle Parmesan cheese, Everything But the Bagel seasoning, pumpkin seeds, or poppy seeds on the dough prior to baking.
Heidi Bethel remembers making pretzels in her home economics class in junior high. While those made at home may not be as elaborate as the version Baur will sell in his shop, Bethel looks forward to using this simplified recipe to make pretzels with her two boys.
Home-Baked Soft Pretzels
(courtesy of Alexander Baur, owner, Arte Farina in Reno. Serves 10)
3¾ cups water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bread flour, plus more for kneading
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For baking soda wash
3¾ cups water
⅓ cup baking soda
¼ cup honey
In large bowl, combine warm water, yeast, bread flour, butter, and salt. Knead in bowl until all ingredients are incorporated. Remove sticky dough ball from bowl onto firm, lightly floured work surface such as countertop or cutting board. Continue to knead for 5 minutes and let rest uncovered for another 5 minutes. Knead again for about 5 minutes until dough is smooth and soft.
Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and let rest for 25 minutes. You will see plastic wrap start to stretch.
Roll dough ball into a large cylindrical shape and cut into 10 equal pieces. Shape pieces into balls and then into rope-like strands about 9 or 10 inches long.
Extend dough ropes so they are 18 to 20 inches long by rolling them back and forth with your fingertips. While rolling, press down and outward while being careful not to overstretch and tear or flatten dough. Tie pretzel knot.
Line 2 baking sheets with clean dish cloths and transfer shaped pretzels to them. Let them sit uncovered in the fridge for 60 to 90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
For baking soda bath, bring water to a gentle boil and add baking soda and honey. Submerge 1 pretzel at a time into boiling water for 15 to 20 seconds each. Place pretzels on lined baking sheet and score center sections with a knife. Top with pretzel salt, if desired.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until deep brown. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Pretzels can be enjoyed warm or consumed later that day. You also may freeze and store in a freezer-safe bag for up to 3 months. To unfreeze pretzels, thaw at room temperature on a rack for 4 to 5 hours or reheat in 400 degree F oven for 4 to 5 minutes, then allow to cool on rack.