It’s hard to resist a hot soft pretzel, fresh from the oven and smelling of yeast, salt and – depending on how indulgent you’re feeling – butter. Soft pretzels are a staple of mall food courts, sports stadiums and theme parks, but are far less commonly seen at home. Fortunately, they’re quite easy to make and definitely worth the effort.
My plain soft pretzels are a favorite snack of mine, but today I decided to mix things up by making a whole wheat variation. They use 100% whole wheat flour, which would normally give bread a a slightly coarser, slightly breadier texture than something made with refined wheat flour, but I added vital wheat gluten (available at most natural/specialty food stores) to the dough to increase its elasticity and help the finished pretzels to retain the chewiness that makes them so tasty. It’s worth tracking it down to make these pretzels because it helps define them as a pretzel, rather than as pretzel-shaped bread. It’s also a great ingredient to have on hand if you do a lot of whole grain baking.
The photo above is of the unbaked pretzels, while the one below, accompanying the recipe, is of the finished product. You can see how much the dough rises in the oven during the final baking. The thinner you roll out the dough for the pretzels, the skinnier and chewier the finished pretzels will be. If you do decide to aim for thin pretzels, keep an eye on the baking time, just to be on the safe side.
Whole Wheat Soft Pretzels
2 cups water, warm (100-110F)
3 1/2-4 cups whole wheat flour, divided
2 tbsp vital wheat gluten
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp baking soda
coarse salt, for topping
In a large bowl, combine warm water, 2 cups of whole wheat flour, vital wheat gluten, active dry yeast and sugar. Stir well and let sit, covered with plastic wrap, for 40 minutes. Batter will rise during this time.
Stir in honey, salt and 1 1/2 cups more whole wheat flour. When dough comes together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gradually work in the remaining flour 1 tbsp at a time, until the dough is moist, but not sticky, and elastic (about 5 minutes).
Place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 additional hour.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and pat into a rectangular shape. Divide, using a dough cutter or knife, into four even pieces. Working with one piece at a time (leaving the others covered with a towel or plastic wrap), divide into three strips and roll each out to a length of 24-30-inches (longer means thinner pretzels, shorter leads to breadier pretzels). Make an “X” with the loose ends and turn “X” down to meet the center of the dough rope, forming a pretzel shape.
Dissolve baking soda in warm water. Dip each shaped pretzel into mixture and place shaped pretzels on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or lightly greased, leaving 2-in. between pretzels to allow for further rise. Sprinkle each with coarse salt, to taste. When sheet is full (you might need to bake in two or three batches), bake pretzels for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 1 dozen pretzels.