I’m a huge soft pretzel fan. Whether they’re homemade or store-bought (preferably from a store or market that specializes, to some degree, in pretzel production), I’m usually happy to munch on a salted pretzel with a bit of mustard. But pretzels certainly come on more forms than soft, and the crunchy variety certainly has its uses, especially where dips are concerned. I had never had too much success in turning out a homemade breadstick-like pretzel in the past, but after I caught sight of a lovely post on this very subject, I decided to try my hand at pretzel sticks again.
It’s a good thing that I did, too, because these were quite addictive! The finished sticks were very crisp, although not hard all the way through in the way that store-bought pretzel sticks are, and were pretty easy to make. The dough did not need a long rise and, once shaped, the pretzels only needed a quick dip in a hot baking soda-water bath before baking. The water adds a familiar pretzel taste to the sticks, helps to create a chewy crust (important in soft pretzels, somewhat less so in this case) and makes it very easy to adhere salt and other toppings to the sticks.
For toppings, I used a very coarse salt on some and grated Parmesan cheese on others. The cheese versions had a lot more flavor and made for a more interesting breadstick. That said, I liked the plain salt version. Be creative when it comes to the toppings. Try cheese, but feel free to use sesame seeds, poppy seeds or just plain salt and pepper to finish yours. Because the toppings will have no problem sticking to the wet dough, be careful about how much salt you use as a “dip” if you opt for plain salted pretzel sticks; I had a few that were overly salty, even for me.
The key to this recipe is shaping the pretzels properly. The sticks can be any length but they all need to be quite thin to work out. I would recommend between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick, with a preference towards narrower. The thinner pretzels will be crisper, while the thicker ones will be crisp with a slightly soft center. If you find it difficult to achieve such a narrow rope when you first start working with the dough, don’t worry. As you handle it, the gluten (protein) in the dough toughens up and makes the ropes difficult to stretch. Simply let the dough rest for a few minutes while you’re working it, rolling a few new ropes and going back to further stretch the already formed ones after about 5 minutes. Since you’ll need to bake the pretzels in batches unless you have a really massive oven, you can always adjust the pretzels in later batches to be a little thicker or thinner, as you prefer.
Parmesan Pretzel Sticks
2 1/2 cups bread flour
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp honey
up to 1 1/4 cups warm water (100-110F)
For the water bath:
3-4 cups water
2 tbsp baking soda
Grated parmesan cheese
Salt, seasoning mixes
Sesame, poppy, other seeds
In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) combine bread flour, yeast, brown sugar, salt, vegetable oil and honey and stir to combine. Gradually pour in warm water, adding it 1/4 cup at a time, while stirring. Mix, adding water as necessary, until dough comes together into a smooth ball that pulls away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. You will probably not need all the water (I used just under 1 cup), and if you add too much, add in a tbsp or two of flour to correct the dough’s consistency.
Knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes, or mix with the dough hook until the same state is reached. Transfer dough to a lightly greased mixing bowl and let rise in a warm place for 35-40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Prepare water bath by combining 3-4 cups water with 2 tbsp baking soda in a large saucepan on the stove. Bring almost to a boil, stirring to partially dissolve the baking soda, then remove from heat. Let cool to the point where you can comfortably stick your finger into the water. You can return the saucepan to the heat between batches of pretzel sticks to prevent the water from getting cold.
Prepare toppings for dipping by spreading on a large, flat plate. Start with about 1 tbsp of salt or spice mixture, or 1/4 cup parmesan/seeds; you can always add more to the plate later.
Turn dough out onto a smooth surface and gently deflate. Divide into 20-24 small, equal pieces using a bench scraper or a sharp knife. Roll each piece into a rope that is between 1/4 and 1/2 -inches thick. Let individual ropes rest if they become resistant to stretching and return to restretch after about 5 minutes.
Dip each rope into the warm water/baking soda mixture, dredge through topping of choice and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake for 10-15 minutes at 425F, or until pretzels are golden and crispy. Cool on a wire rack. Repeat dipping, dredging and baking with remaining pretzel ropes.
Enjoy immediately, or soon after baking.
Makes about 2 dozen.