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Whole Wheat Soft Pretzels

unbaked pretzels

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.

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  • Karen
    May 10, 2007

    Nicole – I notice that you dip the pretzels in a baking soda wash but some recipes I’ve used call for par cooking the pretzels in a hot water and baking soda bath (just below the simmering point). What’s the purpose of either method. Looks good, I love soft pretzels – I remember buying pretzels on the street corners of NYC.

  • Charlotte
    May 10, 2007

    I tried your pretzels using the recipe posted on Slashfood, and thoroughly enjoyed them. I did try a small variation. About half of the pretzels I dipped in the cold water/baking soda solution and the other half I put into a boiling water/baking soda solution (for about a minute). I found that the ones that were “boiled” were baked up darker and had more of a “pretzel” taste than the others (but both were good!).

  • Nicole
    May 10, 2007

    Boiling the pretzels/dipping them in boiling water helps develop a chewy crust, much like a bagel has. Dipping them in the non-boiling baking soda/water mix is a kind of shortcut. It helps with the development of the chewy “crust” without having to deal with boiling water.
    I prefer to dip the pretzels (in hot or cold water) than to boil them because I find that they can get too chewy and bagel-like when boiled, and soft pretzels are typically more tender than bagels. Plus, it’s a bit faster and I like to save on my prep time.

  • Denise
    May 13, 2007

    Oh, thanks for sharing this recipe. I really like soft pretzels but avoid white flour. I think I’ll try this recipe with whole wheat and soy flour. They look great!

  • Meghan
    June 12, 2008

    Wow, I just tried this recipe and it’s great! I only had to bake mine for 10 minutes though and even then I think I could have pulled them out a little sooner. No worries, though, they were still incredibly delicious! (I also brushed the tops with a little melted “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” once they came out of the oven)

  • Mark
    February 15, 2009

    So I made these today, and I have never done anything of this nature where I needed to rull stuff out or make a dough. well the dough refused to roll out for me at all, I may consider making pretzel bites our out of these, wish I knew how to get teh hard exterior and the soft inside.. well guess I need more experimenting, also, i wonder how WW pastry flour would do in this recipe

  • samantha
    February 24, 2011

    Can i leave the vital wheat gluten out?

  • sarah, simply cooked
    March 21, 2011

    Thanks so much for this recipe, which I made tonight. I will definitely make it again!

  • Judy
    March 3, 2017

    Taste-wise A+ for me. Texture just OK. I’m no Master Baker, but I’m guessing that the warm water baking soda bath is the reason. Next time, I am going to use the boiled bath method from Austin Brown that I found on Youtube. Makes good sense – works for bagles. I do love the flavor though, very delicious.

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