Let me get it out of the way: This is a bit of work to make something that looks like it was run over by a truck.
I've made soft pretzels before, but always from a different recipe each time. I never settled on one I liked.
Now I have.
This recipe (from Alton Brown via an adaptation by Stresscake with further tweaking by me) is versatile. Not only does it produce terrific waffled soft pretzels, it can also make great waffled pretzel rolls for sandwiches.
I suppose you could also bake the dough in the oven like a normal person but, as a friend pointed out, the tagline for this blog is not "Will it stove?"
Some notes on the recipe:
Boiling: It might be tempting to skip this step, but boiling the pretzels before you waffle them is crucial. Boiling (with baking soda) is the difference between "Oh, that's fine pretzel-shaped bread!" and "Oh, that's a great pretzel!" It's responsible for giving the pretzels their chew and their shiny brown exterior — probably due to some sort of chemical reaction that is no doubt explained very well in Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, though that book is all the way across the room right now so I can't be totally sure.
Salt: I haven't found any way to really make the salt stick. Were these done in an oven, you could coat the boiled dough with an egg wash so that the salt adheres to the pretzel. But if you do that with the waffled pretzel, the egg wash tends to make the dough stick to the waffle iron, and the salt tends to dissolve, even if it's added toward the end of the waffling. I also tried spritzing the waffles with water very near the end of the waffling and then sprinkling the salt on. It ... sort of stuck. But it wasn't exactly a solid solution. If anyone makes these (and I know most of you just skipped to the next sentence), I'd be interested in hearing whether you work out a way to get the salt to stick. (UPDATE: A reader draws on her experience in concessions and recommends spritzing the pretzels and then dipping them in the salt. Thanks very much for that.)
Shaping: When you boil the dough, it will puff up, and thus the loops of the shaped dough will tend to shrink. Also — at the risk of stating the obvious — when you stick it in a waffle iron, the whole damn thing gets flattened, which shrinks the loops even further. So for the dough to end up as something resembling a pretzel, you need to start out with thin ropes of dough and exaggerated, outsized loops in your pretzel.
Shaping II: If you choose not to make pretzels, you can turn the dough into bun shapes and then boil and waffle those. (You can find general instructions for shaping here.) Then, split them in half to create a top and bottom bun and stuff with your favorite sandwich filling. I made mine with roast turkey, raw-milk cheddar spread, and honeyed yellow tomato butter from one of last summer's canning benders.
Storage: These go stale fairly quickly and are best eaten the day they are made. However, they keep beautifully in a zip-top bag in the freezer. They can be rewarmed in a low oven for about 10 minutes — or possibly in your waffle iron, though I wouldn't push it. You do have an oven, right?
Waffled soft pretzels
Makes about six
- 1 1/2 cups warm water [350 ml]
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour [560 grams]
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted [55 grams]
- Baking soda (for boiling)
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all ingredients (except baking soda). Mix with the dough hook until thoroughly combined, and then until the dough comes together and is smooth — but not sticky — to the touch, 7-8 minutes.
2. Cover the dough with a towel and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has doubled in bulk. (Gently poke your finger into the dough. If the indentation stays, it's ready for the next step.)
3. Punch down the dough to deflate it and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
4. Line two sheetpans with parchment paper or Silpat mats.
5. Cut the dough into 6 pieces, roughly 5 ounces [140 grams] each.
6. To shape the dough, first roll the pieces into cylinders about the length of your hand. Then let the dough relax about five minutes, so that it's easier to work with.
7. Take one piece of dough and form a rope, rolling it against the counter and stretching gently until it reaches about 30 inches [76 centimeters] long. Yes, this looks ludicrously long. It's not. Repeat with remaining dough. You may find that wetting the counter with a few drops of water makes it easier to roll out the dough.
8. To shape the pretzels, form a U with the two ends of the rope pointing away from you. Then curve one strand toward you, bringing the end down and across to rest on the other side of the pretzel. Repeat with the other end, as shown in the photo above. (If this takes you a few attempts, you're in good company; I have very little spatial intelligence. We won't get in to how many times it took me to get it down, but once I did I was able to duplicate the results pretty easily.) Keep in mind, you want the loops to be fairly large in order to compensate for the rising of the dough and the eventual flattening of the waffled pretzel.
9. Place the shaped pretzels on the prepared sheetpans, leaving an inch or so between each pretzel.
10. Let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes until doubled.
11. Preheat your waffle iron. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 quarts [2 liters) of water to a low boil. Add about three tablespoons of baking soda and lower heat to a simmer.
12. Slip a pretzel into the liquid. You may wish to place all but one of the remaining pretzels in the refrigerator to stop their rising, as the rest of this may take a while unless you have six waffle irons.
13. Poach the pretzel for 30 seconds then carefully turn it over in the liquid. (Meanwhile, lightly coat the waffle iron with cooking spray.)
14. Poach the other side of the pretzel for 30 seconds, then remove with a spider or slotted spoon, allowing it to drain over the pan before putting it into the waffle iron.
15. Close the lid and waffle the pretzel.
16. The pretzel will be waffled when it's a sandy brown color, about 8-10 minutes later. They can be tricky to remove from the waffle iron; an offset spatula, silicone spatula and patience are your friends. Allow the waffled pretzel to cool on a rack.
17. Toward the end of the first pretzel's waffling time, begin poaching the next pretzel and remove another pretzel from the refrigerator to lose its chill and be ready for poaching.
18. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
The other day, I was up until 1am making three batches of these.
Of the recipes I've done on my own, waffled soft pretzels are tied with waffled french toast for my favorite.