Most of us who have ever eaten a real Philly soft pretzel fresh from the oven would probably agree: There’s nothing quite like it. And then when you find yourself settling for its cheap imitators, you start to wonder, “Why am I even bothering?” In most cases you’re getting nothing more than a load of empty white-flour calories, with some extra salt on the top. In the worse-case scenario (ahem, at the mall) you’re likely getting something that’s swimming in butter to boot. But if that’s all you’ve ever been eating, there’s good news for you: You don’t have to settle. Homemade pretzels are easy – and fun – to make, and when the whole house is filled with the warm yeasty scent of fresh-baked pretzels, you’ll be glad you don’t have to go all the way to the mall to get some less-than-satisfying substitute.
When we decided to make pretzels this weekend, we wanted to boost the health factor a little bit so we went with a honey/whole wheat pretzel recipe. We used this recipe from Heavenly Homemakers as a helpful starting point, and then we switched things around here and there.
Honey/Whole Wheat Pretzels
1 cup water
2 packets yeast
2 tsp. honey
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
1/2 cup honey
1 Tbsp. salt
8 1/2 cups flour (plus more as needed)
1/4 cup butter
Sugar and cinnamon (optional)
Chia seeds (optional)
In a large bowl, mix 1 cup of very hot water, the two packets of yeast, and 2 tsp. of honey. Stir gently to dissolve the yeast, then let the mixture sit while you continue preparing the other ingredients. In a large saucepan, melt the stick of butter, then add the 1 T. of salt, 1/2 cup honey, and the milk. Heat until the mixture is very warm to the touch (warmer than your body temperature) but not boiling. Pour the mixture in with the yeast mixture and stir. Add the flour, two cups at a time, and stir until you have a sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes, continuing to add flour until the dough is no longer sticky . Place the dough back into the large bowl, cover it with a towel, and let the dough rise in a warm, dry place (preferably the inside of your turned-off oven) for 90 minutes.
When the dough has risen, take it out of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Turn the dough back out onto the floured board and punch it down for a few minutes to get the air bubbles down. Then take a fist-sized piece of dough and roll it out into a long rope. Lay the rope on the board in a “U” shape, twist the top ends around twice, and then bring the ends down so they are touching the bottom of the “U.” (At this point you should have a recognizable pretzel shape.)
Put the pretzel onto a large baking pan, and repeat with the remaining dough, placing the pretzels at least an inch apart. Bake them for 20 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. While they are cooking, melt the 1/4 cup butter. As soon as you take them out of the oven, brush them with the melted butter. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt.
Cinnamon and sugar pretzels: Sprinkle the buttered pretzels with a very light coating of salt, then sprinkle with granulated sugar and cinnamon.
Chia seed heart pretzels: Roll the pretzel dough into long ropes, then join the two ends together in a “v” shape in the center to make a heart shape. After they come out of the oven and you butter them, sprinkle them with chia seeds.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the amazing moms out there who work hard every day to make sure their kids stay healthy, and happy weekend to all!