Pennsylvania Dutch-style Soft Pretzels

I got this recipe from my cousin Sarah, who attributes it to her friend, Ronda. Like me, they both grew up in rural south-central Pennsylvania, so this is one of those recipes that reminds me of home. 

You know that smell when you walk by the pretzel stand in the mall? That somewhat intoxicating mixture of warm, yeasty bread and buttery goodness, that makes you want to eat one, whether or not you’re hungry? If you make these, your whole house will smell like that.

If you’re not up for making your own, you can grab exactly this kind of pretzel at the Lancaster County Dutch Market in Germantown, MD. In fact, it’s worth a trip to Lapp’s Soft Pretzel stand just to watch how the girls make the pretzels. And inhale the smell. While I’m at it, here’s a link to a list of the best places to get pretzels in and around Lancaster, PA. And here’s the photo from their website, because I don’t have photos of my own (yet):

Just out of the oven! Photo Jeff Ruppenthal.

Admittedly, soft pretzels are kind of a production to make, so you want to be sure you have both the time and the space to do it right. They are, I believe, worth the effort. If I haven’t scared you yet, then let’s get started.

For the dough, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • 2 cups of warm water (not too hot or you’ll kill the yeast)
  • 2 level Tablespoons of dry yeast (if you’re using yeast in the small packages, that’s a little more than 2 of them)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a large measuring cup, mix warm water, yeast, vanilla and salt. In a large bowl for a stand mixer, place the brown sugar. Add water mixture to sugar. Then add all 5 cups of the flour. Using your mixer’s dough hooks, start mixing and continue until the mixture forms a nice ball, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl if necessary. If too sticky, add more flour, just a little at a time. Knead if necessary to make a nice, smooth ball. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and place in a warm area to rise for 45 minutes to an hour.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees and move a rack to the middle. Now, gather these things so it’s all ready to go:

  • Pretzel salt (they sell it at the Dutch Market!) or other coarse salt
  • A baking sheet with sprayed parchment paper (and extra parchment)

(This is what the recipe said as I received it. I forgot to spray mine. The parchment started to brown after one trip in a very hot oven, but the pretzels did not stick to it. Just keep an eye on it so you don’t have flames in your oven. You’ll probably want to use fresh parchment each time you place a new sheet in the oven.)

  • 3 Tablespoons baking soda (this is what helps the outside of the pretzel to brown in the oven)
  • 4 Cups of HOT water
  • 3-4 sticks of butter, melted (Yes, sticks. Basically a pound. Just do it.)

In a large bowl, mix hot water and baking soda. Place dough on counter and use a pizza cutter or knife to cut small sections of dough. (About 20?) Roll out to desired length (about 20″?). Dip dough in the hot water mixture, then shape into a classic pretzel shape (please read the note at the very bottom concerning quantity, length, and the hot water dip).

Note: This is a very yeasty dough, and the pretzels will rise fast and get really puffy. You’ll want to work rather quickly here. I’ve yet to master the speed part, and as a result mine don’t end up looking as much like a pretzel as they do a puffy, knotted roll. This is no way affects the taste, though!

Place pretzels on lined baking sheets and sprinkle with coarse salt.  Bake on middle rack of oven for 7-10 min. till golden brown.

Remove baked pretzels from oven. Using tongs, dip each one in that delicious warm melted butter, then place on a rack on top of another baking sheet or some foil to allow excess butter to drain off. (It’s messy.) By now, your family will be hovering, so if you want to be a hero, invite them to enjoy a warm fresh soft pretzel. Or two. If you want to store them (assuming you have leftovers), allow them to cool completely and place in plastic bags or other airtight containers. They can be frozen as well.

A note about quantity, length, and the hot water dip: While I was web-searching for the photo above, I came across this recipe, from a blogger with roots in Penna Dutch country. This was her grandma’s recipe! Her batch uses 3 cups of flour instead of 5, so it’s a smaller (more manageable?) batch. She says to cut her dough into 12 pieces. That means that a batch based on 5 cups of flour will make about 20 pretzels. And, she rolls them out to about 20 inches before forming into the traditional pretzel shape. AND – she actually boils them for a couple of minutes in the baking soda water, instead of just dipping! I haven’t tried this yet, but I might, just to see how they compare in terms of ingredients and technique.

 

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