Imagine you’re at a ballgame, the airport, or a movie theater. What do they all have in common? They serve those big pretzels. On the outside they are chewy and have coarse salt sprinkled on top. On the inside they are soft. They are also spectacular dipped in some cheese sauce. At the airport, ballgame, or movie theater you’re probably going to pay several dollars for one of those pretzels. I know they are marked way up. The good news is that you can make the pretzels and the cheese sauce at home, and it’s not that hard.
The Pretzel Recipe:
- 1 Package active dry yeast or 2 TSPs + 1/4 TSP of yeast from a jar.
- 1 cup warm water(about 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 2-1/2-3 cups flour
- 2 TBSPs oil
- 1 TBSP sugar
- 6 TBSP baking soda( this does not actually go into the dough, I will explain what it is for later.)
The first thing to do is dissolve the yeast in the water. Do not use a metal bowl. Metal and yeast don’t play well with one another, so your choices are plastic, glass, or ceramic. I use plastic because I do not yet have ceramic or glass mixing bowls. The temperature of the water does matter. It can’t be too cool because that won’t activate the yeast and it can’t be too hot because that will kill the yeast. Usually if the water feels slightly warm, then it’s ok to use for dissolving yeast. Remember your body runs at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit so the right temperature for yeast is only going to feel slightly warm. Give the yeast 5-15 minutes to dissolve. When it is dissolved you’ll start seeing bits of dissolved yeast rise to the surface of the water.
Next add about 1-1/2 cups of the flour, the oil, and the sugar to the yeast mixture. Stir is all around. Add enough of the remaining flour that your dough isn’t really sticky anymore. Turn your dough out onto a cleaned and floured counter top to knead. Knead if for a few minutes until it looks like a ball of dough. It will come together after adequate kneading. Wash out your bowl and put some oil in it. Then put the dough in the bowl and flip it over to oil the surface. Cover the dough and put it aside for about an hour.
Fast Forward an hour. It’s now time to form your pretzels. Divide the dough into 12 equal balls. This recipe makes 12 large pretzels. If you want to make smaller pretzels just divide the balls into smaller pieces, if you want to make jumbo pretzels divide the dough into 6-8 equal pieces.
First of all take one of your balls of dough and roll it out. I know all of you used to do this with play dough when you were in kindergarten so just think back to those days when you were making “snakes” out of play dough. It can technically be as long as you want it to be, but the thinner you roll out your dough the more fragile it becomes. So stick with 12-18 inches in length.
Then bring the ends back to the circular part of your pretzel. Kind of mash the ends into the other parts of the pretzel. I told you this pretzel was going to be ugly, but you can see where the knots are. It will take some practice to get it how you want it, but even if it looks ugly it still tastes good.
The pretzels need to sit like this and rise for about 25 minutes. They are going to puff up more. Some of your pretzels may even close up and there won’t be any space between. I don’t get really upset when that happens, but if you want to prevent it you have to make your pretzels in such a way that there is plenty of space inside of it.
Here is where the baking soda comes in. Put the baking soda in 6 cups of water in a pot, bring the pot to a boil. You’re actually going to put the pretzels in the boiling water for a short period of time. Why? The short exposure to hot water will give the outside of your pretzel a chewy-ness. You don’t actually even have to do this step. You could skip it and put a little egg-wash on top of the pretzels for color and bake them without this step. I myself, prefer the chewy-ness.
When the water is boiling take a slotted spatula and slip several pretzels in at a time. Let them stay in the water simmering for 10 seconds on each side. Let them drain a bit on your spatula then place them on a greased cookie sheet for baking. The baking soda in the water actually helps to give the pretzels a nice color. If you just boiled them without the baking soda they would end up a lot lighter in color when they were finished, but you don’t have to use the baking soda. This is where you are going to add the salt. So sprinkle some on if you want to.
When all your pretzels are done getting their bath, put them in a 425 degree Fahrenheit oven for 12-15 minutes. They do not need to be in there long.
Let them cool on a wire rack.
Now to the cheese sauce.
- 1 to 1-1/2 cups of milk
- 2-3 TBSPs butter
- 2-4 cups of grated cheese
- 2 TBSPs flour
I actually made my sauce in the microwave, but you can also do it on the stove.
First melt the butter(same for microwave or stove).
Then add the flour, stir it until it is dissolved in the butter(same for microwave or stove).
Pour in the milk. If you’re using the microwave, microwave it for about a minute. If you are using the stove, bring it to about medium heat, and then let it get a little bubbly.
Add the cheese. If you’re using the microwave, stir the cheese into the milk mixture and then microwave for one to one and a half minutes. If you using the stove add the cheese, stir it in, and let it bubble for just long enough for it to start getting thick. You may need to turn the heat down, you don’t want this to burn or boil over. At this point either with the microwave or the stove your sauce should be thick enough to dip now. You might want to let it cool down because it is hot! It also gets thicker as it cools. If you let it cool too long you will have to put it in the microwave for a few seconds to heat it up.
When I was in the Washington D.C. airport a while back I saw and tried the most devilish thing: Pretzels with pepperoni on them. You can do that with these as well. You will have to skip the boiling process and just stick pepperoni to the pretzels when they are formed after they have been treated with an egg-wash. You could also go the other route and do cinnamon and sugar, which is easy and you can still boil them.
My pretzels puffed up quite a bit, so if you really want them to look like the pretzels you see at the ballgames and theaters and such, you have to make them bigger in the first place, not bigger as in using more dough, but rolling the dough thinner and making sure the loops are nice and wide.
Have fun twisting those pretzels!