Homemade soft pretzels have been on my recipe wishlist for about a year now, and now seemed like as good a time as any to try them out. I'm very happy to report that my first swing at pretzel-making was not a strikeout! (It also wasn't a home run, but probably a standing triple, so that's pretty good!) If you're wondering where I fell short, it was in the pretzel shaping department. Who knew it was such hard work to stretch and roll a rope of pretzel dough? I got impatient, so my pretzels ended up sort of squat, looking a bit more like rolls. I felt a little better when I stumbled across a picture of Alton Brown's homemade soft pretzels and they looked a lot like mine do - we'll call them rustic rather than refined.
Squat or not, at least they taste delicious! They have the same pull, the same slightly sweet crust, and the same soft and chewy interior as the real thing! Now to figure out how to replicate the little cup of nacho cheese ...
Homemade Soft Pretzels
1 cup milk
1 package active dry yeast
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/4 cups flour, plus more for kneading
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking soda
Warm milk in a saucepan to about 110 degrees. Pour into medium bowl and sprinkle in yeast. Let yeast soften, 5 minutes. Stir in brown sugar and 1 cup flour. Soften butter and stir into mixture. Add remaining 1 1/4 cups flour and salt to make a sticky dough.
Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed (and I needed a lot of it, probably close to 3/4 cup), until smooth but still slightly sticky, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, place in a greased bowl, loosely cover and let rise in a warm place (like on top of the stove) until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and grease a large baking sheet. Punch dough down, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. (If the dough seems tight, cover and let rest until it relaxes, about 5 minutes or so.) Divide dough into 6 pieces, then roll and stretch each piece with the palms of your hands into a 30-inch rope (my ropes were probably closer to 20 inches because I got impatient). Form each rope into a pretzel shape. Arrange pretzels on prepared baking sheet.
Dissolve baking soda in a cup or so of warm water. Liberally brush each pretzel with soda solution, then sprinkle with sea salt. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, then play ball!