When I attend a professional sporting event, I usually buy a pretzel from the concession stand. A hard, chewy, somewhat tasteless pretzel. That costs about $5.00. But really, what are you going to do? Try ballpark sushi? Or spend $20.00 for a hot chocolate? Stadium food rarely presents many good options, though I’m sure there are some inherent challenges in preparing food for 70,000 people.
With that in mind, I decided to make my own stadium snack for the Superbowl. With the big game on in the background, I got to work on these pretzel bites, mixing, kneading, rolling, slicing, and salting my own soft pretzels. And the outcome was delicious, even if the game itself had turned anticlimactic by the third quarter.
When I first found this recipe, I found myself double-checking the ingredient list. Everything seemed fairly standard. Having made doughnuts, baguettes, wheat bread, and the like, I was comfortable and familiar with the dough process and its ingredient list. But then, towards the bottom of the recipe, there was the line calling for a half-cup of baking soda. This immediately struck me as off. This was a veritable mountain of baking soda, something I had never seen before.
I never use up my baking soda boxes; I simply replace them – usually two-thirds full – when I sense they have gone flat. So I checked again, and then checked a third time. And yes, the recipe still read one-half cup of baking soda. Rather than question the cookbook, I took the leap of faith, and poured the baking soda into the pot of boiling water, stirring furiously to prevent too much bubbling.
As it turns out, baking soda is a critical ingredient for pretzels – or at least some alkali. An alkali is a base that dissolves in water. It is baking soda’s base properties that help give the pretzel its distinctive flavor and trademark color (by speeding up the Maillard Reaction). Another common alkali, lye, is also used in cooking pretzels, but it’s a little more dangerous to use — think goggles and rubber gloves. Which is why I’ll stick with baking soda.
I also plan on sticking with this recipe, which was a hit. The recipe made close to a 120 pretzel bites, which were delicious, with that soft, doughy texture and beautiful brown crust. If I were to try anything, I might add a little more baking soda, as a little Internet research has revealed several recipes calling for two-thirds of a cup of baking soda!
Homemade Soft Pretzel Bites with Honey Mustard
Recipe adapted from Best Cookbook Ever
PREP TIME: 30 minutes
DOWN TIME: 1 hour
COOK TIME: 30 minutes
YIELD: 120 Pretzel Bites
WHAT TO GRAB: PRETZELS 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast 1/4 cup warm water (105-115° F) 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar 3/4 cup water at room temperature 5 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting) 2 tablespoons brown sugar 2 teaspoons Kosher salt 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (plus more for greasing) 1 large egg, beaten 1/2 cup baking soda Sea Salt HONEY MUSTARD 1/4 cup honey 1/2 cup mustard
HOW YOU DO IT:
PREPARING THE DOUGH
1. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, granulated sugar, and warm water. Let it stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If the mixture doesn’t foam, you’ll have to discard it and start over with new yeast).
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, and Kosher salt. Add the butter and mix. Add the yeast mixture, oil, and egg, and mix. Finally, add the remaining water. Start with 1/2 cup and mix well. The dough should be soft and fully mixed, but not overly sticky. Add the remaining water if there is still flour that is not sticking to the dough.
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place the dough in a large, greased bowl, turning once so that the dough is also greased. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm place for about one hour. The dough should double in size.
4. Position one rack in the center of the oven and a second rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
5. In a large pot, combine the baking soda with 8 to 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the baking soda. Lightly oil two large baking sheets and set aside.
CUTTING AND BOILING THE BITES
6. While the water is heating, punch down the dough, and divide it into four equal portions. Roll each portion into a rope about one inch in diameter. I found that holding the dough mid-air and squeezing it worked equally well. Once the dough is into a rope, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces.
7. Working in batches add the dough pieces to the boiling water a dozen or so at a time. Cook for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, use a slotted spoon and remove the bites to a towel to drain of any excess moisture. Immediately, sprinkle the bites with some sea salt, and then place on the prepared pan.
BAKING THE BITES
8. When all of the pretzel bites have been boiled and salted, transfer to the oven. Bake the pretzels for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, flip the pretzels, and switch the baking trays. Continue to bake until the pretzel bites are a golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes longer. Transfer to wire racks and let cool slightly.
9. In a small serving bowl, mix together the honey and mustard. Serve the pretzel bites warm with the mustard!