Did you know that April is National Soft Pretzel Month? I’m not sure it needs an entire month to itself but I do applaud the pretzel in all its salty glory.
I definitely enjoy a warm, soft pretzel fresh out of the oven. Especially if it’s covered in mustard or a cheesy beer dip! But I’ve always been more partial (and quite addicted) to a crunchy pretzel. I love crunch and texture and you can’t get more crunchy than a hard pretzel.
When I say addicted, you might think I’m exaggerating. But I’m not. I remember when I first lived on my own, I’d go to the grocery store and buy no less than 4 or 5 bags of different kinds of pretzels. Braided pretzels. Pretzel twists and pretzel sticks. Mini pretzels and homestyle pretzels. Definitely pretzel rods (those are my all-time faves; they’re great to dip into some French onion dip!). At the time, I lived in southeastern Pennsylvania so some Pennsylvania Dutch Sourdough Hard Pretzels were always in the mix.
After getting home from shopping, I’d take all of the pretzel bags and open them up. Then one-by-one, I’d dump them into a super-gigantic-XXL-humongous orange-yellow Tupperware bowl. I loved that Tupperware bowl (I wonder where it went?) because I would munch on my mega-bowl of pretzels all week long. No wonder I developed TMJ in my late 20’s!
Fast forward to today. While I no longer nosh on a gigantic bowl of hard pretzels all week long, I’ve not given up my predilection for pretzels. I am much more selective on when to enjoy them and I’ve learned to love a fresh-baked soft pretzel warm from the oven.
The best soft pretzel recipe I’ve come across belongs to my friend Carlyn Berghoff, 4th-generation-owner of The Berghoff Restaurant. She has a cherished family recipe for Bavarian pretzels that her family has made for decades – and which is still served today – at The Berghoff Restaurant. A few years back, Carlyn wrote a Berghoff Family Cookbook and shared her recipe so that you (and I) can make them at home for ourselves.
Do you have a predilection for pretzels? What kind of pretzels make you reach for a cold pint of beer?
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Do not use a convection oven for this recipe.
To mix in a mixer: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt, and stir to mix; add the water, butter, and egg yolk, and mix on low until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.
Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead the dough at the lowest speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes, adding some or all of the remaining flour as needed. Cover with plastic wrap lightly sprayed with cooking spray and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
To mix by hand: In a 4-quart bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt, and whisk to mix; add the water, butter, and egg yolk and, using a large spoon, stir until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.
Remove the spoon and, using your hands, knead the dough right in the bowl until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes, adding some or all of the remaining flour as needed. Cover with plastic wrap lightly sprayed with cooking spray and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
To mix in a food processor: In the work bowl of a large-capacity (14-cup) food processor fitted with the plastic dough blade, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt, and pulse to mix. Add the water, butter, and egg yolk, and pulse until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and forms a cohesive mass. Add additional flour as needed through the feed tube.
To shape the pretzels: Turn out the dough on a lightly floured board and knead briefly, about 1 minute. Cut the dough into twelve equal-size pieces. Roll out each dough piece into a 24-inch-long rope. Make a U shape with the rope. Holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press the ends down on to the bottom of the U to seal, forming a “pretzel shape.” For small pretzels, cut the dough into 24 equal-size pieces. Roll out each dough piece into a 12-inch-long rope and shape as directed.
Gently place each pretzel on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet (two pans). Brush the tops lightly with the egg white mixture. Sprinkle each with ½ teaspoon of coarse salt, or to taste. Bake in the preheated oven for 14 to 16 minutes, or until browned firm. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
This recipe is by Carlyn Berghoff of Chicago's iconic The Berghoff Restaurant.