For some reason big chewy pretzels dipped in nacho cheese sauce are just iconic of ball games and the state fair. They remind me of those vendors that smell like grease and salt and amazing-ness where the pretzels are hanging on the little stand in the window, ready to be grabbed down and dipped in butter and salt and served with nacho cheese for you artery-clogging pleasure!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I don’t occasionally break down and order one of those golden brown twists, but I can also assure you that for every time I eat a ballpark pretzel, I live to regret it. Perhaps it’s the grease, the carb overload, calorie overload (I always get the nacho cheese to go with it…) I’m not sure, but either way I almost always wind up holding my belly and cursing my wandering eyes for putting me in this situation!
That being said, I still crave those big soft pretzels, so I decided to make a healthier, smaller, and vegan version of them. (No butter?? You betch’a!)
When I started looking into making my own pretzels I was surprised by just how many different variations of pretzels there are. I found recipes from anywhere from 4 ingredients total, to a whole plethora of mix-ins and dough enhancers. I picked one from each end of the spectrum, and a few from the middle. I like my pretzels chewy, not soft and bread-y, so that was one of my first determining factors in finding a recipe I liked. Adding the baking soda and honey to the water while you bring it to a boil really enhances the outer chew of the crust, while leaving the inside of the pretzel soft and yummy.
Make sure that you use Kosher salt to top the pretzels. Kosher salt is flaky enough that it will dissolve a little bit on hitting the pretzels which helps it stick. It also has big enough flakes that they won’t completely dissolve and disappear! Since you aren’t brushing them with butter you also need to do it right after you take them out of the boiling water too. This will ensure that the salt has a chance to ‘stick’ before the water evaporates from the pretzels. If you need to let the dough rest while rolling it out into ropes just set it on a lightly floured counter for a few minutes and the gluten should relax. You can then roll it out into a long rope without the dough tearing.
One more thing, I know that brown rice syrup might not be a staple in everyone’s pantry, so if you don’t have any and still want to give these guys a try add a little brown sugar to the water (1-2 tbsp) before bringing it to a boil instead. It won’t give the exact same gloss, but it will still help to enhance the crust!
- 1 1/2 cups Luke Warm Water
- 2 tsp Yeast instant
- 3 Tbsp Vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 20 oz Bread Flour about 4 cups
- 2 tsp Salt
- 2 tbsp Coarse Salt for topping
- 2 quarts Water
- 1/3 cup Baking Soda
- 2 tbsp Brown Rice Syrup
Proof the water, yeast, oil and sugar in a 4 cup measuring cup until the yeast starts to foam, about 5mn.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook combine the flour and salt. Turn the mixer on to low and gradually pour in the water ingredients. Raise the power to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough comes together and starts to pull away from the edges of the bowl. It will still be sticking to the bottom.
Remove dough from bowl and knead a few times by hand to form a smooth ball. Spray the inside of the stand mixer bowl with some oil, and place the dough back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.
Once the dough has risen, divide it into 4 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time (Cover the others with lightly greased plastic) roll it out into a long rope. It should be about 1/2 wide, or however big you want your pretzel bites. Using a bench scraper or butter knife cut the rope into equal pieces, I like to do mine about 1" long. Place the pieces on a lightly floured sheet pan and cover with lightly greased plastic. Make sure that the pieces aren't touching. Continue this with the other pieces of dough, rolling them out, cutting into bite sized pieces, and then placing them on sheet pans. You should be able to get all the pieces to fit on two sheet pans.
Let the dough rest for 20mn. Turn the oven on to 425. While the dough is resting bring 2 quarts of water, the baking soda and the brown rice syrup to a boil in a 4 quart saucepan. Once it is boiling and the dough has rested drop pieces of the dough into the boiling water one at a time. You do not want the water to stop boiling. Boil each piece of dough for about 2 minutes, flip it over, let it go another minute, and then remove with a slotted spoon.
Place wire racks inside the sheet pans and drop the pretzel bites on top of the racks. This will give them better airflow to get a good chew all around. Once you have one pan full of pretzel bites, sprinkle them with a Tbsp of Kosher salt (or more if needed). Place the pretzels in the oven and bake for 18 - 22 minutes, or until they are a dark golden brown (rotate the pan halfway through baking if your oven gives off uneven heat). Repeat with the other pan of pretzels. These are best served hot, but can be tossed in the oven for a few minutes after they have cooled and will become absolutely delicious again!