There seem to be several thousand different ways to make pretzels, and I’m sure that most of them work, though one or two recipes that I have tried have been abject failures. All that matters is the end result, and this method – which I found in The Great British Bake Off Christmas book – delivers every time.
You can make pretzels sweet as well as savoury, just sprinkle them with demerara sugar instead of salt before baking.
RECIPE – makes 8 large pretzels
175ml hand warm water
1/2 tsp caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp active dried yeast
300g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp melted butter
flaky sea salt (or demerara sugar if making sweet pretzels)
Mix the warm water with the sugar and yeast and leave in a warm place for 5-10 minutes until the mixture starts to bubble.
Put the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre, add the yeast and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a loose dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until the dough starts to loose it’s stickiness.
Flatten and spread the dough out into a loose square, and sprinkle the salt over it. Knead for a further five minutes, this will distribute the salt thoroughly throughout the dough. When the dough is smooth and elastic, roll it into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with cling film or a damp cloth, in a warm place for 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size.
Heat the oven to 170C/ Gas 3. Put about 1 1/2 litres of water in a large pan with the bicarbonate of soda and bring it to the boil.
Meanwhile, punch the dough back down and give it another brief knead, then cut it into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a long thin rope, about 45cm (18 inches) long.
Take one end of the rope and bring it to the centre, then take the other end of the rope and bring it across the first end and twist it underneath to form a knot in the centre, then bring it to the middle. Press the ends tightly on the top edge of the dough rope to seal them – see the picture for the end result.
Gently lower each piece of shaped pretzel dough into the boiling water using a slotted spoon, you can probably do 3 at a time. After about ten seconds they will start to rise to the top, but allow them to boil for 30 seconds before removing with a slotted spoon and placing onto a baking sheet lined with parchment while you do the rest.
Once the pretzels have all been boiled, brush them with the egg and butter glaze and sprinkle with the sea salt. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 45 minutes until they are a deep and glossy brown, and crisp. Cool on a wire rack before eating – you might want to have the dough for eight more proving in a corner, these go fast!