You can make soft pretzels in your kitchen, right now. Isn’t that just the greatest news? They take a little time, but the wait is worth it for chewy, slightly salty, bready goodness. This is a fun recipe to make; I enjoyed working with this dough, and shaping the pretzels– the step I was most concerned about– turned out to be my favorite part. Even with ale in the recipe, this is most definitely a family-friendly project*. I think most kids I know would have a blast rolling out the dough out and twisting it into shape.
Why ale and cheddar? First off, it seemed like a perfect flavor combination for this classic bar/game snack. I chose a red ale I think tastes good; it is not overly bitter and has a clean, clear, distinct beer flavor. I suggest using any ale you enjoy drinking, and think a smooth porter might work well, too. The cheddar flavor is mild in the finished product, but the cheese contributed to the texture of the pretzel in a way I noticed immediately. The center of these cheddar & ale pretzels is heavenly, lighter than I expected, immensely flavorful and tender. The outside has the classic hint of bitterness from its baking soda bath (I know lye is more traditional, but baking soda is infinitely safer and easier), a good saltiness and a nice chewy bite. The pretzels were great warm from the oven and just as good a few hours later. They didn’t last long enough for me to say how they were several days later. Perhaps my next batch will last long enough for me to post an addendum!
I served the soft pretzels with my scallion and za’atar cheese spread. They would also be delicious plain, with grainy mustard or any cheese dip. If you shape the dough into buns, the very same recipe becomes a delicious base for a sandwich or burger. My mouth waters imagining my favorite lamb burger on a cheddar & ale pretzel bun– I can’t wait to try that. This recipe makes 8 pretzels, and doubles easily. With baseball and barbeque season not too far away, I am going to enjoy practicing this recipe… almost as much as I will enjoy snacking on cheddar & ale soft pretzels.
Cheddar & Ale Soft Pretzels (adapted from the kitchn; makes 8)
- 1 c. ale (I used Bridgeport Kingpin Double Red), at room temperature
- 2 tsp. active dry yeast
- 1 T. sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 c. shredded medium cheddar cheese
- 1/2 tsp. dry mustard (optional)
- 2 1/2 c. flour (maybe extra 1/2 c)
- oil for the bowl
- 8 c. water
- 1/4 c. baking soda
- 1 T. brown rice syrup
- sea salt to top
Day 1: Add the room temperature ale to the bowl of your stand mixer. You can heat it slightly in the microwave, just 10-15 seconds or so, but I didn’t find that was necessary to get a good dough. Add the yeast to the warm or room temperature beer (not hot!) and allow it to sit for 10-15 mins. to bloom.
Add sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, cheddar cheese, dry mustard (if using) and 2 1/2 c. flour to the beer and yeast mixture. Using a dough hook, turn the mixer on low speed and mix for 2-3 mins. Increase the speed to medium once most of the flour is incorporated and mix for another 2-3 mins. Evaluate whether your dough is too sticky: if it sticks to your fingers when you try to roll a small piece into a ball, add more flour 1/4 c. at a time. My dough was very nice with just 2 1/2 c. of flour; be cautious so you don’t make a heavy, dry dough.
To a glass or ceramic bowl at least three times larger than your mass of dough, add 1 tsp. neutral oil. Knead the dough lightly with your hands and form a ball. Roll all sides in the oil and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight, at least 8 hours.
Day 2: The dough should have at least doubled in size overnight, and will look similar the picture above. Remove from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cover a few baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Prepare a bread board by dusting a large cutting board, counter space or bread board lightly with flour. Remove the dough from the bowl and form a quick, neat circle of dough. Use a dough cutter or sharp knife to portion it into halves, then quarters, then eighths. Work carefully so your dough pieces are as uniform as possible.
Working one at a time, with your hands, roll each dough portion into a long tube, as pictured on the right side of the picture above. I found that holding one end mostly stationary and working the other end with the flat of my palm was most efficient. When the dough piece is even and about 12- 15″ long, shape your pretzel:
Take one end over the other and then wrap the bottom piece once more over the top to get a shape like the picture above. Then:
Hold the ends and move them up to the center top of your loop of dough. Press firmly to attach. There! A pretzel. Move it to your prepared baking sheet and do the same for the other pieces of dough.
When all pretzels are shaped, allow them to rest, covered lightly with plastic wrap or a cotton towel, for 30-40 mins.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and prepare the boiling solution. Use a very large Dutch oven or soup pot for this; if you remember science project volcanoes, you know that baking soda causes causes a mixture to expand quickly, and that’s true for this solution. Add the water, baking soda and brown rice syrup to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep it simmering and lower your pretzels carefully into the pot, 2 or 3 at a time, not overlapping, with a slotted spoon. Cook for 30 seconds and then flip each to its other side and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove from the solution to a parchment lined sheet and continue until all pretzels have been boiled. Sprinkle liberally with flaky sea salt or pretzel salt.
Bake the pretzels for 12-15 mins. at 425 degrees. Mine were perfect after 13 mins.; they are done when golden brown, and the places where dough intersects no longer look gummy. Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 mins. before serving. Store leftover pretzels in a tightly-sealed container at room temperature.
*If you want, just replace beer with an equal amount of warm water. The beer seemed to assist with the rising process, but the batch I made with water was just as good.