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While most experts disagree on the exact origin of the pretzel, many do agree that pretzels have been loved and enjoyed since the early 1800's. Some suggest the hard, brittle, glazed and salted treat came from Germany in 1835, where the dough was actually shaped to form the letter B, and stood for "Bretzel." Others insist the pretzel was first made by monks in 1800, who spent long hours forming bits of dough in the shape of a person's hand in prayer.

Today, pretzels are made in the shape of a loose not, briefly boiled, and then glazed with egg, salted and baked. In most cities around the world, however, it is the soft pretzel that is favored. Thick knots, sticks and nuggets of pretzels are one of the most popular items on city streets today.

TIPS, TRICKS AND FACTS
Oven baked pretzels and soft pretzels are incredibly low in fat. Containing only 1 gram of fat, pretzels are often eaten by dieters.

Pre-heating a toaster oven or oven will help to brown the pretzel and prevent the bottom from burning. Another way to brown the pretzel is to dip them into a mixture of hot water and baking soda before cooking.

Cooling pretzels on a wire rack after baking will prevent them from getting soggy.

RECIPES

THE NEW YORK CITY SOFT STREET PRETZEL
(Makes 1 dozen large pretzels)

INGREDIENTS
1c hot water
1 package active dry-yeast
1-1/2c flour
2T soft butter
1/2t salt
1T sugar
1-1/4c (additional) flour
Combine hot water and yeast in a mixing bowl. When dissolved, add flour, butter, salt and sugar and beat for 3 minutes. Stir in additional 1-1/4c of flour and knead until dough loses its stickiness. Place in a greased bowl and cover, allowing to rise until dough has doubled in size. Punch dough down and divide into 12 equal pieces. With the palms of your hands, roll each piece into 18-inch ropes. Twist and loop into desired shape. Place on greased baking sheet and let rise until doubled. Preheat oven to 475-degrees.

Ready a solution of 4 cups water and 5T baking soda. Mix together in glass or plastic bowl. (Do not use aluminum.) Dip pretzels into mixture and return them to greased sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bake until browned, about 12 minutes.

CHOCOLATE DESSERT PRETZEL
(Makes 24 pretzels)

INGREDIENTS
1/4c unsweetened cocoa
1/4lb butter, at room temperature
1/4c sugar
2c flour
1 egg, beaten
1t vanilla extract
Cake flour

Dissolve cocoa in 3T hot water and let cool to room temperature. Cream butter and sugar in a bowl and then add cocoa mixture and beat. When well mixed, beat in flour, one cup at a time, followed by egg and vanilla. Pat and shape dough into long cylinders 7 inches long and 2 inches thick. Wrap with wax paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until firm. Slice dough crosswise into 1/2 inch rounds and roll each piece into a rope about 14-inches long and 1/4 inch thick. Make desired pretzel shape and arrange on ungreased baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Bake 10 minutes. After removing hot pretzels from oven, sprinkle with cake flour while still warm.

Pennsylvania Dutch Pretzels
(Makes 2 dozen pretzels)

INGREDIENTS
1 package dry bakers yeast
1/2c warm water (110 F)
1/2c sugar
1 1/2t salt
2c milk, scalded and cooled
1/4c light vegetable oil
6c flour
3/4t baking powder
2 quarts boiling water
3T salt
1 egg yolk, beaten and diluted with
1T water or milk
coarse kosher salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, scalded milk and oil. Slowly mix in 3 cups flour. Cover and let rise in warm place for 40 minutes. Slowly add 3 more cups flour and baking powder. Knead until dough is no longer sticky, using a little more flour if necessary to form a smooth, elastic dough. Roll out and pat dough into 9- by 15- inch rectangle. Cut lengthwise into strips about one-half-inch wide. Roll each strip into rope 18 to 20 inches long. Twist into pretzel shape. Allow to rise uncovered for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400F. Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in boiling water. Dunk each pretzel into boiling water for 5 to 10 sec. Drain briefly and arrange on greased baking sheet one inch apart. Brush with diluted egg yolk and sprinkle with coarse kosher salt. Bake 20 min, or until golden brown. Serve warm.

TOPPINGS
You can dip or top pretzels in your favorite dipping sauces like cheese, sour cream, chocolate glaze, mustard, spicy brown mustard, ranch dressing, powdered sugar and more.