‘Tis the season for all things cozy, comforting, cinnamon-y, and caramel-y!
Have you ever visited a pumpkin patch or street fest where shiny puffy pretzels aren't calling for you to eat them?!
Pretzels may be my biggest weakness. They're so hard to resist, with their chewy softness browned by a delicious Maillard reaction.
Of course, I easily solve the temptation of commercial pretzels by making my own! No high gluten, no enriched bleached flour, no mystery ingredients, and no bloated belly.
Baking Soda vs Lye
In Germany, pretzels were traditionally dipped in a lye solution before baking them. This gave them a very dark brown color and unique taste.
Since lye is a powerful alkali (with a pH of 13 to 14) that must be handled with caution, many home cooks choose an easier route. Instead, we use baking soda.
Baking soda is also an alkali, although less so (with a pH of 8). It produces a lighter colored skin and a subtler pretzel flavor.
Another alternative? Washing soda, with a pH of somewhere between lye and baking soda.
The challenge is finding washing soda that's pure. If you're a DIY-type person, you just might want to tackle the project of making washing soda at home. It requires heating baking soda to high temperatures.
All that said, if you decide to use lye, you'll get the most authentic looking and tasting pretzels.
How To Add Softness When Baking With Ancient Grains
Have you ever seen “vital wheat gluten” listed on the ingredient label of store-bought bread? Since gluten gives bread texture and softness, this means you're getting something extremely soft!
But is it worth it?
Both einkorn and spelt have weaker gluten than modern wheat varieties. Ancient grain flours such as these often come hand-in-hand with tougher textures and smaller rises.
However, in my opinion, this is a small trade-off for the superior nutritional benefits that come with unhybridized varieties of wheat like einkorn, spelt, and kamut.
And of course, bakers have their own tricks to bring desired softness to even ancient grains! (Like Wardee's amazingly soft einkorn artisan bread recipe!)
For pretzels, I add a whole boiled potato. It makes them truly soft… So much so that you won't even miss the store-bought stuff again.
Just like any homemade pretzels, soft sourdough pretzels are best when eaten fresh. If you like to sprinkle salt on top, it will dissolve by the next day.
To begin a sourdough starter for these pretzels or your own breads, muffins, cakes, and more, make sure to grab our free instructions –> How To Start A Sourdough Starter.
Makes 8 pretzels.
- 1 small potato, boiled, peeled, and chopped (about 100g)
- 1 cup warm water
- about 1 tablespoon active sourdough starter
- 1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice
- 4½ cups all-purpose flour (einkorn, spelt or a mix of both)
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 10 cups water
- ⅔ cup baking soda
- Combine potato, water, sourdough starter, and sweetener in a blender.
- Blend until uniform.
- Next, sift 4 cups of flour into a large bowl.
- Add potato/water liquid.
- Mix with spoon until no dry spots remain.
- Cover and leave for 30 minutes. In baker's terms, this is autolysis -- the flour will hydrate and enzymes will begin breaking down starch, etc.
- At the end of 30 minutes, add salt and butter.
- Then knead it by hand or with a dough mixer.
- Once the dough starts getting too sticky, add the remaining ½ cup flour.
- Knead to incorporate. The dough should be nice and pliable, and maybe slightly sticky.
- Cover and leave at room temperature to rise. It could take anywhere from a minimum of 3 to 4 hours, to a maximum of 6 to 8 hours. Watch the dough, not the time. It should rise significantly.
- When ready to bake, turn the dough over to a well-floured surface.
- Then give it a few folds by hand. The dough will be sticky at first but will quickly become nice and manageable.
- Prepare a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
- Separate the dough into 8 to 10 pieces. Keep pieces you are not working on covered.
- Roll each piece into a rope (18 to 24 inches long) and shape into a pretzel.
- Place onto the baking sheet.
- Let rest 20 to 30 minutes.
- Bring 10 cups of water and ⅔ cup baking soda to a rolling boil.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place pretzels into the boiling water (2 at a time) for 30 seconds on each side, then transfer back to the baking sheet using a spatula.
- Sprinkle with pretzel salt, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or cinnamon sugar.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until deep golden.
*Whole ground einkorn is too hard to work with, although doable if you are an experienced baker.
*Whole ground spelt flour works pretty well, but it does make pretzels that are more dense and quite dark.
Have you ever made sourdough pretzels before? Spelt, einkorn, or kamut… which ancient wheat is YOUR favorite?
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