I grew up eating pretzels from a young age. Us Germans start early on with cultivating our love for certain foods, in fact, even young babies around 1 year of age tend to have their first pretzel experience by being handed a piece of pretzel to chew on. There are so many ways to enjoy a good pretzel in Germany. In Bavaria for example, a good pretzel or "Brezen" is enjoyed with beer, a pair of Weisswurst and German sweet mustard on the weekends for brunch. While the soft pretzel shape is very popular in Germany, the same dough is also formed into rolls or bread-sticks, before being immersed into a lye mixture which will give the pretzels their typical color and taste. For the "home-baker" though, a baking soda/water solution will produce a similar result.
You would think with eating pretzels all my life I would be an expert on making them as well, but forming a decent one is more difficult than it looks. I've tried it many years ago and while they didn't look half-bad, it is much easier to purchase them, especially when living in Germany. You can find great bakeries on almost every corner. Their prices are great and most of these bakeries still produce their daily offerings on site. Unfortunately, the closest thing I've ever found to an authentic tasting German pretzel here in the United States happens to be at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia where some of the Amish vendors sell them and they taste almost like home.
While browsing blogs, I happened to come across these Pretzel bites on Two Peas and Their Pod and was instantly intrigued by the color of these little gems along with the ease of the recipe. Would I be able to produce a similar tasting experience I grew up with? The dough is a simple yeast dough which comes together with ease, especially when using a Kitchen Aid or a bread-maker. The dough then sits to rise for about an hour before being formed into long ropes. The ropes are cut into 1 1/2 inch size pieces before being immersed into a water/baking soda mixture for 30 seconds. Finally, the nuggets get a brushing with egg-wash and a sprinkle of Kosher salt before being baked.
These little guys are perfect! The do taste very similar to the pretzels I remember and I was instantly thrown back to my childhood. As soon as I pulled one tray out of the oven my husband and kids kept nibbling away on them and I had to remind them that I still needed a few to take pictures with. I served my pretzel bites with assorted mustards and they were simply fantastic. These nuggets would be fabulous served at any time and a glass of cold beer on the side makes them even better. Now I wish I could just get my hands on a pair of those Weisswursts.
German Soft Pretzel Bites
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda
1 whole egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
Coarse Kosher Salt
Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook until combined. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Add the salt and 4 1/2 cups of flour and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, about 3 yo 4 minutes. If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove the dough from the bowl, place on a flat surface and knead into a ball with your hands.
Oil a large bowl with vegetable oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Bring the water to boil in a pot over high heat and add the baking soda (be careful while you do this as your pot will start to bubble over very easily).
Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (I ended up with 9 pieces) about 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 ounces each. Roll each piece into a long rope measuring 22 inches and shape. Cut the dough into 1 1/2- inch pieces to make the pretzel bites (a bench scraper works wonderful for this). Boil the pretzel bites in the water solution in batches (about 15 pieces at time). Boil for about 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon. Place pretzel bites on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooing spray. Make sure they are not touching. Brush the tops with the egg wash and season liberally with the salt. Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minute or until golden brown. (The color of my nuggets is pretty much spot on with a German pretzel).
Remove to a baking rack and let rest 5 minutes before eating. Serve with mustard.
Adapted from: Two Peas and Their Pod