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A happy culinary accident, hard pretzels are one of America’s
first salty, crunchy snack foods. Traditional recipes for hard pretzels are
fat-free, but I find that a few pats of butter added to the dough lend the
pretzels an extra-special crispiness and a savory flavor. If you prefer the
drier crunch of the traditional style, omit the butter. For pretzel rods, see
the variation at the end of the recipe.
One 1/4-ounce/7-gram package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 cup/240 mL warm water (between 100 and 115 degrees F/38 and
45 degrees C)
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup or 1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown
3 1/2 cups/440 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature, plus
more for greasing the bowl
2 teaspoons fine sea salt, such as fleur de sel or sel gris
2 tablespoons food-grade lye, or 1/4 cup/60 grams baked baking soda (see separate notes)
Coarse salt for topping
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in the bowl of a
stand mixer or in a large bowl. Add the barley malt syrup, stirring until it is
dissolved. Allow the yeast to bloom until it is foamy, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the
flour, butter, and fine sea salt and stir to form a shaggy mass. Attach the
bowl and the dough hook to the stand mixer and begin kneading on medium-low
speed. After about 1 minute the dough will form a smooth ball. The dough should
be quite firm and may be slightly tacky, but not sticky. (If it is sticky, add
a little more flour, about 1 tbsp at a time, and knead it in until the dough is
smooth. If the dough is too dry to come together, add more water, 1 tsp at a time.)
Continue kneading the dough on medium-low speed until it is elastic, 5 to 7
minutes. Alternatively, turn the shaggy dough out onto an unfloured work
surface and knead it by hand.
Choose a bowl that will be large enough to contain the
dough after it has doubled in size, and lightly grease it with butter. Transfer
the dough to the greased bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Put
the dough in the refrigerator to rise for at least 8 hours, and up to 24 hours,
for optimal flavor.
Line two 12-by-17-in/30.5-by-43-cm rimmed baking sheets
with parchment paper; set aside.
Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and
press it down to deflate. Cut it into four equal portions, and divide each
portion into six small chunks of dough. Work with one piece of dough at a time
and keep the rest covered with a damp, clean kitchen towel. Pat a piece of
dough down with your fingertips to form a rough rectangle. Roll it up tightly,
beginning with a long side, into a cylinder. Shape the dough into a rope 18
in/46 cm long by rolling it against the work surface, using your palms and
working from the center of the rope out to the ends. Apply a little more
pressure as you get closer to the ends to taper them slightly. If you need more
friction, spray the counter with a little water from a squirt bottle or drizzle
a few drops of water and spread it with your hand. It is important that the dough
be rolled out to the correct length, or it will be too thick to harden during
Position the dough rope into a U shape, with the ends
pointing away from you. Holding an end in each hand, cross the ends and then
cross them again. Fold the ends down and press them into the U at about 4 and 8
o’clock, allowing about 1⁄8 in/3 mm of the ends to overhang. Place the pretzel
on one of the prepared baking sheets and cover it with a damp towel. Repeat
this process with the remaining dough, arranging the pretzels at least 1 in/2.5
cm apart and covering them with a damp towel.
When the first baking sheet is filled with twelve
pretzels, transfer it to the refrigerator while you shape the rest of the
pretzels to prevent the first batch from overproofing. When all the pretzels are
shaped, leave both trays, covered, at warm room temperature to rise until the
pretzels have doubled in size, 30 to 40 minutes. (The pretzels can be
refrigerated at this point, covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to 8
hours before dipping and baking them.)
At least 20 minutes before baking, position one rack in
the upper third and another rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it
to 325°F/165°C/gas 3.
Using the lye or baked baking soda solution, dip the
pretzels following the instructions for (see separate notes), working in
batches of four to six pretzels at a time, depending on the size of your pot.
After dipping, sprinkle the pretzels with coarse salt. Bake them immediately.
Bake the pretzels for 25 minutes, and then rotate the pans
from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the pretzels are
mahogany in color and completely hard throughout. This could take anywhere from
25 to 40 minutes more, but rely on the visual and textural cues rather than the
time. To test a pretzel for doneness, remove one from the oven and break it in
half. If the center is still a little chewy, continue baking. If the color is
deep brown but the pretzels are not done inside, remove the trays from the oven
and allow them to cool to room temperature while you reduce the oven temperature
to 300°F/150°C/gas 2. Return the pretzels to the oven to finish hardening to a
crisp. Test a pretzel after about 10 minutes, and in 5-minute increments after
that. When they are hard, transfer the pretzels to a cooling rack. Once they
are completely cooled, store them in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Hard Pretzel Rods
Divide the dough into forty-eight pieces. Roll the dough
ropes out to 8-in/20-cm sticks without tapering the ends, and proceed as directed
in the recipe. The total baking time will be reduced to 45 to 55 minutes, or
until they are deep brown and hard throughout.