I’ve been craving bread lately, but 1) haven’t gotten around to making any and 2) have been trying to avoid my carbivore tendencies to counteract my oh-so-unhealthy eating over the holidays. It’s been a month, though, and I think I’m balanced now. My go-to bread of choice is the pretzel. In line with the Game Day snack recipes for the week, allow me to introduce you to the most amazing pretzel bites to grace your taste buds outside of Auntie Anne’s.
I started making pretzels in high school. They were probably the first bread I learned to bake, and I made them all the time thanks to my mom’s bread machine. Toss the ingredients in, forget about them, and roll out the dough an hour later. It was lazy with a major bread payoff and I loved it.
In those early pretzel-making days I thought I was such a good baker. Until someone pointed out that my pretzels kind of looked and tasted more like salty bread. I blamed it on the fact that I had given out “next day leftover” pretzels. If they had only tried the fresh out of the oven ones!
It took a while, but I slowly came to realize that they were right. My pretzels were pale, salty bread imitators. It was time to start messing with the recipe. What gives pretzels their signature flavor? I turned to butter…and more butter! But that was only part of the answer. I also needed to add brown sugar. And swap out water for milk. My new recipe looked nothing like the old one. It tasted nothing like the old one. But dang it, they still looked like the old salty bread pretzels.
The Secret to a Perfect Pretzel: The Double Bath
“Real” pretzels are often dipped in lye before they’re baked. That’s what gives them that deep golden brown coloring and the delightfully chewy texture. Lye is a pretty nasty chemical though, and I definitely did not feel up to that task in the kitchen. Lucky for me, smarter chefs had already discovered an alternative: baking soda.
Dipping your pretzels in a warm water and baking soda bath for about 30 seconds before baking changes the texture just enough to take them from pale, salty bread knots to golden pretzels. Yum! Just be careful scooping them out – the dough tends to get a little mushy. It’s not much of an issue with the bites, but it can be annoying if your traditional pretzel twists are unraveling. It is pretty easy to fix them on the baking sheet though.
To really, truly achieve pretzel perfection there’s a second bath involved. A butter bath.
Yes, you read that right. A butter bath.
I love it so much, I’m going to say it a third time. A butter bath! Immediately after those chewy little pretzel bites come out of the oven, I generously brush them with melted butter. Or, you can completely submerge them in a bowl of melted butter and remove them. I think brushing is easier, but dunking them definitely steps up the butter flavor.