So it’s a little astonishing to realize that until this month, I’d never ventured into making full loaves of pretzel bread. How was this possible? Rolls, yes. Rods, yes. Twists, yes. Tiny, adorable nuggets for dunking into homemade honey mustard, yes. But here’s the deep, dark secret: making pretzel bread is much easier than shaping, twirling, and poaching smaller pretzels. With a larger loaf shape, you’re not stuck at the counter, molding small pieces of dough into different shapes. You’re making an oval: one and done.
For beginning pretzel makers who’ve never gone through the process of kneading, rising, shaping, proofing, poaching, and baking, it gets them into the pretzel groove without the extra manipulation. Beginning bread makers get a soft, unfussy dough to work with, boosting their confidence to try goopier doughs like ciabatta and (eventually) sourdough breads. It’s a win-win on both counts.
The bread recipe below is a close adaptation of the soft pretzel recipe from Classic Snacks Made from Scratch, but I’ve made it a little sturdier with the substitution combination of bread flour and white whole wheat flour. It seems like a lot of dough when you’re kneading it, but rest assured that you’ll be glad you baked two loaves when it comes to eating this stuff. (It’s also more efficient to make two loaves at once because each needs to be poached in a baking soda solution to give the pretzel bread its signature shiny brown crust. If you’re already boiling up two quarts of liquid to make the bread, why not dunk two loaves instead of just one?)
Pretzels, by the way, are a distinctly Pennsylvanian snack—Julius Sturgis, the first commercial pretzel factory in the U.S., is still in business in Lititz, PA, along with contenders like Snyder’s of Hanover, Snyder’s of Berlin (formerly related, now separate companies), Utz, and Martin’s dispersed throughout the state. As I discovered in an old Gourmet article when researching Classic Snacks, a typical American eats two pounds of pretzels per year. A Central Pennsylvanian eats six pounds annually.
Up next: the elusive pretzel ice cream cone. You heard it here, folks.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Makes 2 loaves
- 4 cups (1 pound, 1 oz.) bread flour
- 2 cups (8 1/2 oz.) white whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast (not active dry yeast!)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cups warm water (about 100-110˚F)
- 1/2 cup organic canola or vegetable oil
- 2 quarts (8 cups) water
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
Make the dough:
Whisk the flour, brown sugar, yeast, and salt together in a large bowl to break down any lumps. Stir in the warm water and vegetable oil until a soft dough forms.
Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 5 minutes, until smooth and tacky but not sticky. Spritz a large, clean bowl with cooking spray or grease lightly with vegetable oil and place the dough inside. Spritz or grease a piece of plastic wrap and cover the bowl. Let the dough rise for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Turn the risen dough out onto a clean, unfloured surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece into an oval about 7 inches long, pinching any seams closed with your fingers and rolling them to the underside of the loaf.
Place the loaves on the prepared baking sheets and cover loosely with flour-sack towels or fresh sheets of sprayed plastic wrap. Let rise for another 30 minutes.
Poach and bake:
Preheat the oven to 375˚F and prepare the poaching liquid. Bring the 8 cups water to a simmer in a large saucepan wide enough to fit one of the loaves of bread, like this All-Clad 3-quart saute pan, over medium heat. Add the baked soda and brown sugar and stir until dissolved. The water will foam slightly.
Gently lower one of the loaves into the water and poach for about 15 seconds per side, flipping with silicone spatulas and/or metal skimmers. Gently remove the loaf from the poaching liquid and return to the baking sheet. Repeat with the second loaf.
Make three diagonal slashes in the top of each loaf with a serrated knife, then sprinkle each loaf with 1 teaspoon sesame seeds.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until the crust is deeply browned. Cool the loaves completely on a rack before slicing and eating—I know, it will be a challenge!