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ATK Kids

Make Pretzels Worth Their Salt, No Boiling Required

It’s possible to get that perfect outer crust just by using your oven.
By Published Jan. 21, 2022

For most of my life, the process of making soft pretzels was a complete mystery to me. Every time I bit into a warm, salty pretzel (usually dunked in beer cheese), I’d wonder: How did the bakers get that hard, shiny crust on the outside with a satisfyingly chewy inside? And could I replicate it in my own kitchen?

It turns out that most pretzels are boiled, often in a lye solution, before baking to ensure that the exterior comes out just right. Thinking that sounded like too much of a hassle for your average home baker (e.g., me), I went looking for a shortcut. In ATK Kids’ The Complete Baking for Young Chefs, I found a recipe that takes boiling out of the equation entirely. That makes it easier, faster, and safe enough for kids to do, too.

The key ingredient that allows for the shortcut is baking soda. Like lye, baking soda is an alkaline substance, and when mixed with water and brushed over the pretzel dough, it changes the pH of the dough and gelates the surface starch. In the oven, the starch gel hardens and the alkaline baking soda makes browning happen fast. When you take the pretzels out of the oven, they’ve got the perfect dark, shiny finish—ballpark-worthy pretzels without the boil.

You can find the full recipe for Soft Pretzels—as well as our recipe for Pretzel Rolls—on the ATK Kids website. Once you’ve made your dough, here’s what to do for a batch of six pretzels:

  1. While dough rises, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Set 1 cooling rack in baking sheet and spray well with vegetable oil spray.
  2. Combine ½ cup water and 1 tablespoon baking soda in small microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave until water looks clear, 1 to 2 minutes. Use oven mitts to remove bowl from microwave (be careful—bowl will be hot). Use spoon to stir mixture until baking soda has completely dissolved. Let cool.
  3. Shape pretzels and transfer to greased cooling rack. (See steps 8 and 9 here for step-by-step instructions.)
  4. Use pastry brush to paint tops and sides of each pretzel with water–baking soda mixture (coat pretzels well for even browning, then discard extra mixture). Sprinkle tops of pretzels with 1 teaspoon pretzel salt (or kosher salt).
  5. Place baking sheet in oven. Bake until pretzels are deep golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
  6. Use oven mitts to remove baking sheet from oven and place on second cooling rack. Let pretzels cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes. 
  7. While pretzels cool, melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter. Use clean pastry brush to paint pretzels all over with melted butter. Serve warm.

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