“Soft, crunchy, salty, 10/10.” —Max, recipe tester, age 11
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To Finish and Bake
For the dough: In bowl of stand mixer, whisk together flour, yeast, and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Lock bowl into place and attach dough hook to stand mixer.
In 4-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk together oil, brown sugar, and ¾ cup water until brown sugar has dissolved.
Start mixer on low speed and slowly pour in water mixture. Mix until no dry flour is visible, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium and knead dough for 8 minutes. Stop mixer.
Transfer dough to clean counter and use your hands to knead dough for 30 seconds, then form dough into smooth ball.
Spray inside of large bowl with vegetable oil spray. Place dough in greased bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.
To finish and bake: 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.
Combine baking soda and remaining ½ cup water 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. Set aside to cool.
When dough is ready, transfer dough to clean counter. Gently press and stretch dough into 6-inch square, popping any large bubbles. Use bench scraper to cut dough into 6 equal 1-inch-wide strips. Cover dough strips loosely with plastic.
Use your hands to stretch and roll 1 piece of dough into 22-inch-long rope (keep remaining pieces covered), then shape into pretzel, following photos below. Place pretzel on greased cooling rack in baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough strips, spacing pretzels about 2 inches apart on rack.
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.
Use oven mitts to remove baking sheet from oven (ask an adult for help). Place baking sheet on second cooling rack and let pretzels cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes.
One of the weirdest (and coolest) things about traditional pretzels (and bagels) is that they are boiled in water before they’re baked. Bakers drop the shaped breads into a boiling water bath for just a minute or two to help set the crust on the outside and make them extra chewy inside. The water sometimes also has a chemical called lye in it, which gives the crust a dark brown color and tangy flavor. Since boiling pretzels at home can be tricky (and dangerous), we skip that step and still get a nice brown crust by painting them all over with baking soda dissolved in water. These pretzels bake up beautifully—no boiling water required!
Yeast is a single-celled living organism. It’s actually a microscopic fungus! You buy yeast in small packets at the grocery store. The yeast is “sleeping.” Mixing the yeast with a liquid (usually water) wakes up the yeast so it can turn flour into bread dough. So how exactly does that work? Yeast feeds on the starches in the flour and produces carbon dioxide in the process. Carbon dioxide causes the dough to rise, much like blowing air into chewing gum to make a bubble. All those tiny holes inside a loaf of chewy rustic bread? That’s the handiwork of the yeast. All our bread recipes use instant yeast (sometimes labeled rapid-rise yeast), because it is the most reliable option for home bakers. Keep yeast in the refrigerator and check the package dates—old yeast won’t work. Do not use active dry yeast in this recipe.
Butter can be melted in a small saucepan on the stove (use medium-low heat), but we think the microwave is easier.