There are several problems with making sourdough pretzels: they are crisp and delicious shortly after emerging from the oven, so you want to eat several right away. And they have about zero shelf life, so you have to eat them within about 8 hours. Of course, you could give some away.
It’s been a long time since I made these pretzels but I decided Saturday was the perfect day. I’d refreshed my sourdough starter and after the usual Saturday morning breakfast of sourdough pancakes, there was plenty of starter left.
Making pretzels is a two-day process: You make the dough and shape the pretzels on day 1, let them ferment overnight in the fridge, and bake them on day 2. I have some Hawaiian sea salt with carbon in it and like the effect of the black specks. Usually, I use a large-grained Celtic sea salt.
This recipe is adapted from Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery. When I was first learning to bake sourdough breads about 10 years ago, I bought a copy of her book and baked my way through it including the dog biscuits. I keep forgetting how much the pretzels puff up when baked. To retain the lacy, open shape, make sure to stretch the pretzels far more than you think necessary when you shape them.
This recipe uses a starter that is equal parts flour and water by weight. The dough is very stiff, about 52% hydration. You will have about 36 ounces of dough, enough for 12 three-ounce pretzels or 18 two-once pretzels which is the size I like to make best.
- 18.5 ounces bread flour
- 9 ounces sourdough starter
- 7.5 to 8.5 ounces water
- .2 ounces kosher salt
- .6 ounces barley malt syrup or .1 ounce barley malt powder
- Egg wash (1 egg beaten with a teaspoon of water until frothy)
- Large-grained sea salt such as Celtic sea salt or Hawaiian black sea salt
- Measure all the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on lowest setting until ingredients come together. Then knead on #2 speed (on a KitchenAid) for about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to #3 and knead about 8 minutes or until the dough is very smooth and stretchy and has reached 75 degrees F.
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface. You will not need any flour to dust your work surfaces. Portion the dough into 18 two-ounce pieces. Roll each into a ball and cover them with a towel. Let rest about 45 minutes.
- Line two baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper. Roll each ball into a cylinder about 10 inches long. You may need to mist the work surface with water to create enough stickiness to roll the dough. Keep the rest of the dough covered with a towel.
- Then begin with the first cylinder you rolled and roll it into a tapering shape about 21 inches long. To do this, start with your hands about 3 inches apart, then roll the dough briskly, moving your hands in opposite directions, and gradually spreading your hands away from each other so the ends taper to points. When you move your hands in opposite directions, the center of the dough stays in one place while then ends gradually taper.
- Shape the pretzel by crossing the ends over each other, once, and then again. Pick up the ends and drape them across the belly of the pretzel to form the classic shape. Transfer the pretzel to the prepared baking sheet. Continue with the remaining cylinders, rolling and shaping each before moving on to the next.
- Cover the pretzels with kitchen towels and let rise about 1 hour. Place each sheet in a large plastic bag and refrigerate overnight, 8 to 24 hours.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the pretzels with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Bake until very brown and crisp, about 30 minutes. Rotate the pans front to back and top to bottom after 15 minutes. Cool on a rack. The pretzels are best eaten the same day or recrisp them gently in a low oven. They can also be frozen.