When I noticed that this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings assignment was Whole Wheat Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels, I experienced a little bit of trepidation… much as I do whenever I come across making anything I am not even remotely familiar with making. Sure, when I cracked into Baked’s new book, Baked Elements, this recipe in particular caught my eye and I instantly thought, “oh yum…” I’ve always been a sucker for Auntie Anne’s pretzels at the mall (and usually the cinnamon sugar kind, too), but that’s just the thing: a pretzel definitely seemed like one of those treats I would always have someone else bake for me – preferably someone who knew what they were doing! When I read the recipe through, I think I became even more worried… a baking soda bath? Wha-what???
Happily, I discovered my fears were totally unneccesary. Once I dove into making this recipe, I was pretty surprised how easy pretzels can really be – though, as Matt suggests in the recipe – with practice, they no doubt get better and better. With that in mind, and unfortunately having very little time to make them before I had to dash off for opening night of the current show I am in, I didn’t expect picture-perfect results straight off the bat. This is definitely a recipe to allow time and patience for, and if you like it the first time you make it, you owe it yourself to keep perfecting your craft because, well… they’re so darn good.
I should mention right away that I typically find your standard, store-bought pretzels in the bag to be one of the most boring snack foods on this planet. I don’t mind them crushed up and used as, perhaps, a crust for a tart or dessert. Eating them for ‘fun’ however? No. Just too dull. Those big, fat, yummy pretzels you can buy at the ballpark, or at Auntie Anne’s? Those I really enjoy treating myself too. If you agree, good news – this particular recipe teaches you how to make those yourself. They do provide an option for making them smaller and thinner, but in my humble opinion, why bother? Fat and slightly chewy is the way to go!
The baking soda bath may seem a little intriguing to you, as it did to me. You definitely do not want to skip this step, fussy as it may seem. Boiling the unbaked pretzels first in baking soda basically prepares them for their characteristically chewy, slightly crusty, golden exterior when they bake up in the oven. I found a blog online which describes the process in a little more detail, even comparing a baked pretzel NOT dipped in the baking soda bath to a baked pretzel that had been dipped. The result is quite drastic! If you’re aiming for that true, crusty yet soft pretzel, this step is indeed essential. Here’s the blog: http://www.savvyeat.com/brain-food-101-why-you-need-to-boil-your-pretzels-in-baking-soda/.
For my first venture into pretzel-making, I was very pleased with the end result! The pretzels came out of the oven beautifully golden, crusty, and chewy, with a nice, soft interior. They truly tasted like your typical soft pretzel, with that hint (not too cloying) of a baking soda aftertaste, and the generous slathering of butter and thick coating of cinnamon sugar was perfect for satiating my sweet and salty craving. For cinnamon, I always recommend using a nice strong cinnamon like Vietnamese cinnamon (as opposed to cassia), though this is all a matter of your own personal taste. I prefer using Penzey’s Vietnamese Cinnamon – I use Penzey’s for all of my baking spices, vanilla, and extracts actually. I cannot recommend them enough! Check them out here: www.penzeys.com.
One last note – the pretzels were definitely best immediately after they were baked. I stored them overnight in an airtight container, and they were a touch soggy, pathetic, and dark brown (from soaking up the butter, sugar, and cinnamon) the next day. A good, quick zap in the microwave or brief reheat in the oven revives them a touch, but definitely – do not miss out on snacking on one or two right out of the oven, smeared in butter and tossed in cinnamon sugar.
If you’re feeling adventurous with your baking, give these pretzels from Baked a whirl… you may just be as surprised as I was with how relatively easy they were to make. Have some patience, realize you may not get them perfect/right on the first try, and keep practicing with them… I know I plan to! Find the recipe here: http://bakedsundaymornings.com/2012/09/25/in-the-oven-whole-wheat-cinnamon-sugar-pretzels/