We take inspiration where we can find it. Yes, that goes for the creative + design work you’ll find on the rest this site’s pages, but it also goes for all things culinary.
A bit back, we were partaking in our usual weekly visit to the Hollywood Farmers Market (the Santa Monica one gets all the glory in Los Angeles, but let’s get real, LA, Hollywood is where it’s at in this case) when we saw that one of our favorite vendors, vegan yogurt + cheese maker, Blöde Kuh, was offering up a seasonal special—vegan BierKäse, the plant-based take on a German beer cheese.
Which, obviously, sounded awesome.
But what would we eat it on‽ Sure, we could resort to measly crackers, but soft pretzels seemed so much more worthy of this find. Alas, we’d never made a single pretzel between the two of us, and bringing outside food to our favorite pub or vegan German beer garden seemed…wie salt man? geschmacklos!
Thus an immediate need to make soft pretzels at home. The result—somewhat surprisingly for a first try—was most excellent, so we thought we’d share it here. It’s largely based on a non-vegan recipe we’d found, which itself is based on a recipe from an old blog by a Zurich-based baker, but what we ended up with through in-process trial and error differed enough from the originals even beyond the vegan-ization to warrant a re-write.
For the pretzels:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm filtered water
2 packages active dry yeast
3 tbsp vegan butter, plus extra for brushing
Coarse salt for sprinkling
For the soda bath:
1/2 cup baking soda
2 quarts/8 cups filtered water
For starters, if you’re out of flour and need to buy some anyway, may we suggest King Arthur brand—this a totally unpaid, unprovoked endorsement, but they make a great product and are an employee-owned B corp., so all around great. On vegan butter, we really like Miyoko’s if you can get your hands on it.
Now that all the product endorsements are out of the way, with the butter, you want to set it out at room temperature so it softens but doesn’t totally melt. Set some extra aside—say a few more tablespoons—for brushing later; that can fully melt. Then start out by dissolving the two packets of yeast in the lukewarm water—if you’ve got a kitchen thermometer handy, we recommend between 100°-110°F; warm enough to activate the yeast, not so warm that it’ll kill it. Meanwhile, mix the flour + salt together in a large bowl and then form a well in the mixture. Add the sugar to the center of the well and then pour the yeast + water in. Let it rest for 15 minutes before mixing together. You should notice the mixture reacting and expanding over time.
Now add the softened butter to the bowl and mix everything together with either a dough hook on a low speed on your mixer or, if you’re more old-school/minimal, like us, mix with a wooden spoon until everything’s pretty well-incorporated. Then it’s time to get your hands dirty—knead together with your hands until you’ve got a smooth, consistent dough. In our experience, this takes both some muscle/persistence and a little extra water potentially to make sure the dough’s smooth enough and not too dry. Our hands were seriously tired by the time we got there. But we got there—persist! Let the dough (and your hands) rest for 30 minutes, covered with a napkin at room temperature (the dough, not yours hands).
Cut the dough into six equal parts, then roll each piece on a clean, un-floured surface to about 20 inches long. If you make the lengths of dough much shorter than 20 inches, they’ll be tough to form into their pretzel shapes, so keep carefully rolling out by hand, both on the table and in the air, letting gravity help you lengthen gently while avoiding tears or breaks.
To make the actual pretzel shape, place the dough lengths down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in the form of a ‘U’. Then take each end and cross them over each other once, and the once more so you have a twist. Then just fold the twist down and press into what was the bottom of the ‘U’. We’ve found that using a little water before pressing them down will help bind the dough together. Place the tray(s) of pretzels in the fridge uncovered and let sit for about an hour, building up a skin that’ll help absorb the dipping solution when boiled and make for a more distinct crust.
Preheat the oven to 400°F and bring 2 quarts/8 cups of filtered water to a boil in a large stock pot. Carefully + slowly add the baking soda to the water—there will be a reaction that causes it to bubble up, so the slower the better and watch for any splashing. Once it’s calmed, you’re ready to boil—using a slotted spoon, carefully drop a pretzel in and submerge, boiling for only 10 second for so. Carefully remove, place on a lined baking sheet, and repeat with each of the pretzels.
With a sharp knife, score the lengths of the pretzel arms a bit to avoid crazy bubbles or bustin’. Brush with the reserve melted butter (or olive oil if you want) and sprinkle with coarse salt—if you can find it, they actually make pretzel salt that works great. Failing that, coarse sea salt should do the trick. If you want to get crazy, try a fancy smoked salt or that everything bagel mix from Trader Joe’s. Now bake for 20 minutes or so, until golden-brown and tough-to-the-touch. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and brush with a little more butter or olive oil before serving.
Now grab a beer and your favorite spicy mustard or vegan cheese spread and enjoy! Prost!