Pretzel Bites

Pretzel Bites RecipeBakers and pastry chefs crave two things: Salt and vinegar. When I worked in the restaurant business and got home way after midnight, too-often I’d park myself in front of the television, put my dogs up, and dig into a bag of tortilla chips along with a big jar of spicy salsa. Of course, I was half the age I am now and a bag of chips is no longer something I can, or should, polish off by myself – or call a meal. Someone I knew worked for one of those national diet centers and on day #1, he would put a bag of potato chips into a food processor, run it for a few minutes, then show everyone the oily sludge.

Even so, I still eat potato chips on occasion and run into trouble stopping myself from picking my way through a basket of tortilla chips, especially when there’s guacamole alongside. And I will buy those slender pretzel sticks, called sticks d’Alsace in France, to go along with other apéritif hour snacks in Paris.

Pretzel Bites Recipe

Pretzels have always been a favorite and I was a great fan of those giant pretzels you can get on the streets in New York in my past. However I stopped eating those years ago when the taste and texture suffered for whatever reason. I assume nowadays they’re bought from a large-scale vendor in bulk, and rewarmed on the carts until they become petrified. It’s a shame, but I still buy soft pretzels when I go to a German bakery and see them hanging on a peg. I can’t resist that combination of chewy dough with a dense crust and a flurry of crackly salt on top.

Pretzel Bites dough recipe

I’m not sure what got into me one day last week, but I thought I would try my hand at making my own at home. I didn’t need to make the twisted kind, and figured the “bites” offered more salty surface area, which is the best part of the pretzel. The dough is quite easy to make and within a few hours of starting the project, I can find myself snacking on warm pretzel bites in front of the tv, or wherever you want to enjoy them. To be perfectly honest, I started eating them right off the baking sheet the minute they were cool enough to handle.

Pretzel Bites Recipe

I used flaky sea salt, which is less-aggressive than the traditional coarse pretzel salt. I had a box of Maldon smoked salt flakes that worked beautifully, but any flaky sea salt should be fine. Traditional pretzels take a dip in a lye bath before going into the oven, which requires careful handling (plus I have no idea where to buy that in Paris), but perhaps that’s something you can graduate to when you’re ready. (I’ve included some links at the end of the post that discuss that.)

I don’t mean to be a spoil sport but I’m not necessarily a huge fan of dips with chips or pretzels, since I like the salty crispness of them without any distractions. Guacamole with chips, however, doesn’t count. However I’ve included a spicy mustard dip for those who like that kind of thing. But recently I was at Prime Meats having dinner with some friends and they served housemade pretzel with a spicy brown mustard, not Dijon, but one similar to this mustard, made with dark mustard seeds. The authenticity police will probably come out in full-force since it’s not traditional. But even a grump like me thought it was a good combination, so you have my permission to chow down on the pretzel bites any way you like them, with sauce, mustard, or just on their own.

Pretzel Bites Recipe

Pretzel Bites
Print Recipe
Makes about 75 pretzel bites
It helps to have an extra set of hands when poaching and setting up the pretzel bites for baking. Also it’s good to have a baker’s dough scraper, also called a bench cutter, for shaping and cutting the pretzel bites, but a chef’s knife will work, too. When making the dough, it should pull away from the sides of the bowl. The first picture of the dough in the post shows it when it’s still a bit sticky. (You can see it clinging to the sides of the bowl.) So add a tablespoon of flour more, one at a time, until it forms a more solid ball. I used Maldon flaky smoked sea salt, since I had a box on hand. But any flaky sea salt that’s not too aggressive in flavor will do, even kosher salt. One can buy pretzel salt, which I’ve not tried. Bread flour will yield more chewy bites, but all-purpose flour will work fine as well. Should you wish to explore using lye in your pretzel bath, I’ve linked to a few sources, articles, and recipes below.
Pretzel Bites
1 2/3 cups (390ml) tepid water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoon (1 envelope) active dry yeast
3 3/4 cups (530g) all-purpose or bread flour plus up to 1/4 (35g) more, if necessary
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, tepid or room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
2 quarts (2L) water
1/3 cup (80g) baking soda
1 tablespoon malt or rice syrup or agave nectar, or brown sugar
Spicy Honey Mustard Sauce
3/4 cup (180g) mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon or spicy brown mustard
3 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
2 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons juice from pickle jar, or lemon juice
Pretzel Bites
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl (if mixing by hand), stir together the water, sugar and yeast. Let sit until it starts to foam, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Mix in 2 cups (280g) of the flour along with the melted butter and salt. If using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and add the rest of the flour. If mixing by hand, use a sturdy spatula or wooden spoon until it’s too thick to stir, then scrape onto a lightly floured countertop.
3. Knead the dough for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed until it forms a smooth ball. If the dough is not pulling away from the sides of the mixer bowl, add 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does. The dough should feel slightly sticky, but come away from the sides of the bowl. If kneading by hand, it should not stick to your hands. (I added 3 additional tablespoons to get it to the right consistency.)
4. Cover the dough in the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. (If kneading by hand, let it rise in a lightly oiled bowl.)
5. Preheat the oven to 450ºF (232ºC). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly oil them.
6. Bring the water, baking soda and syrup (or brown sugar) to a boil in a large, wide pot. It will foam up so make sure the sides are high enough to handle that.
7. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece until they’re logs about 14-inches (35cm) long. Most likely the dough will be too elastic soon after you start rolling. So roll each one partially, then let them all relax for 5 minutes before you finish rolling them out.
8. Using a dough cutter or chef’s knife, cut the dough into 2-inch (5cm) pieces. When you have enough pieces, drop them into the boiling water. Cook for 1 minute, stirring the dough bits in the water very gently at the halfway mark, encouraging the bobbing doughs to get covered on both sides with the hot liquid.
While you are cooking the first batch of bites, start working on the other pieces of dough so they are ready to boil. The bites will come out better if the dough hasn’t had too much time to rise again.
9. Remove the first batch of boiled dough from the water with a mesh utensil to drain them a bit, and place them on the baking sheet, evenly spaced apart. (They won’t expand too much, so they can be as close as an inch, 3cm, apart.) Continue cutting and boiling the rest of the dough until the first baking sheet is full. I found I could boil about 20 at a time. (Note: They will not all look the same, or be perfect, which is fine.)
10. Sprinkle the pretzels with a bit of coarse sea salt and bake until deep golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes, turning the baking sheet midway during baking. Baking times will vary so keep an eye on them and check at the 6 minute mark. The darker they are, the crispier they’ll be when they cool. Cool on a wire rack
11. Continue to cook the rest of the pretzel bite dough the same way.
Spicy Honey Mustard Sauce
Stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, Sriracha, honey and pickle juice until smooth. Taste, and adjust seasonings to your liking.

Serving: Eat the pretzel bites as they are, or serve with spicy brown mustard or honey-mustard sauce. They’re best eaten the the same day and don’t improve when stored. Extras could be frozen for up to two months, but I don’t recommend it.

Related Articles and Recipes

For a Proper Pretzel Crust, Count on Chemistry and Memories (NPR)

For Old-Fashioned Flavor, Bake the Baking Soda (NYT)

Pretzels (The Fresh Loaf)

Soft Pretzel Buns and Knots (Smitten Kitchen)

Making a Soft Pretzel is a Knotty Challenge (LA Times)

Pennsylvania Dutch Hard Pretzels (The Splendid Table)

Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels (King Arthur Flour)

Pretzel Making at Home (Andrea Slonecker)

 


Never miss a post!

44 comments

  • Divya
    December 18, 2015 12:40pm

    Hey! Can this recipe also be used to make full pretzels?

    • December 18, 2015 1:49pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes ~

  • Victoria
    December 18, 2015 4:39pm

    You brought back that wonderful memory of my first soft pretzel in front of the Met in NYC over twenty years ago. I’ll never forget how good it tasted but was a little put out when I realized how different it was from the stiff pretzels in a bag I’d grown up with. I didn’t know they were dipped in lye and wonder why — to preserve? I can’t wait to try your recipe. Thanks David!

  • December 18, 2015 4:57pm

    I was looking forward to an NYC pretzel for months, then finally had one last spring and was decidedly underwhelmed. I thought that maybe I had just built it up too much in my head, so i’m glad to see that I’m not alone in thinking they’ve changed!

  • Adella
    December 18, 2015 5:07pm

    What is it exactly that makes a pretzel a pretzel? I’ve never really understood how they work…

    Bonnes fêtes, David!

  • Ann
    December 18, 2015 6:05pm

    When we lived in Germany in 1969, our village baker showed my husband how to make pretzels, which have since been a party hit here at home in the U.S.
    These “bites” of yours look fantastic, and we’ll try them on New Year’s Eve. Love the mustard, too. An update on the traditional.

  • nadia
    December 18, 2015 6:23pm

    exciting! a nice treat to take to parties! can one replace the butter with oil for the lactose intolerant?

  • Colin
    December 18, 2015 6:53pm

    Oh Dear more snacks and bites. What happened to real cooking?

  • December 18, 2015 7:24pm
    David Lebovitz

    nadia: Originally I think pretzel were made with lard so probably a better swap out is coconut oil, which is closer to butter. But regular oil might work but I haven’t tried it.

    Jessica: Yes, the ones sold on the street are pretty bad in NYC for the most part. I was walking down avenue B in Manhattan and passed a place called Sigmund Pretzel Shop but was on my way to dinner so didn’t think it wise to grab one right before. But next time…

    Victoria: I think lye gives them that darker sheen that pretzels have. It’s not really hard to do but you need to take precautions because the lye can be caustic to your skin. But someday I’ll give that a try. If I can find it in Paris!

    • Tim
      December 20, 2015 2:35am

      You can make a low grade Lye using baked baking soda.

      • Steve
        January 4, 2016 7:16am

        A little more info (I was going to make the same comment) – Harold McGee talks about it here:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/dining/15curious.html

        Bake the baking soda for an hour at 250-300 degrees F, and you’ll get something in-between baking soda and lye.

        • January 4, 2016 10:23am

          Steve et al; I’m always amazed how much worthwhile reading stuff I get out of the comments Davd gets for his blog bites (sorry!) and I read with mounting amazement and wonderment what the NYT had to say. Thank you for your educational link.

    • December 20, 2015 5:45pm

      You can find lye (cristaux de soude or lessive de soude) at any hardware store normally, at least down here in the South you can since it’s used to cure olives and remove the tartaric acid from the inside of wine vats!

    • Berit
      December 23, 2015 8:21am

      You really, really should try the lye bath instead of the boiling. The texture of the crust will turn out much the same, but both flavor and color is massively improved.

      I use 2 tablespoons of lye powder (sodium hydroxide) to 1 litre of cold water. Be sure to add the powder to the water; NOT the other way around. And use cold water; the lye will heat the water.

      I use nitrile disposable gloves and dip the pretzels for 10-15 seconds.

      • Berit
        December 23, 2015 8:24am

        Oh, and the lye is excellent for unclogging drains – sodium hydroxide is the main ingredient of most drain cleaners.

        • December 23, 2015 8:27am
          David Lebovitz

          I would like to find it in Paris and only find cristaux de soude for cleaning/unclogging purposes. I’ve added the word “alimentaire” (edible) to the search term and can’t find it. (I don’t want to use any product that I’m not certain is food-grade.) Do you know what’s the appropriate European equivalent to use, that’s available in France? I’d like to try that next, if so.

          • Judy
            December 23, 2015 12:41pm

            In this article Harold Mcgee describes how to make baking soda more “muscular” by baking it. Also, a baker told me once that they use Red Devil lye for their pretzels which surprised me.

            http://mobile.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/dining/15curious.html?referer=&_r=0

          • Berit
            December 26, 2015 10:32am

            What you need for the lye bath is not “cristaux de soude” (Na2CO3), but rather “soude caustique” or “hydroxyde de sodium” (NaOH).

            I think the “food grade” labeling is an American thing. I’ve never seen it here in Europe. Instead, go for the pure product (pureté min. 99%).

            I’ve never been to France, so I don’t know the kind of store that would stock soude caustique. Here i Denmark I get it from the local discount supermarket. It’s also available in hardware stores, craft stores, and some drug stores.

            You can also buy it online, although it seems rather expensive (I pay about 4-5€ for 1 kg.: http://www.mon-droguiste.com/soude-caustique-hydroxyde-sodium,fr,4,SOUCAU19052DSN.cfm

  • Rebecca
    December 18, 2015 7:27pm

    Thanks for the recipe – can the dough be frozen – so you can make half now and half later – too many pretzels for just me!

    • December 19, 2015 1:54pm
      David Lebovitz

      You could probably freeze the uncooked dough, but I would probably forget about it in the freezer, so perhaps recommend making a half batch of the dough.

    • Judy
      December 21, 2015 12:33pm

      I tried that and didn’t like the results. They turned gray and wouldn’t come back to life.

  • pmm
    December 18, 2015 8:52pm

    I. Want. These. Now.

  • janice
    December 18, 2015 10:07pm

    We just got back from a trip to Germany and one of my favorites was the amazing pretzels. They were perfect! I grew up on the NYC street ones and I agree. They are not the same.

  • December 18, 2015 10:57pm

    Now you’re talking…. anything salty goes down well my street! Love pretzels, and especially the ‘inside soft and sort of gummy & the outside crisp’ – but when I’m in the mood I kill a whole packet of store bought pretzels on my own.
    One remark on the Maldon salt. I find it the best flaky salt I’ve ever had and I buy a pack every time I’m in England. I prefer it vastly to the salt from its French cousins… I don’t know why, probably the flaky presentation, the taste seems to come out so much more than in the fleur de sel here. But having had many visitors lately, they all didn’t know any salt from the other and they simply found it ‘good’ – both or all three of them. Must be me!

  • Nikki
    December 18, 2015 11:11pm

    One of the things I brought back from a visit to France was a jar of Maille Moutarde a la Ancienne a wonderful very coarse whole grain mustard. These Pretzel Bites would be perfect with the last bit of mustard I have. Although I try to find an excuse to use it and an excuse to save it so I am torn. I will have to make an effort to locate some here in the Mid West.

    • suzie roser
      December 19, 2015 2:06am

      Nikki – Maille now has a store in NYC so perhaps they ship.

      • Nikki
        December 19, 2015 3:41pm

        I thank you ….my credit card not so much!

    • Nguyen
      January 10, 2016 7:27am

      Where in the mid west are you? I find a few varieties of Maille at – surprise – jewel osco.

      • Nikki
        January 10, 2016 2:51pm

        I have seen different types of mustard at many grocery stores but not the whole grain old style. I will look again and I now know that there is a Maille store in Chicago, a good excuse to get down there.

    • Steve
      January 11, 2016 3:22am

      I’m a big fan of the Moutarde de Meaux from Pommery. Coarse grain, fairly mild, and made with good white wine vinegar. (I’ve seen it at places like Sur la Table, but I just get it from Amazon these days.)

  • December 18, 2015 11:15pm

    Did you get to try Sigmund’s (of Brooklyn) truffled cheddar pretzels? Heaven on earth though it sounds awful. They have a stand in front of the Met in good weather. Interesting to read, cos I never touched chips till I moved to Paris and now I can’t leave the Metro vending machine chips alone. It must be to balance all the pastries I’m forced to eat here…

    • june2
      December 19, 2015 7:04pm

      omg Going to use this recipe and top with ALL the Sigmunds flavors…thanks for the tip!

  • December 18, 2015 11:25pm

    PS I’m reading this while sitting in Pretzel town, Strasbourg. Too perfect. Today I bought a sandwich from a MOF chef’s stand – foie gras on a pretzel bun. The salty bits were perfect with the creamy foie..major yum.

  • December 19, 2015 2:35am

    I get it…pretzel people, count me in. Any kind – hard, soft, small, large, salty (or not), but and homemade is my favorite. I’m trying this recipe for New Years Eve…thank you!

  • Judy
    December 19, 2015 1:32pm

    If reheating from frozen, I like to bake them while still frozen. That way the outside re-crisps and the centers don’t reheat. I think the salt gets funny when you freeze, so I’d rather add salt when re-warming. I’m still in three process of testing the post baked salting. Brush with water and salt? Any other ideas?

    • Michele
      December 20, 2015 3:53pm

      Revive day old or reheat from frozen: like bagels -dampen crust with water, then warm in 350 oven to recrisp crust

  • noah s
    December 19, 2015 1:58pm

    speaking as a philadelphian – we eat a lot of pretzels, soft and hard, and our soft pretzels are way better than NYCs – you do miss something with the pretzel bites. they’ve got their place and all, but the best parts of a pretzel are where the braids go under and over each other.

  • Georgia
    December 20, 2015 2:04am

    In my (ancient) childhood, we bought the most incredible soft, hot, fresh pretzels from a man with a cart in downtown Pittsburgh–in a small alley, I think, near one of the big department stores. One of my all-time favorite foods, long lost to me. I will try your recipe and hope I can recapture a moment. Merci, David!

  • MaryG
    December 20, 2015 11:47pm

    You made me smile with this life g and pretzle recipe

  • December 21, 2015 8:57am
    David Lebovitz

    Judy and Michele: Thanks for the rewarming tips. I tend not to freeze things too much because I forget about them in the freezer once things go in there. Appreciate the tips.

    Amy: So that’s what it’s called. Things like that can be a challenge to find in Paris (no one is curing their own olives here – !) I checked online and found cristaux de soude which is sold as a cleaning and degreasing product. Am not sure if I need to make sure it’s food-grade but I’m sure if I ask in a shop, they’ll look at me like I’m nuts ; )

  • December 22, 2015 4:09am

    These bits look delicious. Any recommendations ( changes) for a sweet version?

  • Cate
    December 26, 2015 8:41pm

    Can I ask what type of flour do you use here in France? Type 55 or Bio type 65? Thanks!

    • December 27, 2015 8:59am
      David Lebovitz

      I use Type 65 – more info here

  • Joyce
    January 4, 2016 8:26pm

    Hi,
    Can you make these into pretzel buns? Love soft pretzels and you are so right the NYC ones don’t taste the way they used to