Who doesn’t like pretzels and beer? What about pretzels made with beer? We thought that would get your attention. Think about it: you can bring these pretzels on a road trip and enjoy the great taste of an India Pale Ale and pretzels, yet not worry one bit, because all the alcohol bakes out when you make them, so they’re perfectly fine to snack on anytime or anywhere. Naturally, if you’re at home, we suggest that you dip them in a bit of India Pale Ale Mustard, naturally.
It might seem as though making soft pretzels is difficult, but it really isn’t. Basically, you make a bread dough that uses beer, let it rise, shape, boil in baking soda water — the key for browning — and bake. Not hard at all. We will say that we found this recipe in Bake From Scratch, by Brian Hart Hoffman, and you can find the original on the website, but, before you click through, realize that we’ve corrected the baking time. If you use the original baking time, you’ll be eating raw pretzel dough. We also eliminated the egg wash, because it’s not really needed. Finally, we eliminated the 17 grams (2 tablespoons) of malt powder, simply because we don’t have any.
Naturally, use a beer you like. We happened to use Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA, because it’s a very strong-tasting beer with a bold hoppy flavor that will stand up to the baking and the dulling effects of the flour. In case you’re wondering, the milk will make for a slightly tender dough; not too tender, but more tender than if you substituted water or more beer. The baking soda makes the water more basic (less acidic), which helps the pretzels brown. Real pretzel makers use food-grade lye to make the water very basic, which makes for a very dark brown pretzel.
Procedure in detail:
Warm beer. Pour the beer into a small saucepan over medium heat and warm to about 120°F. The exact temperature doesn’t matter too much, but the beer shouldn’t be hot, as it’ll kill the yeast. We used a thermometer to check the temperature and brought it up to about 115°F. If you don’t use a thermometer, err on the side of cooler rather than warmer. Too cool, and your dough will just take longer to rise; too warm, and your dough won’t rise at all, because the yeast will be dead.
Proof yeast. Pour the warm beer into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, and add the brown sugar and yeast. Attach it to the mixer and run on low for about a minute to mix everything together. Now, just let it stand until it’s foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. If it doesn’t foam, the yeast is dead — if you think the liquid was too hot, you can add an additional teaspoon of yeast and see if that works; if it does, yay! If not, your yeast is really dead and you’ll need to buy fresh.
Warm milk. Pour the milk into the same saucepan, place over medium heat, and warm to about 105°F. Again, the exact temperature isn’t critical, but too cool is better than too warm. It should feel warm to the touch when it’s ready.
Make dough. Add the flour, tablespoon of kosher salt, and milk to the beer mixture and turn the mixer to low. We add the flour and salt first so that, if the milk is too hot, it’ll cool when it hits the flour, making it less likely that the hot liquid will kill the yeast. As the machine kneads the dough, watch to see if it forms a ball and cleans the sides of the bowl. If so, great. If not, add a bit more flour, about 2 tablespoons at a time, until it does. Make sure to knead the dough for 5 to 8 minutes total.
Rise. Pull the dough off the hook and out of the bowl, and, using your hands, knead it lightly and shape it into a nice ball. Return to the bowl — no need to oil — with the smooth side up, cover, and let rise for about 60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment.
Divide and shape. Pull the dough out of the bowl and turn it out onto a floured work surface. Use a bench knife to divide the dough into pieces that are about 28-30 grams. This doesn’t have to be exact; we probably had some that were 27 grams and some as high as 33 grams. As you divide the dough, roll each piece into a rope about 6 inches long, then tie into a simple knot. Place each knot on a floured work surface to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. This goes really fast if you have a helper: one person can divide the dough while the other shapes.
Boil. Bring about 3 quarts of water mixed with the baking soda to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a medium boil. Drop about 4 to 6 of the knots into the water and boil for about 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to turn each over and boil another 30 seconds. Transfer, using a slotted spoon and draining well, to prepared baking sheets.
Salt. Sprinkle the moist pretzel knots with kosher salt and get back to boiling. You should be able to get about 12 knots per sheet — you want to keep about an inch of space between each pretzel to allow for airflow and rising.
Bake. Slide into the oven and bake 15 to 17 minutes, or until nice and brown, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to bake halfway through to ensure even baking. Remove to a rack to cool completely.
Great! We brought these down to our fellow volunteers on a Monday and everyone seemed to love them. Of course, they’re covered in salt, and taste like beer. Plus, they’re really bread, the staff of life, so it’s not too surprising that these were a hit. What was surprising was that these are pretty easy, and moderately fast from start to finish. Five salty stars.