Soft pretzels are a lot like bagels: both are immersed in a liquid before baking and both are shiny on the outside and soft in the center. The difference is the solution and the time spent swimming. For bagels it's plain water and about 60 seconds, but for pretzels it's an extremely weak lye solution and about 1 second.
The ratio is 1:64 lye to water, and I have never had any ill effects. If you prefer, however, boil the pretzels in plain water for 10-20 seconds; this will give them an "outer coat" similar to a bagel. I give two more "bath" solutions at the end of the recipe, if you care to try them. I have not.
Note: If you do use the lye bath, be very careful; even at this dilution, when hot it will burn. Do not use an aluminum pan for this step.
Another note: If you use the lye bath, store the unused lye in a **very** safe place if you have children or pets. Hide it good and high in a cabinet; make sure the container is *well-sealed* so it won't fall open on you when you reach for it.
1 pkg yeast
1/4 c lukewarm water
2 c milk
1/4 c + 2 T shortening or oleo
1/4 c sugar
6 c flour
3/4 t baking powder
2 t granulated (table) salt
kosher or sea salt crystals for garnish
Mix yeast with water and set aside. Heat milk; add sugar and shortening and stir 'til dissolved/melted. When cooled to lukewarm, add to yeast.
Throw in the granulated (table) salt, baking powder, and 3 c of the flour. Stir well.
Put in an oiled bowl and cover with Saran Wrap. Set aside to rise 30 minutes. It will be bubbly-looking.
Punch down (or stir if it looks too wet!) and mix in (or knead in, toward the end) the rest of the flour.
Put in oiled bowl again, cover with Saran Wrap, and let rise 'til doubled, about 90 minutes.
Punch down and turn out on a floured board. Knead in more flour if the dough is uncooperative; you'll know when that is! Cut into 3 pieces. Let pieces sit for 5-10 minutes while the gluten cloak has a "time out in the corner."
Cut each third into pieces (maybe 10?) so when you roll them out into snakes they are about 1/2" in diameter and 12-15-18" long.
Now the shaping. It helps if you go to the store and draw what a pretzel looks like before you start, but I'll do my best to describe the procedure here with words!
Shape all pretzels and set aside.
Grease cookie sheets.
Put a large *non-aluminum* pan on the stove. Measure in plain water and calculate the amount of lye you need for that amount of water to get a 1:64 lye-to-water ratio. Double-check your calculations, please. You should have about 6" depth for your solution.
Heat solution 'til "steaming," not boiling.
Working carefully, lower one pretzel at a time in the pan, right-side down, and using a slotted utensil for easy drainage. After 1 second, remove and let excess solution drip off for 5 seconds or so. Place on prepared cookie sheet, right-side up. Immediately sprinkle on the coarse/kosher salt so it sticks.
Bake at 400 degrees for 10-13 minutes or until browned. Makes about 2 1/2 doz.
These are fantastic right out of the oven. You'll think you've died and gone to heaven! If you can spare the time, put some butter on them. Also good with mustard. Freeze well - - if you get to that point! Hah!
I know that people may be put off by the lye, so I did some research and found two more baths you might like to substitute.
I have not tried this bath, and I cannot imagine a "sweet" film on the outside of pretzels. The pictures of the results do not look impressive, either, but here it is (I'm sure with that ringing endorsement you're anxious to try this one!):
3 c warm water
2 c sugar
3 T baking soda
Stir sugar and water until sugar is dissolved. Add soda and dissolve well.
Dip pretzels individually into solution (just to coat) and put them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle on the coarse salt. Bake.
Here is a fourth "bath." I have not tried this one, either, but it looks better than the sugar-water one, above.
4 c water
4 t baking soda
Bring water to boil and add soda. Stir 'til dissolved. Boil pretzels "about one minute or until they float to the top." Put on sheet and brush with egg wash and sprinkle on the coarse salt.