I am the biggest fan of huge, soft pretzels that ever existed. I know that is a hefty statement to make, but it’s true! These massive, buttery pretzels outrank their crunchy, baked cousins in every possible way… except maybe standards of healthiness. No, these are not clean-eating pretzels that you got in your lunchbox as an alternative to chips. These are big, fluffy, cheesy, salty pretzels- the kind you salivate over at ballparks and stadium events.
Truth be told, the existence of soft pretzels is really my only motivation for ever attending stadium sporting events or visiting overcrowded malls. These soft pretzels are a fabulously souped-up version of their ballpark counterparts. We stuff them with a deliciously cheesy filling and top them with butter and parmesan.
This is based off of a great recipe by Baker by Nature! It includes a great explanation of yeast and the chemistry behind it, and why some people proof it and some do not. I proof yeast every time I bake with it. It is second nature to me, and I think it’s a good habit to get into. Because of this, I include the proofing process as part of the recipe here.
Growing up, my mom taught us very early how to bake bread from scratch, and she always proofed the yeast before making the dough. I have never had this method fail on me (unless, of course, the yeast is dead). It is super easy to follow, and it creates the fluffiest, moistest breads! If you’re totally confident working with yeast and breads, you don’t have to do this part, but I would certainly recommend it!
makes 8 large pretzels
for the dough
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons Rapid Rise yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 1/4 cups AP flour
3 tablespoons minced, fresh rosemary
6 tablespoons salted butter, softened
for the pretzel cooking liquid
10 cups water
3/4 cup baking soda
for the filling
1 1/2 cups shredded, mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded, parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
for the topping
4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1/2 cup grated, Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Begin by proofing the yeast. Preheat an oven to 200°F. After it preheats, turn it off. Mix the sugar with the water in a small bowl (the water should be slightly warm to the touch, around 110°F). Pour in the yeast and agitate slightly to ensure that all of the yeast is moistened by the sugar-water. Place the bowl in the oven and leave the oven open. Let it sit in that warm environment for 10 minutes.
While the yeast is proofing, measure out the flour and salt into a large bowl. Mix them together. Add in the softened butter until it is completely mixed in with the flour (no big chunks).
Wash, de-stem, and mince the rosemary.
Add the proofed yeast and rosemary to the dough. Use a rubber spatula to mix everything together by folding dough and scraping the bowl.
Cover the bowl with a warm, damp paper towel and place it back in the oven (with the oven door closed this time). Let the dough rise for about an hour (it should double in size).
While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. Mix the mozzarella cheese with the parmesan, pepper, and salt.
When the dough has risen, remove it from the oven and roll it out in a ball onto a floured work surface. (I usually cover my counter with parchment paper and add a bit of flour on top for this process.)
Next, cut each of those slices into two, so that you have 8 pieces in all.
To make each pretzel, roll one dough ball out into a long string. You want it to be about 1 1/2 feet long.
Use your hands or a rolling pin to flatten it.
Place about 2 tablespoons of the mozzarella filling on the dough, along one edge.
Slowly and carefully, roll the dough back into a circular tube. Be sure to press down on the dough to create a seal around the filling!
Make the shape of the letter ‘U’ with the tube.
Cross the two, top ends of the ‘U’.
Flip the crossed ends down over the loop, and you’ve got a traditional pretzel!
Do this with each dough ball, and in the meantime, set a large pot of water mixed with baking soda on the stove to boil.
As you are forming your pretzels, feel free to have some fun with it. You can even do a double twist, like so:
After the pretzels are formed and the baking soda water is boiling, prepare two cookie sheets by covering them in parchment paper. Next, place the pretzels in the water one-at-a-time. Let it float there for about half a minute before carefully lifting it out of the water using slotted spoons.
Do this with each pretzel, until they are all partially cooked from the water. This might create a bit of a mess with baking soda residue on the range, but it is super easy to clean, so do not worry too much about it now!
Preheat the oven to 425°F. While the oven is preheating, do a quick egg wash on the pretzels to help them brown.
Whisk together 1 tablespoon of water with an egg. Using a brush, coat each pretzel generously in the egg wash. After the oven is preheated, let the pretzels bake for 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown on top!
Finally, prepare the topping!
Melt about 4 tablespoons of salted butter. Brush the top of each pretzel with the butter.
Measure out the extra parmesan and chop up another tablespoon of rosemary. Mix those two together in a small bowl along with the garlic salt and pepper. Sprinkle this on top of the pretzels!
Enjoy with tomato sauce for dipping or by itself!