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When I didn’t publish a recipe last week, I offered a preview of deliciousness to come: these honey cinnamon soft pretzel bites. This recipe was actually a success born of failure. I really, really wanted to create my own hard pretzels but I just couldn’t get them quite how I wanted. I think it’s because I kept stubbornly adding too much whole wheat flour. After a couple tries I decided to go for soft pretzel bites and the result was so delicious I don’t ever want to go back to hard pretzels!
I was afraid to make pretzels for a long time because of the nebulous idea that “they’re difficult.” Making pretzels, hard or soft, is a little more involved than “regular” baking because you have to poach them.
Similar to how a bagel is boiled before it’s baked, you briefly dunk pretzels in an alkaline solution. It’s what gives that characteristic pretzel flavor and nice shine on the outside.
This step is not terribly difficult – it really isn’t!
After my first attempt at making pretzels I was wondering why I’d never tried before. However, it can be time consuming if you only have a small slotted spoon.
You really need a strainer ladle.
They’re pretty inexpensive and basically look like a small strainer on a long handle. With a slotted serving spoon, you’ll only be able to poach three or four pretzel bites at a time. With a strainer ladle, you’ll be able to take care of many more. Don’t let this packing step freak you out! It really isn’t that difficult. And after you finish it, you get to add on the cinnamon sugar:
I know there are a couple popular mall chains that make soft pretzels and soft pretzel bites. I firmly believe these are way tastier than what they have to offer, healthier, and far less expensive. Okay, so they’re still not exactly health food, but you have total control over the ingredients and know there aren’t any funky chemicals or additives. Plus, when you pull them out of your oven, I guarantee they’ll be fresher than something that’s been sitting under a heat lamp!
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 2 teaspoons dry active yeast
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Cooking oil spray or oil & a paper towel
- 8 cups water
- ½ cup baking soda
- ¼ cup brown sugar (optional)
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (I used raw cane sugar)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Combine the water, yeast, and brown sugar in a small bowl. Stir briefly to combine then allow the bowl to sit until the yeast becomes active and frothy, about 5-10 minutes. If it doesn't froth, your yeast is dead and you need to get new yeast.
- Meanwhile, combine the flour, salt, and cinnamon in the bowl of your standing mixer (or a large dough bowl) and whisk briefly to combine.
- Add the yeast slurry and honey to the flour mixture and knead with the dough hook attachment or by hand on a floured surface until the dough is smooth and elastic. This should take about 5 minutes on medium speed with the mixer, 5-10 minutes by hand.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise until it has roughly doubled in size. This should take about an hour. We keep our flour in the freezer so I let mine rise about 75 minutes since the cold flour slows the process down a little.
- Meanwhile, prepare two heavy rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
- Punch down the risen dough and transfer it to a floured surface. Cut the dough in half with a lightly oiled knife, then halve these pieces, halve again, and so on until you have 34 pieces.
- Roll and pull one pieces of dough to make a "snake," just like you did with clay as a kid, that's 8-10" long and ½" thick or less. Use your knife to cut this snake into pieces about ¾" long, then transfer these bites to a baking sheet. Make sure to give them a little space, but they don't need too much - about ¼" between pieces should be fine.
- Repeat this process of making snakes and cutting them up for all the pieces of dough. This may be a little slow to begin with, but once you get the hang of it things go pretty quickly.
- Cover the cut pretzel dough bites with plastic wrap and set aside to let them rise. They should rest about half an hour before you move to the next step. In my experience, the first pieces will be ready to poach once you're finished cutting everything and have your poaching liquid ready, so you don't actually need to set a timer for 30 minutes unless you've had lots of help and blitzed though rolling and cutting the dough.
- Position your oven racks to the middle and lower middle positions, then preheat your oven to 425ºF.
- Combine the 8 cups of water and ½ cup of baking soda in a cooking pot and whisk to combine. Stir the baking soda into the water instead of pouring the water on top of the baking soda. When you put the baking soda in first, it tends to clump up on the bottom. Whisk in the brown sugar, if you're using it.
- Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat.
- Once the pretzel bites, poaching liquid, and oven are ready, make your egg wash and cinnamon sugar. Vigorously beat an egg and 1 tablespoon of water in small bowl until it's all the same consistency (no lumps of yolk). In a separate small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.
- Alright - time to get poaching! Load up your strainer ladle with pretzel bites and dunk them in the simmering poaching liquid. Allow them to sit for approximately 15 seconds, then remove them. Shake gently to remove excess liquid, then replace them on the baking tray. Try not to let the poached bites touch their neighbors (they'll stick together), but they don't need much space at all because they're pretty much done expanding at this point.
- Repeat this step until all your pretzel bites have been poached! If you have a big strainer ladle, this part goes really quickly.
- Use a pastry brush to spread egg wash over the top of each pretzel bite. You can work quickly - the coverage doesn't have to be perfect.
- Generously sprinkle the sugar/cinnamon mixture over the pretzel bites while the egg wash is still wet.
- Place your pretzel bites in the oven and bake until they're golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. At the 5 minute mark, rotate the trays top to bottom so they get equal time on each rack. This step is important!
- Remove your pretzel bites from the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool slightly. They're most delicious still warm, but try not to burn yourself when you can't stand waiting to eat them any longer! Top with additional honey or cinnamon sugar, if desired, and enjoy.
These soft pretzel bites are best when they’re still warm from the oven, but they can keep for a day or two.
Make sure they’re fully cooled before storing them in an air tight container, then refresh them with a few seconds in the microwave or a couple minutes in the oven to recreate the just-baked feel.
This recipe does make a lot – the pile pictured is maybe 1/3 of the total quantity – so these would be a great for a game night when friends are over to help you eat them.
Another thing you can do is divide the dough before letting it rise. Put half the dough in a bowl topped with plastic wrap in the fridge and let it rise overnight. When you’re finished poaching your pretzels “today,” let the liquid cool, transfer it to a fridge-safe container, and save it for use the following day with the rest of the dough. Then you can have fresh pretzels two days in a row! Double yum.
Have you ever tried making pretzels before, or has the poaching process scared you off in the past?
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