The time is upon us: It’s just about fall, y’all! Soups and stews are about to be all up in my area on the regular. It’s about dang time. To celebrate, I want to share with you the ultimate carb-y accompaniment that is my new obsession. Pretzel Rolls. Like the perfect shopping mall/ballpark soft pretzel, in a totally different form. You’ve never met a more addictive dinner roll, I’m telling you.
It feels like approximately 50 years ago, but once upon a time I had a job as a makeup artist for a very fancy, stylish cosmetic line. I would travel around to upscale department stores like Saks and Neiman Marcus where I ordinarily would have no business being, and design new makeup looks for ladies of all shapes, sizes and colors and promote the brand. It was a pretty rad job, I have to say. But my favorite days were the ones in my hometown of Chicago, when I visited what used to be the historical Marshall Field’s on State Street (which is now a flippin’ Macy’s, DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED). It was a beautiful store with fun clientele and a gorgeous cosmetics department. But what I really loved was my lunch break there, because the top floor had a café with floor-to-ceiling windows, a stunning city view, and a place that had the most glorious seasonal salads, all served with a moan-inducing pretzel roll. Deeply golden with a chewy crust, smattered with crunchy coarse salt. Huminuh.
I’d slather the roll with butter, slowly savor each bite with sips of Diet Coke, and gaze out onto the city, thinking about all things food and nothing about makeup. Signs of things to come. But at any rate, I’ve often thought lovingly of those pretzel rolls, and only recently realized that I could totally Google them and try to put my own spin on a version at home. DUH.
The thing that turns this basic dough into pretzel rolls and not just regular old dinner rolls is boiling the shaped dough for a few seconds in a funky, science fair-like solution with baking soda and a touch of sugar before baking it. That’s the secret to getting that golden, hearty soft pretzel-like crust on the outside of the roll. It’s a little wacky, but super fun. Get into it!
So now that I have this incredible soup and salad buddy back in my life, I really hope you’ll make it part of yours. Bake ‘em up, butter ‘em up, and mull over your life choices. You deserve it.
If you make these on the larger size with a yield of 8, you’ll get rolls about four inches in diameter, great for a bagel-sized breakfast or for sandwiches. For serving as dinner rolls, I’d make them smaller, cutting the dough into 10 or 12 pieces. And if you made them into mini pretzel bites, I’m sure no one would complain.
I used flaky Maldon sea salt for mine, but coarse kosher salt or old-fashioned pretzel salt works, too.
Makes 8-12, depending on size
For the dough:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (about 105 to 110 degrees F)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 .25-ounce packet)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg white
Coarse salt, for sprinkling
For the boiling solution:
2 quarts water
1/4 cup baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together the warm water, yeast and sugar. Let sit until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the flour, salt and melted butter and knead on low speed with the dough hook until the dough is well-mixed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead several times by hand to ensure the dough is smooth. Form the dough into a round. Lightly oil a large mixing bowl and place the dough in it, covering tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Punch the dough down and turn it back out onto the floured work surface. Divide the dough evenly into 8 to 12 pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a ball by pulling it taut across the top and tucking the edges under. Turn the ball over and pinch all the edges together in the center, like a little pouch. Cup your hands and give the ball a little roll in your palms to smooth everything out before placing it on a cornmeal or flour-dusted baking sheet. Cover the shaped rolls with a clean tea towel and let rise again until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
After the second rise, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add the baking soda and sugar (the water will bubble up high when the soda is added, so be sure to use a large pot). Working 2 or 3 rolls at a time, drop them into the boiling liquid. Boil for 30 seconds on the first side, then turn them gently and boil 30 seconds on the second side. Lift the rolls from the water with a slotted spoon, letting them drain for a moment before transferring them to the baking sheets. If there is any residual foam or water on the dough, gently pat it away with a paper towel. They may look a little deflated and sad at this point, but they’ll recover in the oven.
Using kitchen scissors, snip a large X into the top of each roll. Beat the egg white lightly with 1 teaspoon of water. Brush each roll lightly with the egg wash. Sprinkle coarse salt generously over the rolls.
Bake until deeply golden, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking. Let cool completely before serving for best flavor and texture.
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