coarse sea saltor sesame seeds, poppy seeds, cheese... for topping
Make the dough:
Mix dough: Place flour, yeast, sugar and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and combine well. Add butter, then start the mixer on low and slowly pour in the milk as the mixer works. Let the dough knead on low speed for 5 minutes, or until it forms a smooth dough.
First proof: Shape into a tight ball, place back in the bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Let sit at room temperature until doubled in size (about 40mins - 1 hour).
Shape the pretzels:
Divide dough: Once dough is ready, punch it down and divide it into 12 equal pieces.
Shape: Roll each piece into a roughly 20inch long strand that's slightly thicker in the middle. Twirl the ends together 3x, then fold down to shape a pretzel (see post or video for visualization).
Second proof: Shape all pretzels and place on 2 lines baking sheets. Cover with tea towels and proof for another 20 minutes, or until slightly puffed up.
"Brine" and bake:
Prep: Preheat oven to 360°F.
Make "brine": Combine 1 quart of water, baking soda and salt in a high-sided pot. Bring to a boil, then take off the heat.
Dip pretzels: Using a slotted spoon, dip each pretzel into the solution for 15-20 seconds, making sure it's fully submerged. Drain well on the spoon, then place back on the lined baking sheets.
Bake: Sprinkle the "brined" pretzels with sea salt, sesame, poppy seeds... Whatever you enjoy, then bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven until deeply golden brown.
Brush for shininess (optional to make them shiny): IMMEDIATELY after taking the pretzels out of the oven, brush them with water, milk or half and half.
Cool: Transfer the pretzels to a wire rack to cool completely.
How to store the soft pretzels: Store wrapped in a clean tea towel at room temperature for 2 days, or freeze in freezer bags for up to 4 months. See post for freezer details.