Homemade Pretzels with Garlic Caramel Sauce are super easy to make in an afternoon and the savory sweet flavors are irresistible!
Yes, you read the title right… Homemade pretzel bites and GARLIC caramel sauce! The first time I heard about garlic caramel was when a friend returned from Cincinnati and had tried it at Tela’s Bar and Kitchen. The sauce was originally created by Chef Gerald Rush at Tela’s. My friend Kim challenged me to replicate the sauce. Since I’m a huge garlic fan and love savory/sweet combinations, I gladly took on her challenge. But I knew if the combination was going to be a worthy experiment, I had to also find a simple but perfect pretzel recipe. And after trial and experimentation, I have two recipes for you here and they’re independently awesome but when served together, they’re incredibly perfect.
Let’s start with the pretzels- Making homemade pretzels is actually almost too easy. If you’ve never made yeast bread, here’s a great starting point for you. It’s important to have a stand mixer with a dough attachment for the recipe. The pretzel recipe I like best comes from Alton Brown, known for presenting many “best method” recipes.
Alton’s recipe takes very little time or effort. I experimented further with two different flours, and I’ll give you my findings on that in a minute. I made both regular, large pretzels and pretzel bites during the experimental stage. Making big knot-pretzels was not difficult, but everyone who taste-tested the knots as well as the bites GOBBLED UP the bites in seconds. So, they’ll be my go-to results most often.
To make the pretzels, place warm water, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it sit about five minutes, just until it starts to foam.
Then add flour and melted butter. Mix with the dough hook for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and has pulled away from the sides (sorry, forgot to take a picture of what that’ll look like). Then remove the dough from the bowl, clean out the bowl and spread oil in the bowl. Place the dough back in, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for about an hour. I put it on the stove while the oven is pre-heating and turn on the overhead light for the range. This is plenty warm for rising the dough. Cook’s note: Alton’s recipe calls for all-purpose flour and the pretzels made with this flour were excellent, the center was light with large holes throughout. I also made a batch with bread flour. These pretzels were just as good, but with a more chewy center… kind of like the ones you get at concession stands. I thought the all-purpose flour-made pretzels tasted more “homemade” but the bread flour pretzels were more moist in the middle.
After the dough has doubled in size, for the bites, I pulled off a baseball size piece and rolled it into a long piece on the counter until it was about an inch thick (spray the counter with cooking spray and then wipe it off so the counter is just oiled enough so the dough doesn’t stick). Then cut with scissors into bite-sized pieces and place on a prepared baking sheet until all the dough has been cut. For regular knot pretzels, after rolling the long rope, you’ll twist into a knotted circle (better directions in the printable recipe)y. Then the dough is placed in boiling water that has baking soda in it. Boil for 30 seconds, place on the baking sheet and brush with an egg and water mixture. Sprinkle with pretzel salt and bake for about 14 minutes. That’s it!
And now the coup de grâce, the garlic caramel sauce…
I have a step-by-step-photo recipe for the Homemade Caramel Sauce here which will be good for you to look at and see just how easy homemade caramel is to make. This recipe is basically just mashed, roasted, garlic whisked into warm caramel sauce just before serving. The amount of garlic added is up to you. I recommend two medium size garlic heads, but during testing, we pretty much added up to four heads and loved it even more. The garlic becomes super mild during roasting so it’s not overpowering at this stage. If you’re a garlic nut like me, you could add a touch of minced fresh garlic (which is more pungent) or even a dash of granulated garlic for even more garlic flavor.
At first hearing of garlic caramel sauce, you might think it sounds like an April Fool’s prank, sort of like when I gave my brother Coca-Cola, laced with horseradish, one April 1st many years ago (Sorry Mike). But this is the real deal. It’s unexpected but you won’t be able to get enough, it’s that delicious.
Take my advice and start these pretzels one afternoon and serve them with fresh and warm garlic caramel sauce that same evening. This is sure to be the hit of any party. Even though we’ve enjoyed the pretzels and the sauce the day after they’re made, I recommend serving this combination the same day it’s made. That being said, the pretzels can be made ahead of serving and freeze pretty well. Just bring back to room temp and then bake a few minutes to heat. The pretzel salt will dissolve on the pretzels that have been made ahead of time. Brush the pretzels/bites with water and sprinkle with salt again before reheating.
There you have it, my family’s new favorite snack, treat, appetizer, and obsession. I hope you’re daring enough to give the garlic caramel a try. You’ll be so glad you did. Alton Brown demonstrates how to make the pretzels in his post for the homemade pretzels, and they’ll become a much requested bread, I’m sure of it.
Homemade Pretzel Bites with Garlic Caramel Sauce
For the caramel sauce:
For the pretzels:
- 1 ½ cups warm water 110° to 115° F
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 ½ cups*
- 2 Tablespoons butter, melted
- Non-stick cooking spray for pan
- 10 cups water
- ⅔ cup baking soda
- 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 ½ Tablespoon water
- Pretzel salt
- *all-purpose flour may be substituted with bread flour for a more chewy bite
Make the caramel sauce:
- Pre-heat oven to 350F degrees. Cut the tops off 2 garlic heads. Sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon light oil and dash salt to taste and wrap loosely in aluminum foil. Place on center oven rack and bake until the garlic is soft and golden, about 45 minutes to an hour.
- While the garlic is baking, pour 1 cup sugar into a medium saucepan and heat to medium-high. Using a metal spoon, stir the sugar just occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pan. At first the sugar will be lumpy, but will soon melt and start turning brown. Don't stir too often, just enough to keep everything evenly cooking. After about 5 minutes, the sugar should be fully melted and become a rich amber color.
- At this point, remove the pan from the heat and immediately add 1 Tablespoon butter. The mixture will start to bubble quite rapidly. That's just what you want.
- Again using a metal spoon, stir the butter and sugar until they melt together almost completely. This takes about a minute.
- Next, pour in ½ cup heavy whipping cream and 1 teaspoon sea salt*. The mixture may bubble up and hard at this point, just stir to keep it down.*If you're making regular caramel, add ½ teaspoon salt and no more. If you're making a salted caramel version, add anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 1½ teaspoons depending on your liking.
- Stir constantly now until the sauce is all mixed together and is smooth. Place back on the stove at medium-high heat again for about 20 seconds more. Remember to keep stirring. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Once your garlic has finished baking, using your hands, squeeze the softened garlic out of the clove pods. Place the garlic in a small sieve and using the back of a spoon, smash the garlic through the sieve and using the same spoon, scrape the garlic off the under-side of the sieve and whisk into the caramel until fully incorporated. Serve immediately for a hot option or cool 15 minutes to room temperature.
- Over several minutes, the caramel will become harder to stir. For a manageable sauce, just heat in microwave for 10-15 seconds and stir again.
Make the pretzels:
- Combine 1 ½ cups water, 1 Tablespoon sugar and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle 1 packet yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add 22 ounces flour and 2 Tablespoons butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with non-stick cooking spray or vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
- Bring 10 cups of water and ⅔ cup baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
- In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface (spray surface with non-stick cooking spray and then wipe most of the spray off the surface) and divide into baseball size pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 1-inch thick rope. For knot pretzels- Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. For pretzel bites- snip rope into desired sized bites, 1 to 2 inches long. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.
- Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds, pretzel bites can go in about 10 at a time. Remove them from the water using a large slotted spoon or spatula. Return to the sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel or pretzel bite with the beaten 1 egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.
- The garlic sauce appears to have a lot of steps but it truly is very easy. If you're not up for making the sauce from scratch, you can buy store bought (good quality) caramel sauce and simmer it with smashed garlic cloves over medium-low heat for several minutes. Remove and discard the garlic or leave it in.
- Per the original chef at Tela's, chef Gerald recommends using light brown sugar to enhance the flavor of the sauce. I had a very hard time with brown sugar as the molasses makes everything very sticky. I do prefer the flavor using the brown sugar but just know, it's going to be tricky. You'll need to stir quite a bit to get the lumps out. I finally gave up and left a few in there and called it good. No one cared. If using the brown sugar, absolutely use a metal spoon for stirring rather than a rubber spatula.
Pretzel portion of this recipe from Alton Brown.