Soft pretzels and caramel apples make a delectable pairing in this scratch-made treat. Tart Granny Smith apples are kneaded into sweet yeasted dough, then formed into pretzel shapes and baked to golden-brown perfection. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with a homemade caramel glaze for the ideal contrast of salty and sweet.
For the pretzels: Pour the warm milk into a medium bowl and sprinkle the yeast over. Let the yeast bloom until softened and foamy, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the brown sugar, vanilla and 1 cup of the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined. Stir in the softened butter until incorporated, then add the remaining 1 1/4 cups flour, chopped apple, cinnamon and kosher salt to make a sticky dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed, until smooth but still slightly tacky, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, place in a lightly buttered large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Punch the dough down to deflate it, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. (If the dough seems tight, cover it and let rest until it relaxes.) Divide the dough into 6 pieces.
Working with one piece at a time, roll and stretch the dough with the palms of your hands into a 24-inch-long rope. Lift the ends of the rope to make a U shape, then cross one end over the other twice to make a double twist in the middle. Fold down the ends and attach them to the bottom of the U, creating a pretzel shape. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Dissolve the baking soda in 3 cups hot water in a shallow baking dish. Gently dip each pretzel in the soda solution, let some of the excess water drip off, then arrange on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with the coarse salt. Bake until the pretzels are puffed and deep golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
For the caramel glaze: Melt the butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until completely melted and smooth. Whisk in the heavy cream until combined, then transfer to a medium bowl. Whisk in the confectioners' sugar, vanilla and salt until smooth (it should be thick enough to drizzle over the pretzels but not so thin that it drips away). Immediately transfer to a small piping bag or resealable bag, snip the corner and drizzle over the cooled pretzels. Let the glaze set, about 10 minutes.
When measuring flour, we spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off excess. (Scooping directly from the bag compacts the flour, resulting in dry baked goods.)
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