Well, guess what. I finally tried making homemade ones. And they are AMAZING. And easy!! And you can now have hot, buttery, homemade soft pretzels whenever on earth you please! You're welcome.
Auntie Anne's Soft Pretzels (Copycat) (adjusted slightly from Cooking Classy)
2 cups milk
1 1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast (2 packets)
1/3 cup lightly packed light-brown sugar
4 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus an up to an additional cup as needed
2 tsp salt
1/3 cup baking soda
2 cups warm water
coarse salt, to taste
1/2 cup butter, melted
Warm milk in a microwave safe bowl or glass measuring cup in microwave (or over stove top in a small saucepan) until temperature of milk reaches 110 degrees, (about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes in the microwave). Combine milk and yeast in a large bowl (or stand mixer) and whisk until yeast has dissolved, let rest 5 minutes. Add brown sugar, 4 tbsp softened butter, 1 cup flour and 2 tsp fine sea salt to milk mixture and stir until blended. Switch to a dough hook, add remaining 3 1/2 cups flour and knead mixture on medium low speed until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. (Or knead by hand on floured surface.) Mix in up to an additional cup flour, 1/4 cup at a time as needed, until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow dough to rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper. Punch dough down several times to release any air pockets. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces. (divide in half, each in half again, then each piece into 3 pieces) Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap and roll each piece out into a long, thin rope about 32 - 36 inches long on a non-floured work surface. (The ropes just about double when baking, so the longer and thinner you can make them, the more classic looking pretzel you will get. Ours weren't quite long/thin enough, but they're cute!)
In a shallow bowl, whisk together baking soda and warm water until dissolved, then fully immerse your dough rope (carefully!) into water mixture and allow excess water to drip off. Place on prepared baking sheet, shape into pretzel shape (or any shape, really!) and sprinkle to taste with coarse salt. Repeat this process with remaining dough.
Bake pretzels in preheated oven 7 - 11 minutes until golden brown.
Okay, I tried to make spicy cheese dipping sauce too. First time was a complete and utter fail. I got very very close the second time, but with the amount of ingredients, eh. I'll just buy cheese sauce next time. If you're interested in my homemade version, let me know!
(The boys got a bit creative with their pretzel shapes... You don't even want to know what they called them...)Remove from oven and very generously brush pretzels with melted butter. Drench them. Trust me, the more butter the better. Serve warm with optional dipping sauce. They reheat awfully well, just a few minutes in a 350 degree oven!