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In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, or in a mixing bowl to make by hand, add the warm water, the softened butter, the brown sugar, and the yeast. Stir to combine and set aside for 5 minutes. The mixture will get foamy. If it doesn't, your yeast is dead, get new yeast.
Add 2 cups bread flour, if using, or 2 cups all-purpose flour, along with the salt to the yeast mixture and mix with a wooden spoon or on low for 1 to 2 minutes to blend. With the dough hook or by hand, incorporate enough remaining flour, adjusting as needed, to obtain a soft, smooth dough that remains tacky, but does not come away on your fingers when tapped. Kneading takes between 5 to 10 minutes depending on whether you use the mixer or do it by hand.
Spray a clean bowl with cooking spray or lightly oil and turn out the ball of dough into the dish, turning the dough to coat with oil. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and a clean towel. Set in a warm place to double in size; 30 to 60 minutes depending on whether you used instant/fast-rise yeast or dry active yeast.
When doubled, preheat the oven to 425F degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment and spray with cooking spray.
In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Very gently add the baking soda; it will foam violently then subside. Keep the water at a rapid simmer/low boil.
Divide the dough into eight equal portions and use your hands to roll each into a 24 to 26 inch rope. If the dough resists, allow it to rest during the rolling. You may lightly flour the board, but this should not be necessary.
Form into a U-shape on the table, take the two "tails", twist them around each other, then bring down to the bottom of the "U" to form into a traditional pretzel shape. Press the tails into the dough gently.. Place each shaped pretzel on the parchment lined pans to await the baking soda dip.
Using a slotted spatula or kitchen spider, lower one pretzel at a time into the water. Boil about 15 seconds, flip and boil 15 seconds on the other side. Remove to a clean cotton kitchen towel or paper towel for a minute to drain. Sprinkle the parchment lined baking sheets lightly with coarse salt and place 4 pretzels on each trays. Sprinkle the tops as desired with coarse salt. If the pretzels are mis-shapen, gently stretch back into place on the baking sheets.
Bake for 11 to 13 minutes until deep golden brown, rotate and turn the baking sheets half way through baking.
Remove from oven and brush with melted butter, if desired. Best served fresh and warm.