There’s nothing like a homemade pretzel. With a shiny, amber crust and a light but chewy texture, these Sourdough Soft Pretzels are delicious and just as satisfying as a pretzel you can buy at a store. These are naturally-leavened using sourdough starter and no commercial yeast which makes them even more flavorful than your average pretzel.
I usually make these pretzels at least once a year for our at-home Oktoberfest celebration. My boyfriend requests them all-year long and doesn’t stop until I bake our yearly batch. Each year, they’ve come out better and better and now, I’m finally ready to share my soft sourdough pretzel recipe with you! There are a few steps involved and you’ll have to invest some time when making these homemade pretzels but the effort is well worth it!
What makes pretzels special
Pretzels start out like most other sourdough bread, with bread flour, water, salt and a little bit of butter. What makes them unique is their iconic pretzel shape, golden brown, amber, shiny crust, chewy texture and a soft, tight crumb. To create a good pretzel, you’ll need to use a high-protein flour (12 to 14% protein content), develop a strong gluten network and dip your pretzel dough in an alkaline solution before baking.
What you need
Bread flour: High protein flour is essential for chewy pretzels, do not substitute another type of flour
Water: Adds moisture and hydration
Active Sourdough starter: Leavens dough and adds a tangy flavor to the pretzels
Butter: Tenderizes dough, adds richness and flavor
Barley malt syrup: An unrefined sweetener made from barley, it adds a delicious malty flavor to these pretzels. Substitute molasses or brown sugar.
Salt: Use sea salt or kosher salt for the dough
Pretzel salt: Used for topping, a large-grain salt that won't melt during baking
- Make the pretzel dough
- Knead the dough until completely smooth
- Let the dough rise until doubled in volume
- Place the dough in the refrigerator to proof overnight
- Divide the dough into 10 portions and pre shape it into logs
- Shape the dough after a 15 minute rest
- Let the dough rise for 30 minutes
- Freeze the pretzel dough for 15 minutes
- Carefully submerge pretzel dough into lye solution for 15 to 20 seconds (remember to use protective eyewear and gloves)
- Transfer pretzels to a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat, sprinkle pretzel salt on top
- Score dough to prevent your pretzels from bursting while they bake
- Sprinkle the dough with pretzel salt (if using)
- Bake pretzels at 450 F for 15 to 20 minutes
Sample sourdough pretzel baking schedule
How to shape pretzels
The pretzel shape is iconic, and it’s not all form. Each part of the pretzel serves very specific function, different thickness results in varying textures from the thick, soft belly to the crisp, cracker-like arms.
- If your dough is difficult to roll out and continues to snap back, let it rest for another 5 to 10 minutes before continuing
- Don't use flour on your work surface, the dough needs to stick to the work surface a bit for it to lengthen into a long rope
- Always keep your dough covered, since this dough has a relatively low hydration it's very easy for it to dry out
1. Roll the dough into an 18-inch rope with tapered ends
2. Lightly grab the ends to form a U shape
3. Twist the ends into 2 loops
4. Fold the ends over and tack them to the sides of your pretzel
How to use lye safely
Lye is extremely caustic and can be dangerous if it comes into contact with your skin. Be extremely careful and try your best not to splash. It’s important to use protective eyeware and chemical-resistant gloves, I even wore a face mask since the fumes can be a bit strong. To dispose of your lye solution, pour it down the drain or your toilet.
How to make pretzels using baking soda
If you don’t want to use lye you can poach your pretzel dough in baking soda and boiling water.
- 1130 grams (6 cups) water
- 14 grams (1 tablespoon) barley malt syrup (sub. honey or brown sugar)
- 15 grams (2 tablespoons) baking soda
Bring a large pot of water and barley malt syrup to a boil over high heat.
Once the water begins to boil, lower to medium heat and add the baking soda (the water will bubble wildly so be careful here).
Drop 2 or 3 pretzels into the pot and poach for 30 seconds on each side, flipping mid-way through.
Place poached pretzels on prepared baking sheet.
Looking for a quick pretzel recipe that doesn't use lye? Try my Sourdough Discard Soft Pretzels.
Sourdough Soft Pretzels Variations
Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels: Instead of pretzel salt, sprinkle cinnamon sugar on the sourdough pretzel dough after the lye bath and before baking.
Jalapeno Cheddar Pretzels: Add diced jalapenos and cheddar cheese to the pretzel dough.
Buttered Soft Pretzels: Brush melted butter right after the pretzels are baked, this will soften the crust and add a rich buttery flavor.
Absolutely, just substitute vegetable oil or coconut oil for the butter in the recipe.
If you don’t want to use lye you can poach your pretzel dough in baking soda and boiling water. Bring a large pot of water (about 6 cups or 1130 grams) to a boil, add 2 tablespoons or 15 grams of baking soda. Poach the pretzel dough for 30 seconds on each side, flipping the dough midway through. Place poached dough on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat.
In Germany, soft pretzels are traditionally eaten with soft butter and this has become my favorite way to enjoy these, especially when I eat them with homemade cultured butter. Here in the U.S., they are most commonly eaten with mustard or a beer cheese dip.
Once your pretzels have completely cooler, store any leftover in an airtight container, to prevent them from becoming stale, for up to 3 days. For longer term storage, wrap the pretzels in a double-layer of foil and a freezer bag for up to 2 weeks. Reheat pretzels in a 350 F oven for 10 minutes.
More sourdough bread recipes you may like
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- Safety Glasses
- Face Mask
- Chemical Resistant Gloves
- Food-grade Lye
- Silicone Baking Mat
- Large Baking Sheet
- 600 grams bread flour
- 282 grams water
- 75 grams active sourdough starter
- 28 grams unsalted butter softened
- 14 grams barley malt syrup
- 900 grams cold water
- 28 grams food grade lye
- Pretzel salt for sprinkling
- Make the dough: Dissolve the sourdough starter and barley malt syrup in the water. Stir the bread flour into the water mixture, a third at a time. The dough will feel dry, incorporate the butter into the shaggy dough and continue kneading until all of the flour is hydrated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 1 hour.
- Strengthen the dough: Turn the dough out on a clean work surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes. Developing gluten is key for chewy pretzels so make sure your dough is completely smooth before you stop kneading.Your dough shouldn’t feel sticky, but if it does, coat your hands and work surface with a little bit of oil.
- Bulk fermentation: Round the dough into a tight ball and place it in a clean, lightly-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place, untouched until doubled in volume, about 4 to 6 hours.
- Cold proof: Deflate the dough, round it into a tight ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight.
- Pre shape the dough: The next day, divide the dough into 10 equal portions. Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle. Roll the dough tightly into a 6-inch log, cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.
- Shape pretzels: Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll it into an 18-inch rope with tapered ends. Grab the tips and form a U shape. Twist the ends twice, and flip them over. Tack the ends to the sides and place the shaped dough on a baking sheet.
- Final proof: Let the shaped dough rise uncovered at room temperature for 1 hour or until the dough looks puffy, but not doubled. Place the dough in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.
- Prep: Preheat your oven to 500 F. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats.
- Lye bath: In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, dissolve 28 grams of food grade lye in 900 grams of cold water, use a stainless steel whisk to make sure all of the lye has dissolved. Using protective gear, carefully dip the frozen pretzel dough in the lye solution and submerge for 15 to 20 seconds. Place dough on prepared baking sheets, at least 2 inches apart.
- Bake: Sprinkle pretzel salt on pretzels while the surface of the dough is still wet. Score the dough using a lame or a sharp knife. Turn the temperature down to 450 F and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the pretzels are evenly browned. Transfer the pretzels to a wire rack.
- Enjoy and store: Enjoy freshly baked pretzels warm with butter or sweet brown mustard. These are best eaten the day they are baked, store any leftover pretzels in an airtight container for up to 3 days.