Homemade Soft Pretzels!

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Food writing can be very, very memorable.  In 1978, I read a marvelous essay in the New York Times by Mimi Sheraton.  They say that tastes and smells are the most memorable senses, which explains why when we re-create food we ate as children the smells bring us back in the blink of an eye.  The same’s true of great food writing, at least for me.

Mimi’s article on homemade pretzels she ate in Stuttgart, Germany is one of those great food articles that stayed with me.  I clipped the article and forgot all about it.

Until Zoe and I started writing Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (click here to purchase). I’d never made Mimi’s recipe, adapted from her Stuttgart hosts, so I adapted it for Artisan Bread (page 127 in the book).You can make soft pretzels like these from the Master Recipe in the book on page 26 (click here to see our web version), but they’re much better with a high protein (bread) flour — just decrease the flour to 6 1/4 cups, and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar (like our bagel dough, on page 122).  When the dough’s ready to use (see Master Recipe, starting on page 26), take it from the fridge and start a boiling pot going, filled with 8 quarts water, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar.  While you’re at it, pre-heat a baking stone in the oven to 450 degrees F.  As those heat up, shape and rest the pretzels.

Take a 3-ounce piece of dough (about the size of a small peach), and form a rope a little less than 1/2-inch in diameter and 12 inches long.  Use your fingers and roll it back and forth with flour on a work surface.  Don’t be impatient, it’s got to be skinny:

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Cross the ends over each other:

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Fold them back in and loop them around each other:

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Then, twist to the opposite side…

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… and press firmly onto the loop to attach:

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Use your fingers to stretch out the holes so they don’t close up during boiling and baking, then rest for 20 minutes loosely covered under plastic wrap.   Bring your pot of water to a boil, and drop the pretzels in, taking care that they’re not crowded (you can boil in shifts if they are touching, otherwise they’ll be mis-shapen).   It’s two minutes on the first side, flip with a slotted spoon, and then one minute on the second side:

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Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a lightly floured towel or in a strainer.  Place on parchment paper, use a pastry brush to paint with egg wash (1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water), and sprinkle with very coarse salt, pretzel salt if available.  I used “rock” salt intended for salt grinders (not for making ice cream) — a terrific and more available substitute.  Bake in the pre-heated oven with the parchment right on the stone (with steam– see page 30, step 9).  In the book we suggest 15 to 25 minutes depending on how soft you like your “soft” pretzels, but today I went about 30 minutes before I was happy.  Look for a nice brown deep color.   Consider peeling off the parchment when they’re 2/3’s through the baking.

Eat with coarse-ground prepared mustard and it will take you back (well to Philadelphia, anyway, where they sell these on the street).

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If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with others using one of the social sharing buttons above. Thanks, Jeff and Zoë

86 thoughts on “Homemade Soft Pretzels!

  1. Love the book! I’m curious about the boiling mixture. Typically you add a base to the water (traditionally lye, most recipes, baking soda) but your book calls for adding cream of tartar (acid) too. What is that for? Doesn’t it just reduce the effect of the baking soda?

    • Robin: Boiling in lye is very traditional for pretzels in Germany… we figured that no one would do it in the US, even though food-grade lye is available here. So I tested this recipe using Mimi Sheraton’s boiling mixture from the NY Times, in a recipe from years ago. All I can tell you is that I was pleased with the result, and I just don’t know much about the science behind this. Jeff

  2. My bread has been fantastic! The rye is better than any bakery. This weekend I tried the pretzels and I had some problems. Dough was made 24 hours earlier, rose for 2 hours and then into the fridge. It was so sticky today, I could not work with it. I could barely shape it(it kept “rebounding”) and then the plastic wrap on top stuck to it. Totally lost any shape when going into boiling water. I boiled what looked like balls anyway and baked. Still crusty, edible and pretzel tasting. Actually quite delicious but how do I make pretzels and not pretzel “biscuit balls”? Thanks so much. My family is so thrilled with all the breads.

    • Hi Susan,

      It sounds like your dough may have been too wet. Try adding more flour to the remaining dough. After you incorporate the flour let it rest for a couple of hours to allow the flour to absorb the excess water. The dough will be easier to handle once it is refrigerator.

      Hope that helps! Zoë

  3. Hello! I just tried making your soft pretzels with the master recipe. I thought that while the were chewier than regular bread, I felt the pretzels were still too ‘bready’. I didn’t roll them down to 1/2 thick. Is this why? Or if I use bagel dough, would that make them less bready? Or boiling them longer? Thanks! I love your book and everyone is always so impressed when I bring fresh bread with me.

    • CourtneyBags: Bagel dough, with high-protein flour, will help. Not a problem with your boil…

      And yes, try to get them as thin as we say…

  4. Thank you thank you for the pictures… I could not get my head around the “tie them in a knot” instructions in your book… wish the book had the parchment paper mentioned…

    My first few are in the oven… can’t wait to see how they come out!

  5. first batch.. tasted good.. looked like a flat messy bagel.

    So, after making my second batch… how do you roll the dough thin enough so that it doesn’t break. Mine is too fat. It also bounces back from thin to fat after I roll it.

    Should I roll them in to long thin strips and then form them into pretzels.. in effect letting them rest?

    Second, how much should they rise in the oven?

    Thanks!

    • Stretch them partially, cover with plastic and let them rest. It will relax. That “bouncing-back” will be better with relaxed dough. You may need a couple repetitions.

      They rise a little in the oven. More if you use high-protein flour.

      Jeff

  6. I just got your book, HBin5 and made my first master recipe this morning. I’m so excited to try it! Can I make pretzels with that recipe or do they need to be with all AP or bread flour? Thanks!

    • Hi Bekki,

      You can make the pretzels with the whole wheat master, but you need to be careful when boiling the dough. We usually use a sturdier dough, so you’ll want to boil them for a shorter time.

      Thanks and enjoy! Zoë

  7. One teaspoon if baking soda in 8 quarts of water seems like a lot of water and little soda (I’ve seen others do a half cup in 4 quarts). Is there a reason to go with that ratio vs more soda?

      • Thanks! Can you tell me how adding more will affect it? Will it change the flavor (make it more pretzel-y)? Will it affect the texture of the crust?

      • yep, gonna make it more “pretzel-y.” You’ll see, it’s actually more authentic and we’re considering changing the recipe for future printings. The crust color and flavor will improve, I’m not convinced I can tell a texture difference.

    • Hi Chris,

      Yes, I’ve been playing with a recipe, but I’m not quite ready to share. I am surprised to hear you experienced this in France. Cool.

      Thanks, Zoë

  8. I wish I knew how to make a video of how an Amish baker showed me how to make the pretzel form. It’s a swing away with a twist and then lower and push the ends in away from you. The pretzel would appear upside down to the baker. It’s very fast and easy with very little practice.

  9. The lye or baking soda changes the waters PH to more basic. That causes the surface of the dough to become more gelatinous and will cause it to crust and brown when baked. Bagels do not brown much.

  10. I made pretzels tonight for the gaming group. Universal thumbs up from all 12 people. They tasted wonderful.

    But they were a lot paler than the ones you get from the soft-pretzels vendors. How do I get that dark, shiny-brown color without over baking them and getting hard pretzels instead?

  11. Hi, I absolutely love the bread recipe! I have been making it for years and own 2 books. I have wonderful success with various breads although I have attempted to make this pretzel recipe running into the same problem, I found it easier for me to make pretzel bites, but they keep coming out completely uncooked in the middle, totally gooey and raw but perfectly cooked on the outside. I’ve tried lowering the oven temp and raising it still running into the same problem being raw in the middle. Do you have any suggestions? I use king Arthur unbleached white and wheat mix with added vital what gluten (from healthy artisan bread book, my fav!) Any advice is greatly appreciated! And thanks again for such amazing, simple & healthy recipes!

  12. Hi. I have ABi5 and just tried the pretzel recipe using a slower rise (1/4 tsp of yeast, 15 hr rise). 1st batch turned out too crunchy so we baked it for less time the 2nd time. However, while the interior was chewy, it was very airy with lots of holes vs. the typical smaller crumb found in pretzels. What do we need to do so that it results in a pretzel-like crumb?

    • Hi Phoenix,

      You can let them rest for a shorter amount of time before boiling. Try letting them rest for just 10 minutes and if your kitchen is very warm you may not want them to rest at all before boiling.

      Thanks, Zoë

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