How to Make Soft Pretzels at Home
After reading about the history of the pretzel, I decided that I wanted to get into the act, too. I agree that most mass-produced hard pretzels are generally eaten in a fugue state while sipping a beer and watching a game above the bar. At its heart, though, the pretzel is a delightful specialty bread and deserves a bit more respect.
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be part of the opening team for a gastropub. We did everything from painting picture frames to mopping the floors to setting the opening menu. The restaurant was split into three parts: a chef's room, the main dining area, and the bar.
The bar was quite the showpiece, and we always had a wonderful selection of fine American craft beers on tap. We would grudgingly hand someone a can of Budweiser if they insisted, but we only kept a few in the fridge.
Part of the fun, and challenge, of working at a restaurant that had "pub" in its name was trying to find as many ways as possible to integrate our great selection of beers into the food without its seeming forced or contrived. Enter, the soft pretzel--the quintessential bar snack that we made over into the most popular appetizer on the menu.
Secret #1: Feed The Yeast With Sugar
There are two secrets to making great soft pretzels that I will now share with you.
When making a yeasted bread product, bakers always like to feed the yeast a bit of sugar to give it a head start. That sugar can be in the form of honey, granulated sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, even maple syrup.
But the form that lends itself to the traditional soft pretzel is malt syrup-more or less the same stuff used in beer making. The malt syrup provides a subtle yet complex flavor that just says "soft pretzel."
Secret #2: Poach The Pretzels In Alkalized Water
Secret number two is to poach the pretzels in alkalized water, or water with a high pH. The hot water provides the gelatinization necessary for a shiny, crackly crust, and the low pH encourages deep browning in the oven so your pretzels come out pretzel-colored instead of roll-colored.
Your standard bag of hard pretzels get a bath in a lye solution. In the home kitchen, this can be more than a little risky, so a good substitute is baking soda, one of the most alkalizing ingredients in the kitchen. It's cheap and readily available, and it works.
Now that you know the secrets, on with the recipe.
These pretzels are made with the straight dough method. That just means that you put all in ingredients in the mixer at one time and then let it mix. Very easy.
How to Twist Pretzels Video
Here's a quick video with Chef Jenni showing you how to twist a pretzel for this recipe. If you want to see the entire pretzel procedure on video, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIhioueIzQI
Best Soft Pretzel Recipe Ever
- Dissolve the yeast in the water, and then put all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook.
- Start the mixer and knead on medium-low speed for 8 minutes.
- When the dough is soft and springy, remove it from the mixer, put it in a large greased bowl. Spray the top of the dough with a little vegetable oil to keep a skin from forming. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
- Once the dough has doubled in volume, gently press out the gasses. Divide the dough into 3 oz. pieces. This recipe makes about 12 pretzels, so if you don't want to weigh the dough, divide the dough in thirds and divide each third into fourths.
- Roll each piece of dough into a 2 foot long rope. Twist into a pretzel shape, or whatever shape you like, really.
- Place the pretzels on two greased cookie sheets or half sheet pans. Do not line them with parchment. I learned the hard way that this is a bad idea. Trust me.
- Put the pretzels in the freezer until very firm. This step is not strictly necessary, but it makes it much easier to poach them and put them back on trays without their losing their shape.
- Once the pretzels are frozen, bring 10 cups of water (½ gallon plus 1 pint) to a boil with ½ cup baking soda.
- When the water is boiling, turn the heat down some to keep it at a gentle boil, and place three frozen pretzels in the water. After one minute, carefully remove the pretzels with a large slotted spoon or a spider and put them back on the baking sheet. Repeat until all the pretzels have taken a 60-second dip in the water.
- Whisk one egg together with a teaspoon of water. Brush this egg wash evenly on all the pretzels. Don't glob it on; you just need a thin coat. At this point, you can sprinkle them with kosher salt, but it will tend to sink in, not giving you that cool salted pretzel look. They'll still taste great. If you're looking for a salt that won't melt, you can certainly purchase pretzel salt through Amazon. It is inexpensive and goes a long way.
- At the restaurant, we wanted to "fancy them up a bit," so we used a light sprinkle of sel gris on the pretzels. This gives a wonderful result, but sel gris is pretty expensive. It's your call. You could also sprinkle them with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.
- Bake at 400° F until deeply golden brown (pretzel colored), about 15 minutes. For the most even baking, turn the baking sheets after about 8 minutes.
Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother
What perfect timing. We just did pretzels with the girls from an Auntie Anne's kit. I was really disappointed, because they were sweet even before adding the typical (for Auntie Anne's) cinnamon/sugar topping. I didn't want sweet, I wanted a pretzel.
So of course I'm going to have to make them from scratch if I want them to be right. What I'm aiming for is the classic Philly street vendor style. And if you've never been to Philly, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. If you have, then right now you're thinking, "Mmm, yeah, pretzel ... need to get me one."
So have you ever been to Philly and know what I'm talking about? If so, how close is this recipe to that style?
Hi Drew, I know Philly pretzels because I live in Philadelphia and have purchased many a pretzel from street vendors and at Philly games. I can't compare them because this post and recipe is from Chef Jenni Field, one of The Reluctant Gourmet's contributing writers. I hope to prepare her recipe this weekend and can compare but I think these pretzels look more like the ones I grew up on in Northern New Jersey. The Philadelphia pretzel is very narrow and usually comes in threes. - RG
Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother
Yeah, I noticed that it was Jenni's recipe. Was hoping she had been to Philly and could answer this.
If I had ever noticed you mentioning you were in Philly, it slipped my mind. When you say the pretzels are "narrow", do you mean top-to-bottom? Because the ones I'm talking about are the picture in the bottom of this post: http://thefoodinsulter.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/ode-to-the-philly-soft-pretzel/
Yeah but notice that there are four pretzels in that picture, not one. They are sold in fours like that but you break them apart into individual pretzels. You can see how narrow they are then. - RG
Unfortunately, Drew and RG, I've never had a Philly-style pretzel. I can tell you that these are not at all sweet with a nice chew. You also have to give them a good bite in order to eat one. They are delightful.
You can make them up until the point where you freeze them, then cover them and keep them in the freezer for a couple of weeks. When you're feeling pretzel-ish, just chunk a few into boiling baking soda water for a minute, egg wash and bake. You'll have hot, fresh pretzels in about 25 minutes.
The pretzel "rope" itself is probably about 1/3-1/2" thick, if that helps any.
Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother
I guess I'll wait for RG to do them this weekend and see what he has to say. The girls will be out of town, so I won't be making them until next week anyway.
FYI the Philly soft pretzel ...
they are tall & skinny and tripled ... pretzel dogs are also popular !
thanks for sharing your recipe
Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother
Okay, finally made these. I need some practice, but flavor-wise they're just about perfect. I'll be posting the results probably on the 16th -- I've already got a few things ready to go -- but one lesson learned I can share right now: Morton coarse sea salt is perfect for pretzels.
Thanks Drew for sharing your results and your Morton coarse sea salt lesson. Look forward to seeing your results. - RG
So what happens if you bake them on parchment? What specifically goes wrong?
It's very Disturbing, Keith. I'm telling you, something about the mixture of alkalized water and egg wash and parchment equal big, stuck mess. We baked on parchment the first time we made these, and we ended up having to peel the paper off the backs in wee little strips. Not pretty. Just spray your pan thoroughly w/pan spray and you shouldn't have any problem at all.
Can they be pre-baked (partially)? I want to sell at my Tavern but 20 min seems like a long time to wait for a pretzel
Yes, Paul--we always pre-baked and then heated them to order for just a minute or two. I will say, though, that The Mellow Mushroom bakes theirs fresh (although they use their pizza dough, which isn't the same) and their menu says to allow 20 minutes. Your call, but baking ahead is just fine.
Can the dough be made ahead of time? I want to make the dough this evening and then use it tomorrow with a group of kids. The cooking class is only an hour long so I won't have time to let it proof during the class and then proceed.
I see this answer is a little late for you, Heather. Sorry about that. You can certainly make the dough ahead of time, wrap it well and refrigerate it overnight. Take it out maybe three hours before class to give it a chance to come up to room temp and rise a bit. Then, just roll away.
If you're not going to blanch them from frozen, expect it to be a bit more difficult. The pretzels do not hold their shape when soft, and the alkalized water makes them very sticky, too. Even when an adult makes them, there is much less gnashing of teeth if you freeze them "raw," and then blanch them frozen. By the time they're done blanching and you have egg-washed and salted them, they'll be good to go for the oven.
I made these without parchment they stuck to pan even after oiling pan, then later for my next batch I bought parchment paper put in a tiny bit of oil on pan to keep parchment in place then rubbed corn oil parchment paper. The alkalzed hot bathed pretzels came out great no mess . Was it because i didn't use the right oil or oiled the parchment or was it a rare occurrance and i got lucky that there was no mess?
Wow, Bob! I have no idea why the opposite of what is true for me is your truth. I wish I had a definitive answer for you.
It could be the type of pan you use. It could be the type of oil. It could have been oiling the paper. I say, if what you did worked for you, then keep doing it!
I'm glad the pretzels turned out well--they are pretty terrific, aren't they?!
These look great! Is the 1/2 oz malt syrup 1/2 oz by weight or liquid measure? Also, is there a vegan substitue for the egg wash or can it just be left off entirely ?
Good questions, Jean. We did it by volume at the restaurant--1 TBSP is roughly 1/2 ounce. As to the egg wash, I am not really up on my vegan substitutions, but I've left it off entirely and the pretzels have turned out just fine. 🙂
Just made a batch - they're great! And the recipe is very forgiving; had a little trouble with he amount of flour - I found a conversion that said 2 3/4 cup would equal 22 oz, but my scale only weighed a little more than a lb at that amount. I ended up adding more flour, then when mixing it seemed really dry so I added some more water, malt syrup and an tad more yeast (also used 1 envelope quick rise yeast in place of fresh yeast.) The pretzels seem a little moist under the crunchy top after baking so next time I'll see if I can figure out how to fix that. 🙂
Hi Jean, thanks for the update and suggestions. Let me know how the next batch turns out. - RG
I wanted to try your recipe, but alas, I do not have a scale in my kitchen. I know that I cannot be the only one. I do mostly cooking and know that this falls into the baking category, but come on......no measurements in cups? I found three VERY different conversion tables online and did not find one that I trusted more than another, Finally I moved on and found a different recipe.
Hi Ted, I hear you and I'm sure the recipe you found was perfect for your needs. The soft pretzels recipe is from Chef Jenni Field and she was taught in culinary school that weighing baking ingredients is much better than using cups and that is why she did it this way. I do have a conversion calculator on my site that might help and Chef Jenni makes the argument for using metric weights for baking here. - RG
Michele from San Diego
Re the Philly pretzels, I venture to say they will always taste better in Philly than anywhere else the same way San Francisco sourdough bread tastes best in SF. I've been told it has to do with the yeast in the air and the mineral content of the local water affecting the dough. Is there truth to this?
I have heard the same thing about New York Bagels...it's all about the water. Not sure but will look into it. If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear from you. - RG
Great recipe. I'm from Philly and I can't get these pretzels in NC, so I have to make them myself. The poaching is the key step to getting that slightly crispy outside; a full minute is the trick. One criticism: given that the pretzels will float in the baking soda and water, I found my best success flipping them over when I put them on the baking sheet. That way, the top of the pretzel gets brown. I just need to try a batch with malt syrup. Mine are finally looking good, now I need to add some subtlety to the flavor!
Great suggestions Kevin. Thanks for sharing - RG
I just tried the Aunti Anne's pretzels from their baking kit. My son loves those pretzels and ever since we found out about the baking kit, he reminded me every time I went to the grocery store to get the kit! Well we made some today eventually, and they weren't too bad. But I will definitely try this recipe as I like to know exactly what I am putting in the food I make. Can you please tell me where I can get fresh yeast? I have always only seen the active yeast in small packets. Also where can I get the malt syrup?
I've been able to find fresh yeast at wholesalers--folks who sell to restaurants and bakeries. You can absolutely make this using dried yeast, though. For every ounce of fresh yeast, you'll only need 1/3 ounce (or roughly 9-10g) dried yeast. You can get malt syrup at health food stores or Whole Foods or on the Internet. If you absolutely cannot find malt syrup, you can sub dark corn syrup, but malt syrup is traditional in bread pretzels and I think the flavor profile ends up suffering a bit.
Good luck, and have fun making these--I'm sure you'll love them!
I tryed your recipe and found it to be great! I would like to know the best way to store the baked pretzels. I need to make 100 or so for an event at church and will need to bake them the day before. I stored the ones I baked yesterday in ziplock bags and the salt melted off and they are not as crisp. Could I just wrap them in toweling, or is it best to leave them uncovered? I was very disappointed when I checked these this morning--thank goodness we ate most of them yesterday!
Thanks again for the great recipe and instructions!
Hi, Phyllis--glad you like the pretzels! These really are best served warm, straight from the oven, but if you can't swing that, consider shaping and freezing them all the day before (I don't know how much freezer/oven space you have to work with) and then boil/egg wash/bake earlier in the day you are serving.
Storing them air-tight, as you discovered, is not the best because they will continue to give off small amounts of moisture as part of the staling process (which, sadly, begins almost as soon as they come out of the oven, although they won't taste stale for a couple of days). Ziplocks just trap that liquid and melt your salt. I think your idea of covering them with a towel is probably your best bet. If at all possible, throw them in a 350F oven for just a minute or two before serving (consider under-baking by the same amount of time during the initial bake).
I hope that helps, and good luck with your church event!
Drew @ Willpower Is For Fat People
Or take a tip from the pretzel masters in Philly, and put them in brown paper bags. Slows down the staling process, but doesn't trap so much moisture that it melts the salt.
And for a pro tip, instead of pretzel salt use Morton coarse sea salt. It's large crystals instead of fine-ground salt pressed into chunks, and it doesn't melt as easily.
Thanks for the quick response. I think I will see if I can bake them at the church that morning--they are to be served with soup for lunch. How far ahead do you think I can make and freeze them? We are talking around 100 and I can't make that many in one day! Would they store covered in the freezer for a week? If not, how long do you think is possible?
Thanks again--I just finished warming up and eating one of yesterday's production and it was still pretty good!
It's a good sign that they are still "pretty good," after a couple of days, but I know you would prefer them to be great!
You can make, shape and freeze them for quite some time--weeks--w/o any disasters occurring. You can also make, shape, parbake and freeze and then throw them from a frozen state right into an oven to finish up baking, say about 5 minutes or so. They'll be fine parbaked & frozen for days and days, so you shouldn't have any problem with them.
I also agree w/Drew--we used to use sel gris or any coarse sea salt will work fine, too. Don't use kosher salt, though, because it will melt regardless of how you store your pretzels.
Hope that helps, Phyllis. I'll be interested to hear how they turn out and how they are received by the crowd!
Thanks Jenni for all your help with these questions. - RG
Thanks again for all the help. I will report back on how the pretzels are received. The event is October 8th--guess I had better get to mixing! Phyllis
I am getting very good at making these, because my family loves these pretzels! My husband is from Philly, and is thrilled that I can make hot pretzels better than the ones he remembers back home. I am heading back out to whole foods right now to get more barley malt, so he can nosh on hot pretzels while watching the Phillies tonight. Thanks for the recipe.
Tough loss last night. I thought we had this one but at least the pretzels were perfect. Your husband is a lucky man! - RG
Moira, your pretzels are BETTER than your husband remembers in Philly??? Impossible!!! Perhaps very good but better is Impossible!!
Hi, I used part of your recipe yesterday to make pretzels. The dough I made from a recipe off of allrecipes.com and then I froze them and did your baking soda poaching and the rest of your recipe. My question is they came out a little spongy. Do you think it's because of the different dough recipe or something I did with the poaching? I don't have much experience in baking with yeast so maybe I overkneaded or underkneaded or did something with the rising. I do know that I didn't punch down the dough after it rose because I forgot that step. Any advice for a novice baker?
if you do use lye, always special order "food grade", use gloves and goggles and don't spill (i wrecked a perfectly good picnic table this way!). Also, if you go this route absolutely use parchment paper...sodium hydroxide and metal (especially aluminum) react.
but, the pretzels are much better, way better, tremendously better, than you get with baking soda... thanks for the recipe!
Hi Ben, appreciate the tips but I would leave the lye to the professionals. Much too dangerous for my tastes. - RG
Allison, I can't really say if the sponginess came from using a different recipe, but I doubt it was from the poaching. That's a pretty straightforward process. You may have overproofed the dough somewhat, but I'd bet that, as you suspect, it might have something to do with your not punching down the dough after the rise. To be technical, the idea isn't so much to punch the dough as it is to press out the gases and redistribute the yeast that are left so that they can continue to happily eat the sugars in the dough and emit carbon dioxide and alcohol. If you didn't do this step, it's not the end of the world--I'm sure your pretzels tasted just fine. But it is an extra step that helps to refine the texture and give you a more consistent product. If you had lots of larger air bubbles in your dough, once poached and baked, the resulting pretzels absolutely could feel kind of springy in your mouth. Try them again and make sure to press out the gases (punch) before shaping, and I'm sure you'll have 100% successful pretzels:)
My "pretzel event" has come and gone and your pretzels were a great hit! I baked them partially the day before and finshed them off in the church oven that morning. Everyone came back for more and I had many requests for the recipe. I, of course, gave you the credit and advised them to go watch the video before trying to shape the pretzels! Thanks again for the great recipe and hand-holding. I plan to make some more and keep them in my freezer partially baked for quick treats when the mood strikes.
Also yet another neat tip, found through experimenting. Did not have malt syrup in the house, so took a little water out of the dough mixture and used dark corn syrup and about 2 T. of lager beer or Guiness (adjust to your taste). Gives it that flavor, and everyone kinda says, hmmm, what is that, without being able to guess. Turned out really well!
Greetings to all from down under!
I am in no way a gourmet chef, but this is one excellent recipe. I made a batch yesterday and was really impressed if I have to say so myself. I baked them in two batches: the first six were my savouries and the second six were my sweets. With the first batch, I went with the sea salt suggestion that other posters mentioned. It is a good idea, but I definitely recommend erring on the side of "just a little." Sea salt is much stronger than the salt that is used at the average ballpark, so just a small sprinkle to avoid going overboard with saltiness. Just my two cents. As for the sweet pretzels, I melted some choc chips with a little butter together in a double boiler and then spooned the melted choc over the completed pretzels. My apologies to the purists out there, but they were really good. Thanks, Jenni for a terrific recipe. If I can make it, anyone truly can. 🙂
Hi! I've made your pretzels four times now. My husband absolutely loves them. He says they are the best. Thanks so much for sharing your recipe and technique with everyone.
One thing that I do a little differently though is I don't freeze them first. I just boil them and bake right away. To prevent waste and to have pretzels on-hand, I fully bake the ones I know we'll eat in a day and I par-bake the rest for about 10 minutes. I let them cool and freeze them individually in a zip lock bag. That way when we want just a couple of pretzels all we have to do take them out of the freezer, (NO defrosting) bake for another 10 minutes or until brown and they are as good as the first day.
I found this recipe while searching the internet. The addition of the Malted Syrup surprised me. I made these yesterday and they are as close to true Philly Pretzels as I have had since I left Philly.
I grew up in Philly and could buy philly pretzels on just about any street corner.These are great and even better the next day.
Hi. I want to try freezing the shaped dough. Should I poach in baking soda solution before freezing or after removing from freezer? I've read in one of the comments that it is straight from freezer to oven. Thanks.
Great question. I always froze them plain and then poached them frozen. That way they hold their shape much better.
Do you know what type of commercial oven is used at either auntie annes or wetzel pretzels: convection without a hood, rack oven or store deck oven?
The Reluctant Gourmet
I do not Margaret, but you may try asking at one of their locations.
22oz of flour...is that fluid ounces as measured in a measuring cup as most people measure flour?
Or, is that 22oz as measured on a scale which I have read is a more accurate way of measuring ingredients for recipes??
G. Stephen Jones
On a scale Elmer and your are correct in saying measuring on a scale is the more accurate way of measuring ingredients for baking recipes.
This is one of the things that surprised me! I'm 64, been cooking and baking for years, but I never used my food scale for flour until I started trying to make pretzels. In another pretzel recipe comments section, someone explained that because flour compacts, measuring by volume is never going to be as accurate as weighing. A cup of fluffed flour will weigh a few ounces less than a cup of packed flour.
Please send ne recipe for Philly pretzels to email. I miss them. Thanks.
The Reluctant Gourmet
I'll have to find a good Philly pretzel recipe Stephanie but it may be a big Philly secret.
I have the pretzel dough dipping in boiling water+ baking soda for 30 seconds before and the pretzels turned out to be really, really bitter at the bottom. Is it because you add more baking soda for a certain volume of water? Or the dipping time? Or you have to dry off the excess completely before you bake? Or because you're not supposed to reheat the same water for different batches?
Can you diagnose the problem? I want to try the second time.
G. Stephen Jones
Hi Tran, I'll ask Chef Jenni Field to respond to your question.
As the water evaporates with long boiling, the soda gets more concentrated and the results, as you found out, are bitter and upsetting. Make sure to stir in the soda really well, and when doing multiple batches, add water if the level gets low and bring it back to a boil before continuing. You shouldn't have to dry them after dipping. Hope that helps!
I tried Alton Brown's recipe yesterday. It was easy and worked well. I'm going to try this recipe tomorrow, as it is similar to some others I've seen using malt (and I've also read that you can't make pretzels properly without malt). I'm curious if anyone knows why some recipes call for sugar and malt. Several have you raise the dough again after forming the pretzels, then dipping them in the soda bath. Some want 2 minutes, some want 1, some want 30 seconds in the bath. Some call for removing the bath from heat before dipping. This is the only recipe I've seen that calls for freezing before dipping, although one other recipe mentioned it without instructing you how to do it. Also, I've seen one other person who said they used sil-pats and it worked great. Has anyone here tried that?
Ms. Stacy Fletcher
The grilled cheese pretzels are my ultimate FAVORITE pretzel!!! Nobody has one to compare...I can't get them locally anymore. I'm not sure why but grocery stores here don't have them now.
I REALLY would love to know what cheese mixture I need or the recipe for the "grilled cheese" gourmet pretzels. Unfortunately, I only have a very small top of fridge freezer and can't fit a case or I would probably just order a case...No way would that fit. So I want to try to recreate your DELISH grilled cheese pretzels myself. I am a regular Baker and cook. I pretty much cook from scratch everyday. I think if I knew how to get the cheese just right to put inside the pretzel dough..I could do it..That said HELP!!?? I LOVE AND CRAVE those pretzels for a snack or to dip in my Tomato soup!! Please help!
Can I substitute beer for the malt and/or some of the water? If so, are the amounts still the same, or would I need to change any measurements?
Hi! I cannot wait to try your recipe. Do the frozen pretzels need to thaw/rise after being dipped in the baking soda bath? Or are they baked frozen? Thanks for your help.
I don’t know where to get malt syrup. Can I leave this out or substitute it?