German Style Soft Pretzels

Maybe it is my German background… or maybe my love of all things salty, but I think nothing is better than a hot pretzel. Soft pretzels are great, but they are only good fresh. Luckily they are not too tough to make at home. The following recipe may look long, but it is easier than making bread. We made a batch for a Octoberfest party we threw and they were a huge hit.

In order to give the pretzels a dunk in boiling water gives them their chewy skin. In order to get the nice caramel color it helps to add baking soda to the dunking water. The baking soda makes the water more basic (the opposite of acidic) which breaks down the starch on the outside of the pretzel and turns it into a sugar that caramelizes when baked. Traditional recipes call for lye, which is a caustic chemical that is dangerous to handle. Pretzels made with a lye bath supposedly have the best texture and the most authentic flavor… it gives it a bit of a tang.

German Style Soft Pretzels

Ingredients:
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon malt powder or brown sugar
  • 2 to 3 cups all-purpose unbleached or bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup warm milk (approximately 110 degrees, which is 1 minute in my microwave)
Directions:
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix together until it forms a ball. Start with 2 cups of the flour and mix it together until it forms something like a thick batter. Add more flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until it forms a nice ball that can be kneaded by hand.
  2. Either use an electric mixer to mix the dough for 5 minutes or remove it from the bowl and knead it by hand for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough begins to get smooth and satiny.
  3. Letting the dough ferment can give the pretzels a little extra flavor, but it can be skipped and they will still taste great. If you are going to ferment the dough, return the ball of dough to a clean, greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately an hour. Then, degas the dough gently before moving on to the next step.
  4. Before shaping, start preheating the oven to 425 degrees. In a wide and shallow pan bring a quart of water and to a simmer, and then add 4 tablespoons of baking soda. The water should be deep enough so that a pretzel can be fully submerged.
Shaping
  1. Cut the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each one into a short log, cover with a towel, and let the dough relax for 5 to 10 minutes. After it has relaxed you should be able to roll it out and stretch again fairly easily.
  2. Place a rope of dough on the work surface in front of you. Take each end in a hand, loop the dough away from you, and bring the ends back toward your stomach, crossing them about an inch above the rope. Apply a little bit of pressure to make the loops stick together, but not too much because you don’t want then to flatten out. You can use a dab of water to help make the ends stick.
  3. After shaping the pretzel, carefully use a spatula to transfer it to the boiling water. Dunk it in the water, completely submerging it, for 5 seconds. The pretzel should begin to float towards the end.
  4. Transfer the pretzel onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet (I used a silicone baking mat). Sprinkle with Kosher salt.
  5. Once you have finished shaping all of the pretzels, place the cookie sheet in the middle rack of the pre-heated oven.
  6. Bake the pretzels for 12-14 minutes until they are a dark golden brown.

33 thoughts on “German Style Soft Pretzels

  1. Pingback: Pin Board » German Style Soft Pretzels

  2. Here’s a tip: If you don’t think you can eat them all while they’re fresh, don’t salt them all. When they cool, Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze. Want a pretzel? Take one out, dampen it with water and put the salt on it. Nuke it for about 20 seconds and Bob’s your uncle!

    • How fun!! I’ve always thoguht homemade pretzels would be too much work, but yours seem so simple! I could probably sit down and eat an entire bowl of these! They really look great!

  3. Pretzels,or “Brez’n” / “Laugen Brez’n ” are my favourite bread.It is very disappointing that one can’t find them made authentically in the US.
    However, at least , they could be SHAPED the original way – neatly slung, for instance. The ends rolled very thin and the middle very thick, so you have a crunchy part, the little,skinny ,slung ends..the middle HAS to be thick, so you can cut it in half lengthwise and put fresh butter on the inside.
    It seems to be too difficult to do in the US, I’ve only seen those miserable,sad,sloppily slung, bland and limp “copies”of a Brez’n here.
    Maybe, one day someone will do it the way they are supposed to be. Until then- I have FedEx bring me a month’s supply every first Wednesday of the month, directly from Muenchen.

    • They used to make them like the Germans did in New York 30 years ago and more! but now they do it the lazy way and the outer shell is too soft and like cardboard…The old ones were crunchy…I wonder if lye does it better though, I would want to do it the rigth way…

    • If you can’t find authentic German pretzels in the US, then you haven’t looked hard enough. They’re out there.

  4. Pingback: cbrienne » Brezeln and Pretzels

  5. LYE is what makes a soft pretzel taste like a soft pretzel.

    Making your own pretzels isn’t about compromising taste.

    LYE at 3% concentration is not particularly dangerous.
    People pour 100% lye crystals down their kitchen drain to unclog pipes and never think anything about it. No particular caution.

    Now tell them to use a 3% concentration to dip bagels or pretzels and the go all freaky.

    • So,what do you do with the lye, add it to water they are dipped in? When do you use it? I only like roginal recipes and I only like the outer pretzel crunchy, not like cardboard, like these newer ones? I am searching for the right original pretzel recipe? Do you have one? Would be so fun to make…Thank, Perin :)))

    • To Perin-
      Here are the tips for a real pretzel versus the baking soda fakes.

      After preparing your dough and shaping your pretzels-

      (Note on pretzel shape, middle should be larger, ends tapered. When folded the dough should be divided into thirds. Never let ends get thin enough so they get dry and hard. Some German pretzel bakers will put a slash along the “belly” of the pretzel (fat part in middle) before baking.

      Dissolve 1 ounce of Sodium Hydroxide in 1 quart of water. (Add lye to water, not water to lye.)
      (There is no need to heat the solution. The lye does all the work.)

      Put pretzels in lye bath for 30 seconds, then lay out on your parchment paper on your baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. (No egg wash or any other silliness required. The dough surface will be quite sticky after the bath.)

      There is no substitute for lye as the lye pushes the PH of the solution to 13 or 14 and makes the Maillard Reaction fast enough to get that perfect crust.

      It is impossible to make a strong enough solution with baking soda. Don’t believe me? Make a paste that is almost 100% baking soda and see if it is corrosive.

      Although a 3 or 4 % solution of Lye is corrosive, it’s also not that dangerous to work with. Simple precautions are plenty: Wear safety glasses, immediately clean anywhere it goes with lots of water. You can use vinegar to neutralize it. Use (Un)Common sense and you’ll be fine.

      If you get it on you you have plenty of time to go to the sink and wash it off, your arm or hands won’t burst into flames.

      Use plastic, stainless steel or glass utensils/bowls — NO ALUMINUM.

      Food grade lye is easily obtainable on Ebay or elsewhere. Sometimes you can get it from the hardware store in the drain cleaner section, but if you do this you must make sure it is marked 100% Lye. Drano and many other drain openers mix the lye with different metals. You only want 100% lye.

      If you order from these guys http://myworld.ebay.com/essentialdepot/ on Ebay you get 2 pounds of food grade lye for $15 total. This is enough to last a lifetime as you can save the lye solution (use plastic bottle so it won’t break, tightly closed, well labeled and stored properly like other household chemicals) and use it for quite a few batches.

      Authentic pretzels CAN NOT BE MADE WITHOUT LYE!!!

      There are no exceptions to this rule. The baking soda varieties are a poor fake of the real thing.
      They may look kinda like pretzels but that’s about it.

      I must re-iterate that any claims of a baking soda pretzel being “authentic” are bunk as baking soda CAN NOT provide the proper PH for the chemical reaction, period.

      If you really like them and are going to spend the time, do it right.

      If you don’t want to do it right you might as well just buy them in the store, some frozen store bought varieties will be better than home made as they will have been lye dipped.

      If you may have noticed I am passionate about authentic pretzels and take no prisoners ;-)
      I was taught how to make pretzels by a German pretzel baker in Zweibruecken DE

      Baking soda should NEVER be anywhere near a pretzel!

    • This is awesome, thanks Paul!
      I will have to do a post on this and help spread the word on lye pretzels.

    • Don’t use it just for pretzels!

      It can be used for Laugenbrotchen, bagels, curing olives at home, Asian noodles, all kinds of stuff!!!

  6. Pingback: The Top 10 Foods to Help You Celebrate Oktoberfest at Home | Hugging the Coast

  7. I tried this but they didn’t turn out anything like the ones on the screen. I am a professional chef and i think that this is a good recipe but it could use less flour.

  8. I grew up in Philly and miss the pretzels. There is no way to keep them fresh! They MUST be eaten the day they’re made. Now some people (like me) can be found dunking them in milk the next day, ’cause they’re hard as rocks!

  9. Is malt powder a necessity in this recipe, or will brown sugar do just as well. I’m eager to try but I want to have everything straight. Thanks!

  10. We used your recipe after several failed attempts with other recipes for our daughters heritage day festival. It was outstanding!!! and was more simplistic then the others. I love soft pretzels and my german grandma made them and it brought back good tastes. Now our daughter can pass on something from her heritage….. guten tag.

  11. I will try these as I love “Bretzel” and they have to be very fresh!
    But re: frozen crap at the grocery store, DocChuck. In Germany ALDI sell packs of these at 12 pieces for ?1.
    They are frozen but taste great fresh from the oven. Better than Cologne central station, where you can see them being made and they cost ?1 each.
    I thought they would be more complicated but they look fairly straightforward. Thanks for the post, I’ll report back once I’ve tried them…

  12. i just tried them tonight for the 1st time…i did 1.5 cup reg flour and 1.5 cup wheat and those are amazing! thank you for the recipe, i will be making them quite often
    as for storing, i think the best would be a paper bag in the fridge but i dont know

  13. From past experiences, I’ve found jsut storing them in a paper bag and then moistening and placing in the oven just before eating allows them to keep ok. But it’s not nearly as good as eating them fresh.
    Any better methods for storing?

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  15. I tired this recipe out last night. It all came out pretty, considering it was my first try. I think I used too much flour in the beginning and they could’ve used a couple more minutes in the oven.

    Overall, they were really good. I ate three paired up with brats and mustard and had another for breakfast.

    I discovered that they don’t keep well in an airtight container. They became really spongy and the salt dissolved, but I’ll try again. Thanks!

  16. Like you, I love all things salty (although my doctor wife gives me a bunch of grief over it).

    I used to seek out soft pretzels, whether they were at the Renaissance Faire(s), or even sometimes the frozen crap at the grocery store.

    It wasn’t until I visited Germany a few years ago that I REALLY knew what a GOOD soft pretzel should taste like.

    Now my wife and I make them at home (very similar to your method) where they are light years ahead of any “commercial” products.

    GREAT post, super photos. Thanks for sharing your method.

    • Hi DocChuck, can you send me your recipe for the pretzels you make? I am searching for the original German pretzels they used to make in NY and no one makes them that way anymore…If you do anything to make this recipe better, please let me know, we all miss the real ones! Thanks DocChuck! ~Perin :))))))

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