Homemade Soft Pretzels
For as long as I can remember I’ve loved soft pretzels. I can’t recall where I had my first one, maybe at the movies or the ballpark, however I can recall how warm, soft and tasty they were. Now of course they come in all shapes and sizes, even buns to use for a sandwich.
There’s a restaurant here in town, Companion Bakery, where ‘llI frequently order a salad to-go – it comes with a soft pretzel stick. Wow it’s so good, oftentimes I find I’ve devoured the pretzel before even making it home – so much for my salad. So I finally decided to make my own to have on hand, not that I need to extra carbs, mostly just to satisfy my need to make them.
Years ago I made them, but the technique I used back then was different. Recreating the soft pretzels that you get from places like Auntie Anne’s would probably require the use of lye which helps give the pretzel a shiny surface. Lye is a powerful alkali, (typically sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) often used in heavy cleaning and soap making, and it can be highly corrosive.
Alkalies, like lye, are also widely used in the food world, a common one is baking soda (a mild alkali, the soda reacts with acidic ingredients to help leaven baked goods). Commercially, corn is often treated with alkali (“nixtamalization”) to make hominy. Cocoa powder can be treated with alkali (Dutch process) to neutralize the acid, giving the powder a milder flavor and richer color. Lye is also used in the curing of olives, and the canning of mandarin oranges, among other foods.
When using a baking soda (mild alkaline) wash for making pretzels, it creates a noticeable change in color, texture and flavor, but the sheen is not as great, and the results not as dramatic as lye, apparently – although I thought mine looked just fine. An egg white wash, which I’ve used in the past, provides a clear sheen, though it doesn’t do much for color or texture. Whole eggs give wonderful sheen and color, though they won’t produce the same crust and flavor you would get from an alkaline-based wash.
I tested this recipe with a “baked soda” wash which increases its alkalinity. As baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is heated, it undergoes a chemical reaction, forming sodium carbonate. The pretzels have better flavor and color than if I used an egg wash, but it’s still not the same as lye – which is the real deal.
That said, lye can be highly dangerous if used in the home. You can purchase the food grade variety on Amazon, but caution MUST be taken since it is considered a Hazardous ingredient as noted in this document among a slew of others.
While I’m sure someday I’ll probably try making Homemade Pretzels with lye, for now I prefer to stick to the safer alkali, baking soda.
Here’s the recipe I hope you’ll give it a try.
Homemade Soft Pretzels
- 2 Tbsp. plus 1 1/3 cups warm water
- 1 pkg. active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
- 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
- 1 tsp. sea salt or kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
- Unsalted butter, for the pans
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 2 tablespoons warm water with the yeast and stir by hand until the yeast is dissolved.
- Stir in the remaining 1 1/3 cups warm water and brown sugar.
- Fit the mixer with the dough hook and set the bowl on it. Mix on medium-low speed, gradually adding the flour and salt. Continue mixing until the dough forms a ball. (This can be done by hand as well)
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until it is smooth, about 5 minutes
- Heat oven to 475F degrees. Butter baking sheets.
- Combine 2 quarts water and baking soda in a stockpot, and bring to a boil.
- Cut dough into golf ball size pieces. Shape into buns, logs or pretzel twists.
- Drop the pretzels, a few at a time, into the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and place them on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat with remaining dough.
- When all the pretzels have been boiled and salted, bake them for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
* Note: Storing in a zip-lock baggie will cause pretzels to become soggy. Leave out or in a cool oven to maintain their crusty exterior.
Adapted from: Gale Gand - Brunch
My youngest loves homemade pretzels and I made the first batch in years when he was home for X-mas break. I’d love to treat him to your recipe, too…and I’ll stick with baking soda instead of lye 🙂
I’d love to try the lye just to see the difference but this method tastes pretty darn good. Everyone in my house agrees, so that’s good enough for me.
We haven’t made pretzels in ages, and have been so meaning to make a batch. Yours look terrific! I know that in theory using lye at home is safe (this of course assume you’re using it properly), it does weird me out a bit. And pretzels don’t really need it, IMO — I’m OK without the sheen, as long as they have the flavor. Be fun, though, to try a batch with & without lye. Knowing me, I’ll probably do it someday! Anyway, fun stuff — thanks.
I personally think the sheen with the baking soda was just fine. I’d also love to try lye just to see the difference but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk to me since these already taste great. It would be my luck that somehow one of my dogs would get into it. I’d never forgive myself.
Next time though I will do this all by hand instead of the stand mixer. I prefer having control and being able to feel the texture as I go along.
I too enjoy soft pretzels, Vicki. It has been ages since I last baked some. These look bakery perfect!
They were Delish! Next time though I will prepare them all by hand. I like having the control.
I’ve always wanted to make those! Now, I have no excuse! Thanks, they look great! 🙂 ela
It is so easy to make and they’re so much better homemade and ready to eat straight from the oven. I hope you’ll try them.
These pretzels look delicious, so soft and fluffy 😀
I want to devour them!
Choc Chip Uru
I did devour them. I hope you’ll try the recipe so you can devour them as well.
This is a great recipe for home made pretzels. I never thought of making pretzels at home. Everytime I had a craving, i would just go to a certain national chain with “Auntie” in their name. 🙂 I would love to try these at home some day.
They are so easy to make you’ll be shocked. The results are wonderful. However, they’re best to eat them that day or within 3 at the most. Do not store them in a zip lock bag because they will get moist. They’re best left out or stored in a cool oven or something covered, just not plastic.
If you try them please let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
I was with a friend who made soft pretzels and she used baking soda not lye. I think I’ll give your version a go. I think they look pretty swish!
I did not use the lye but would love to try it. I used baking soda as well. I’m a bit cautious about using that in my home especially with my dogs. With my luck they’d get into it and I’d never forgive myself. I chose the safer method but they turned out fantastic. I hope you’ll try them.
Lovely! Never tried making these at home. Inspired to after seeing your post!
I hope you will try them. They’re delish!
My mouth is watering just thinking about them 🙂 I’d love to try making these at home!
You should, I’m sure your grandkids would love them, along with the rest of your family.
Vicki I love these pretzels look amazing!
I have to try them!!
I love baking bread, but never tried making pretzel…thanks for sharing the recipe Vicki, they look great!
Have a great weekend 😀
Oh Vicky! I HAVE to make these for daughter number 3 – she will go NUTS for them!
Hi Vicky – I’ve always wanted to try making soft pretzels…we here in Philadelphia are a little spoiled 😉 I recall having them as a kid on the playground at snacktime during elementary school and the pretzel guy would have spicy mustard as an condiment option. Oohhh I really loved them. Homemade pretzels sound like fun!
Oh YUM! I’ve never made pretzels but I sure like to eat them. Thanks for the inspiration Vicki! these look so good!
I never made one at home myself, but I was lucky to taste it at my friends house right out of the oven. SO good! I forgot about those, but when I was reading your post, the memory came back. I need to try this someday soon. I may not have good control over portion. =P
This looks like a great project….thanks for inspiring me! Love pretzels!