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- 👨🍳 Tips for Making the Best Sourdough Pretzels:
- Why Bake Baking Soda?
- 🛠 Tools Needed for Sourdough Pretzels:
- 🛒 Ingredients Needed for Sourdough Pretzels:
- 🥨 How to Make Sourdough Pretzels:
- 8. Bake the Sourdough Pretzels:
- What to Serve with Sourdough Pretzels:
- How to Store Sourdough Pretzels:
- ❓ Sourdough Pretzels FAQs:
- Sourdough Pretzels
- Other Recipes You Might Like:
Last Updated on September 10, 2023
There might not be a better snack than these soft sourdough pretzels. Their dark crust and chewy, soft texture make them the best appetizers for Oktoberfest gatherings, Super Bowl parties, and any other get-together with friends and family.
While making homemade sourdough pretzels might sound intimidating, my recipe guide walks you through each step to make it effortless.
Foremost, this sourdough pretzel recipe doesn’t use lye. Instead, I use baked baking soda in a water bath for that classic brown pretzel crust. It’s a win-win! You get results akin to using lye but without using an extremely caustic substance.
The recipe guide also includes sourdough pretzel tips, ingredient substitutions, a video on how to shape pretzels, and detailed instructions with photos of each step.
After you make these delicious sourdough pretzels and devour them with some mustard and beer, I think you and anyone else you enjoy them with will be impressed by your efforts. And that’s something we can all cheer.
👨🍳 Tips for Making the Best Sourdough Pretzels:
1. Refrigerate the Pretzels before the Bath:
- It’s best to refrigerate shaped pretzels before submerging them in their baking soda bath.
- Thirty minutes to an hour in the refrigerator will help the pretzels retain their shape as you transfer them to the bath. Otherwise, they can start to fall apart in the water.
- As pretzels can overproof easily, refrigeration will also slow down fermentation.
2. Bake at a High Temperature:
- Bake these pretzels at 450ºF (232ºC) for 15-18 minutes.
- The high temperature browns the crust and helps the dough rise quickly. The short baking time ensures you get a soft interior!
3. Roll Ropes Out Long Enough:
- You can shape pretzels in many different ways. For example, if you like more crunchy parts of a pretzel, you can shape the ends of the ropes to be thinner so they bake faster.
- Rolling the ropes out about 30-31″ ensures that the pretzels retain their shape and that the holes between them are visible. Otherwise, the pretzels can look like braided buns once baked.
4. Use Baked Baking Soda:
- You can certainly use a regular baking soda bath for homemade pretzels or lye (like bagels) if you’re okay with using the caustic substance. However, most home bakers like me aren’t comfortable using lye in their kitchens. Baked baking soda is a great alternative!
- I bake the baking soda for an hour to turn it into sodium carbonate. This process increases the pH of the baking soda to make it more alkaline. A baked baking soda bath is safer than lye, and you still get a dark brown exterior to your pretzels.
5. Add Baker’s Yeast:
- So, this tip might be contentious for a sourdough blog. But, I achieved the best pretzel results when I used a teaspoon of baker’s yeast (instant or active dry yeast) in this recipe. I received this tip from one of my baker friends on Instagram, who mentioned that his bakery uses a bit of instant yeast in their sourdough pretzels to help achieve a soft pretzel.
- If you do not want to add instant yeast, you don’t have to! Just follow my recipe as is and increase the proofing times.
Why Bake Baking Soda?
Heating baking soda transforms the sodium bicarbonate into sodium carbonate. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) has a pH between 8-9. On the other hand, sodium carbonate has a pH of 11, making baked baking soda more alkaline (or basic).
While this might not sound like a significant difference, the pH scale is logarithmic, so sodium carbonate (sometimes referred to as soda ash) is 1,000 times more basic than baking soda.
While not as caustic as lye (pH 14), the alkaline solution speeds up browning and results in a dark brown pretzel. This browning is known as the Mailliard reaction.
That’s a simplistic chemistry lesson, but you can read here for more info about baked baking soda.
Once again, this is an optional and you can just use ½ cup of baking soda in the water bath, but it really does make all the difference!
🛠 Tools Needed for Sourdough Pretzels:
Click on the toggles below for more information, recommendations, and possible substitutes.
This sourdough pretzel recipe makes 12 pretzels. I fit six pretzels on one half-sheet pan.
I always list ingredients by weight in grams because it is the most accurate way to measure baking ingredients. Use a scale, and your baking will immediately be better!
I love my Escali baking scale and use it every day. The batteries last a long time, the scale is accurate, and it comes in many colors.
Dutch Oven or Large Pot
You will need a dutch oven or large pot for the baking soda bath.
Stand Mixer (optional, but helpful)
A stand mixer helps mix this very stiff pretzel dough. Of course, you can mix and knead pretzel dough by hand, but a stand mixer will make the process easier.
🛒 Ingredients Needed for Sourdough Pretzels:
Click on the toggles below for more information, recommendations, and possible substitutes.
I use bread flour to get the distinctive chew in pretzels. Substitute with all-purpose flour if you don’t have bread flour.
Rye Flour (optional)
Instant non-fat milk powder (optional)
Instant non-fat milk powder is a secret pantry ingredient that can improve your baked goods. Milk powder adds a touch of sweetness and richness to baked goods and doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
Milk powder also helps soften bread. I use it in this soft Sourdough Sandwich Bread recipe for all the difference.
Milk powder makes these pretzels even softer, but you can skip if you prefer
Active Dry Yeast (or instant yeast, optional)
As mentioned above in my tips section, a teaspoon of instant or active dry yeast benefits these pretzels by making them softer and have a more classic yeast flavor. After testing with and without the baker’s yeast, I can confirm that it made a doughy and more classic pretzel.
Skip the yeast if you only want to leaven with sourdough, and increase the proofing times.
Instead of lye, I dip these sourdough pretzels in a baked baking soda bath. Baking soda is baked on a sheet pan for an hour to make it more alkaline. This results in a darker brown exterior and chewier pretzel.
Pretzel Salt (Optional, but great!)
Pretzel salt contains large, rough salt granules. Sprinkling some on will take your pretzels up a notch!
Substitute pretzel salt with Kosher salt or another large granulated salt.
- Granulated sugar
- Sea Salt
- Unsalted Butter
- Egg (optional egg wash)
🥨 How to Make Sourdough Pretzels:
Follow this visual and detailed guide to help you make the best Sourdough Pretzels.
1. Make Levain (Sourdough Starter):
Mix 40 grams of active sourdough starter, 40 grams of bread flour, and 40 grams of water in a medium-sized jar.
Cover and set in a warm location (between 75-80ºF) for about five hours until bubbly and ripe. The levain should at least double in size during this time.
Note: Please refer to my guide on How To Make A Sourdough Starter if you do not have an active sourdough starter and the FAQ section where I explain the difference between a starter and a levain. See my Top 10 Sourdough Starter Tips for Success on how to make a more robust sourdough starter.
2. Mix Sourdough Pretzel Dough:
Set aside 3 TBS (43 grams) of unsalted butter to soften at room temperature.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the bread hook attached, mix the following dry ingredients:
- 380 grams of bread flour
- 40 grams of rye flour
- 12 grams of sea salt
- 2 TBS (25 grams) of granulated sugar
In a separate small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together:
- 300 grams of water
- 23 grams of instant non-fat milk powder
- One teaspoon of active dry yeast (or instant yeast)
Let stand for about 5 minutes to activate and dissolve the active dry yeast.
Pour all of the ripe levain (or 120 grams of active sourdough starter) and all of the water/instant milk/yeast mixture into the dry ingredients and begin to mix on low speed with the bread hook attachment.
At first, the dough will be extremely dry and stiff. Increase the speed gradually until the dough mostly comes together after a few minutes. Use a spatula or your hands to bring it together if needed.
If the mixer gets too warm or the motor starts to get caught, turn off the mixer and knead with your hands. Pretzel dough can be very stiff, and you do not want to overheat your mixer!
At this point, turn off the mixer, cover the bowl with a towel, and let the dough rest for 10 minutes. This rest will allow the flour to hydrate and become easier to mix.
After the rest, mix on medium speed for five more minutes.
Continuing to mix, add a tablespoon of the softened unsalted butter one at a time (three TBS in total) into the stand mixer bowl. Mix until the butter is completely incorporated into the dough and clears the sides of the bowl.
At the end of mixing, the dough should be slightly tacky (not sticky), and you should be able to easily hold the dough in your hands.
3. Bulk Fermentation (First Proof):
Gather the dough into a round ball and place it into a large mixing bowl or keep it in the stand mixer bowl for bulk fermentation.
Cover the bowl and place it in a warm location (75-80ºF is ideal) to proof for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.
Proofing is complete when the dough has doubled in size and feels full of air.
Note: If you’re not using baker’s yeast, it will take about 4.5-5 hours for the dough to proof with only sourdough as the leavening.
4. Overnight Proof:
For the best flavor and easier shaping, refrigerate the pretzel dough overnight or for up to 12 hours.
The overnight proof will slow down the fermentation, enhancing the pretzels’ flavor.
The next day, prepare two half-sheet pans with parchment paper. Oil or spray the parchment paper with non-stick spray so the pretzels will not stick to the paper.
Remove the chilled pretzel dough from the refrigerator and punch it down to degas.
Weigh the pretzel dough and divide the weight by twelve. When I make this recipe, each pretzel is about 94-96 grams.
Use a bench scraper or knife to divide the dough into twelve equally-sized pieces by weight.
How to Shape Pretzels:
There are many ways to shape pretzels, including making pretzel buns or other knotted shapes. Chilled dough makes shaping easier.
My preferred method is to roll the dough into long ropes and do a classic and simple pretzel twist. This results in a three-holed pretzel that is chewy on the outside and soft in the middle. You can follow my pretzel-shaping video, photos, or written instructions below.
To shape the pretzels:
- Pat the dough into a small rectangle.
- Roll the dough into a cylinder that’s a few inches long.
- Use your hands to roll the dough into a long and even rope, about 30″ long.
- The dough shouldn’t stick much to the counter and a little traction is good so the dough doesn’t immediately spring back. If there’s any sticking, lightly flour the countertop.
- Let the dough rest briefly as you roll it out if needed.
- Try to maintain an even rope so your pretzels will bake evenly and uniformly.
- If the dough is not rolled out long enough, you’ll find that the shape will fill itself into more of a bun once baked.
- Once rolled out, take the two ends of the rope and make a U shape.
- Cross one rope over the other about ⅓ the length of the U.
- Tuck under and twist the ends of the rope to create a single pretzel twist or knot.
- Lift the two ends of the rope and gently press them down on the bottom of the U to seal the pretzel shape.
- Adjust the pretzel holes as preferred and lay them on the prepared baking sheet.
- Repeat with the remaining pretzels, with six evenly spaced on each baking sheet.
6. Final Proof and Baking the Baking Soda:
Cover the baking sheets of shaped pretzels with light towels or reusable plastic wrap.
Set aside to proof for 30 minutes until they’ve only risen slightly. Pretzels tend to over proof, so there’s no need to proof these for very long.
Place the pretzels in the refrigerator to chill for an hour or two while you make the baked baking soda. Chilled pretzels retain their shape better when transferred to and from the baking soda bath.
How to Bake Baking Soda:
Baking the baking soda will let you make pretzels that taste and look more like lye pretzels without using caustic lye in your kitchen. That said, I still wear kitchen gloves when I handle baked baking soda (sodium carbonate), as it can cause skin irritation.
To bake the baking soda:
- Preheat the oven to 300ºF (149ºC).
- Place 300 grams of baking soda on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil (yes, it’s a lot- about 1 ⅓ cup of baking soda).
- Bake for an hour. The baked baking soda will reduce in volume slightly; otherwise, it will still look like baking soda. However, it’s now sodium carbonate!
- You can always make and store the baked baking soda in a sealed (and labeled!) container in advance if you prefer.
Note: You can skip the baked baking soda if you prefer and just add ½ cup baking soda to the water bath in the next step. The pretzels will not brown as well, but you’ll still get great-tasting pretzels.
7. Baking Soda Bath:
Add 4 cups (946 grams) of water in a dutch oven or large pot over a stovetop. Bring the water to a warm, but not hot, temperature. If the water is too hot or boiling, the pretzels can lose their shape.
Gently whisk in all of the baked baking soda until dissolved.
Wearing kitchen gloves or plastic food handling gloves, gently drop 2-3 pretzels at a time into the baking soda bath for about 30 seconds. Dip the pretzels underwater if needed to ensure all sides of the pretzel are covered.
One at a time, gently lift the pretzels out of the water, letting any excess water drip off into the bath.
Lay the pretzels back onto the parchment paper and repeat with the remaining pretzels.
Dispose of the baking soda bath. I flush down a toilet.
Note: I do not rinse the pretzels in a second water bath. However, some do this if they find that their final pretzels have a soapy-tasting crust. This has never been an issue for me, though.
8. Bake the Sourdough Pretzels:
Arrange two oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 450ºF (232ºC).
For a shiny crust, apply an optional egg wash to the pretzels. Beat one egg in a small bowl and use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer of egg to the pretzels.
Sprinkle coarse pretzel salt onto the pretzels.
Bake the pretzels for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through to ensure even browning. When done, the pretzels should be dark brown and shiny (if egg-washed).
Let cool on wire racks and serve warm or at room temperature.
What to Serve with Sourdough Pretzels:
This sourdough pretzel recipe produces 12 soft pretzels, making them perfect for Super Bowl snacks, an Oktoberfest gathering, or an appetizer with friends and family.
Stone-ground mustard, melted butter, and beer cheese are three of my favorite servings with these pretzels.
The pretzels are excellent with beer and, of course, many other German and Bavarian foods such as sauerkraut, bratwurst, or another type of sausage.
If you prefer a sweeter pretzel (think Auntie Anne’s airport or mall pretzels) or are looking for a dessert pretzel, skip the pretzel salt and bake the pretzels with cinnamon sugar.
How to Store Sourdough Pretzels:
You can store sourdough pretzels at room temperature for a few days in a brown paper bag, linen bag, or bread box.
You can also keep the pretzels in a bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Then, reheat them in a toaster oven for a couple of minutes.
Additionally, freezing pretzels is easy! Keep the baked pretzels in a freezer-safe bag in the freezer for months. Thaw the pretzels overnight in the refrigerator. Finally, reheat in a toaster oven or conventional oven.
❓ Sourdough Pretzels FAQs:
Is pretzel dough the same as bagel dough?
While similar, bagels are typically made with barley malt syrup and sometimes boiled with it for color and a slight sweetness. Bagels are often denser than doughy soft pretzels as well.
Additionally, butter is often added to pretzel dough.
How many pretzels does this recipe make?
This recipe makes 12 large pretzels.
How do I make vegan sourdough pretzels?
Yes, replace the unsalted butter with an equal amount of neutral oil or vegan butter, and skip the instant milk powder.
How do you make sourdough pretzel bites?
You can easily make sourdough pretzel bites with this recipe. Follow the same instructions, but cut the ropes during shaping into bite-sized pieces.
How do I make hard sourdough pretzels?
Lower the water in this recipe and skip the instant milk powder. Follow the same instructions and bake for a few more minutes.
- 43 grams Unsalted Butter, 3 TBSP, room temperature
- 380 grams Bread Flour
- 40 grams Rye Flour, optional, substitute with whole wheat flour
- 25 grams Granulated Sugar
- 12 grams Sea Salt
- 300 grams Water
- 23 grams Dried Milk Powder, optional, but helps them be softer
- 1 tsp Instant or Active Dry Yeast, optional, but recommended
- Levain, see above, or 120 grams of active sourdough starter
- 1 Egg, optional, for egg wash
- Pretzel Salt, or another coarse salt
Baking Soda Bath:
- 300 grams Baking Soda, about one cup for baked baking soda, or use ½ cup baking soda
- Levain:Mix the active sourdough starter, bread flour, and water for the levain in a medium-sized jar.Cover and set in a warm location (between 75-80ºF) for about five hours until bubbly and ripe. The levain should at least double in size during this time.40 grams Sourdough Starter, 40 grams Water, 40 grams Bread Flour
- Mix Dry and Wet Ingredients:Set aside the unsalted butter to come to room temperature. Mix the bread flour, optional rye flour, granulated sugar, and sea salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and set aside.In a separate bowl, whisk the water, instant milk powder, and active dry yeast. Let stand for five minutes to activate and dissolve the yeast.43 grams Unsalted Butter, 380 grams Bread Flour, 40 grams Rye Flour, 25 grams Granulated Sugar, 12 grams Sea Salt, 300 grams Water, 23 grams Dried Milk Powder, 1 tsp Instant or Active Dry Yeast
- Mix Pretzel Dough:Pour all of the levain and water mixture into the stand mixer bowl with the dry ingredients. Begin to mix on low speed with the bread hook attachment.Increase the speed gradually until the dough comes together in a few minutes. It will be dry and stiff. Use your hands to bring it together if needed.At this point, turn off the mixer, cover the bowl with a towel, and rest for 10 minutes to hydrate the dough.After the rest, mix on medium speed for five more minutes.Continuing to mix, add a TBS of the room temperature butter at a time. Mix until the butter is completely incorporated into the dough and clears the sides of the bowl. The dough should be tacky.Levain
- Bulk Fermentation (First Proof):Cover the bowl and place in a warm location to proof for 1.5-2 hours.* Bulk fermentation is complete when the dough has doubled in size and feels full of air.
- Overnight Proof:Refrigerate the dough overnight, or for up to 12 hours.
- Preshape:The next day, prepare two half-sheet pans with parchment paper and oil with non-stick spray or oil.Remove the chilled pretzel dough from the refrigerator and punch it down to degas. Weigh the dough and divide by 12. Use a bench scraper or knife to divide the dough into 12 equal-sized pieces by weight. Mine are typically 94-96 grams each.
- Shape:Pat each piece of dough into a small rectangle. Roll the dough up into a cylinder and then roll it out into a long rope, about 30 inches long.Make a U shape with the dough, cross one rope over the other, twist the ropes, and bring them down to the bottom of the U to form the pretzel shape.Place on the prepared baking sheet.Repeat with the remaining pretzels, with six pretzels evenly spaced on each sheet.See my shaping photos and video in the post on how to shape pretzels, along with other pretzel shaping tips.
- Final Proof:Cover the baking sheets and set aside to proof for 30 minutes until they've risen slightly. Place in the refrigerator for an hour or two to chill while you make the baked baking soda.
- Bake the Baking Soda (optional):Preheat the oven to 300ºF (149ºC).Place the baking soda on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Bake the baking soda for one hour. You won't notice much of a visible change, except it might reduce in volume. Baking the baking soda will transform the sodium bicarbonate to sodium carbonate and help you get dark brown pretzels. Feel free to make baked baking soda ahead and store in it a dry container. If you prefer, you can also skip this step and add ½ cup baking soda in the baking soda bath. The pretzels will not brown as well, but you'll still get delicious results.300 grams Baking Soda
- Baking Soda Bath:Add 4 cups of water (946 grams) in a large dutch oven or large pot over a stovetop. Bring the water to a warm temperature (not hot). Gently whisk in all of the baked baking soda (or ½ cup of baking soda).Wearing kitchen gloves, gently drop 2-3 pretzels at a time into the bath for about 30 seconds. Dip underwater to ensure all sides are covered.Gently lift individual pretzels out of the water (still wearing gloves) and let any excess liquid drip back into the bath. Lay the pretzels right side up onto the baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining pretzels.Water
- Bake:Arrange two oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 450ºF (232ºC).Beat one egg in a small bowl and use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer of egg wash to the pretzels.Sprinkle pretzel salt onto the pretzels.Bake the pretzels for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. When done, the pretzels should be dark brown and shiny.Let cool on wire racks and serve warm or at room temperature.1 Egg, Pretzel Salt