Filed Under: Bread | Savory | Snack

How to Make Pretzels

By Tessa Arias
  |  
September 22nd, 2021
4.94 from 110 votes
4.94 from 110 votes

How to make the BEST Homemade Pretzels you'll ever eat! These traditional Bavarian-style pretzels have a deeply browned exterior and chewy texture. Surprisingly easy to make. Thanks to my boyfriend Joe for helping me develop this recipe!

Yield: 10 pretzels

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook: 16 minutes

Tessa's Recipe Rundown...

Taste: The PERFECT quintessential pretzel flavor.
Texture: Slightly crisp at the edges but chewy throughout.
Ease: Truly easier than you think. Once you’ve made them a couple times, you can make a full batch in 1 hour from start to finish.
Pros: No rising time! Absolutely delicious.
Cons: For the most authentic pretzels, a lye bath will provide the best results which can be a bit of a hassle.
Would I make this again? We make these every other week.

Just in time for Oktoberfest, these German-inspired pretzels are shockingly easy to make! Once you get your pretzel shaping technique down (tips on that below), they seriously take less than 1 hour to make from start to finish.

That’s because there’s basically no rising time! Which means you could make them Sunday morning for the football game that afternoon… if that’s your thing. To be honest, the only part about football I care about is the snacks.

I can’t take credit for this soft pretzel recipe. It was actually developed by my boyfriend, Joe, years before we began dating. He was inspired by a backpacking trip to Germany in his early 20s where he had his first authentic Bavarian pretzel and discovered how different they are from American mall pretzels.

When he asked how and why their pretzels are so different from American ones, so deeply browned and flavorful, he discovered authentic pretzels are bathed in a lye solution before baking. It makes a HUGE difference which I’ve detailed below (including an alternative to the lye)!

We worked together for weeks to test out the pretzel recipe to document it in detail in order for Handle the Heat bakers to recreate them in their own home kitchens. Below you’ll find practically everything you could ever want to know about baking the best pretzels of your life.

I actually hosted a Zoom class on pretzel baking with Joe for Handle the Heat Members just recently and everyone who joined was amazed by how easy pretzels are to make from scratch! If you want to join me for bake along Zoom classes, sign up for our Baking School waitlist here.

Check out some of the pretzels made by HTH members below:

How to Make Soft Pretzels

Ingredients for homemade pretzels recipe:

  • Active dry yeast – though you can use instant yeast as well! Your pretzels may just be slightly more fluffy than chewy. Read our blog post on active dry vs. instant yeast.
  • Barley malt syrup this helps give the pretzels that distinct deep yet slightly bittersweet flavor. I ordered online, but have also seen it at some health food stores. If you can’t find this, simply use brown sugar (light or dark-the difference won’t be noticeable as it’s a small amount!).
  • All-purpose flour – I’ve tested this recipe with bread flour and didn’t find that it made enough of a positive impact to use. AP works great here! To be specific, I tested with bleached Gold Medal AP flour.
  • Fine sea salt – this is for the dough.
  • Pretzel salt this is for sprinkling on the pretzels before baking. I’d highly recommend ordering the pretzel salt for the most impressive pretzels possible and best flavor. If that’s not an option, use coarse sea salt instead. Just know it’ll dissolve into the dough more.
  • Food grade lye more on this below.

How to Knead Soft Pretzel Dough:

I like to use my 6-quart Professional KitchenAid stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. This dough is quite stiff and dense so if your stand mixer is on the small side or quite old, the motor may not want to knead it. You could always knead the dough by hand, it’ll just take some upper body strength and a few more minutes.

The key to perfect pretzels? Lye!

Take a look at the pretzel comparison below. One was made by dipping the unbaked pretzels in a lye bath, the other by dipping in a boiled baking soda bath:

You can see just how much darker the lye pretzels turn out! What you can’t see is they also have that distinct, slightly alkaline pretzel flavor and a chewier texture.

Lye has a pH of around 13 whereas baking soda has a pH of around 8. This extra alkalinity accelerates the Maillard reaction, allowing that caramelization to develop on the exterior of the pretzels. That ultra deep color and slightly crispy, crunchy exterior crust is only made possible with lye. Lye is what professional bakers use, and it’s what’s authentic in a traditional Bavarian pretzel!

Do I have to use lye?

No. You can prepare a baking soda bath instead. See more directions below. But if you want the most perfect pretzels possible, give lye a try! It’s not as scary as you may think.

Where to buy food grade lye?

I know I just said not to be afraid of lye, but it is sodium hydroxide (also called caustic soda) which is the main ingredient in soap making and in products like Draino.

You can purchase food grade lye most easily online or at some craft and hobby stores in the soap making section.

How to use lye safely:

Lye is a caustic material, meaning if used improperly, it can cause chemical burns. Before you freak out, check out the safety tips below, and also remember that lye in this recipe’s application is diluted and therefore is similar to household bleach. Once lye is baked, it’s totally safe to eat.

  • Only use in a well-vented controlled area. You don’t want to do this in a small space without a window open or the fan on (blowing any fumes away).
  • Always add lye to water, never water to lye. The idea is to avoid any potential for splashing.
  • Use only heat-resistant plastic or glass containers to prepare your lye bath. Never use metal.
  • If lye does touch your clothes, remove that clothing item. If it touches your skin, simply run the skin under water for a few minutes.
  • If you’re concerned about safety, use plastic gloves when handling the pretzels in the lye bath. For extra security, feel free to wear goggles and even a face mask (now that we all own one!).

How to prepare a lye bath for pretzels:

  1. In a well-vented area, place a plastic or glass container (do not use metal) on top of a few pieces of parchment paper to protect your counter from splashes.
  2. Carefully sprinkle the lye into the water. Use a heat-safe silicone spatula to carefully stir the lye to dissolve. The lye is dissolved when the water looks clear (the container will feel warm to the touch – this is normal).
  3. Dip a shaped pretzel into the lye bath for about 30 seconds. Remove and let drip off then place on the prepared greased parchment lined baking sheets.

If you wind up making pretzels often, you may want to avoid using the same glass container each time. Lye is corrosive and will eventually weaken the glass. Your best bet is a dedicated high-quality plastic container.

How to prepare a baking soda bath (lye alternative):

If working with lye isn’t an option for you, here are the directions for using baking soda instead. You simply dip the pretzels in boiling water that’s been alkalized with baking soda. Note that the pretzels will be much lighter in color and won’t have the same chewy texture.

For baking soda bath:

  • 2/3 cup of baking soda
  • 10 cups of water

Directions: In a large pot, bring the baking soda and water to a boil. Boil the pretzels in small batches in the soda solution for about 45 seconds to 1 minute, pressing them down to submerge. Proceed with the recipe as written after the lye bath step.

Making baking soda more alkaline

There are some ‘hacks’ online for baking the baking soda to increase its pH level from 8 to about 11. This is done by spreading the baking soda on a baking sheet and baking at 250°F for 2 hours. I don’t prefer this method because it’s time consuming and the resulting baking soda is now caustic and corrosive. You may as well use lye, which is easy to order online.

Choose your own pretzel adventure:

As I see it, there are TWO pretzel journeys, aka options for customizing your soft pretzels.

One is what’s pictured in these photos. A more traditional Bavarian-style pretzel with a deeply browned exterior and chewy texture. The recipe as written will yield this result.

The other is a more American-ized pretzel that’s lighter in color and fluffier in texture. A pretzel reminiscent of those frozen pretzels many of us grew up eating or even the shopping mall pretzels.

If you prefer the latter, use a baking soda bath instead of lye. You can also allow the shaped pretzels to rise for about 30 minutes before dipping in baking soda and baking. This will create a fluffier texture (but also less distinct pretzel shapes). For a last option on this journey, brush the freshly baked pretzels with melted butter.

How to shape pretzels:

Shape the log into a letter U. Cross the arms placing one over the other, then twist them around each other once. Bring the ends down to the bottom of the U and gently press to stick. Place on two greased parchment-lined baking sheets.

How to make pretzel buns:

After you portion the dough into ten equal pieces, take one piece and begin to grab bits of the dough from the top to bring around to the bottom to create a smooth ball shape. Roll around on a clean counter to smooth out further. Bake as the recipe states.

How to serve pretzels:

Serve them with my Beer Cheese Dip or simply alongside some whole grain mustard or spicy honey mustard.

You can also slice pretzels open, toast them, and smear them with cream cheese for a pretzel-bagel situation.

How to store pretzels:

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Reheat in the toaster oven at 350°F for a few minutes to refresh.

How to freeze pretzels (best option!):

Store the baked pretzels in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 months. The longer they’re frozen, the more the pretzel salt will dissolve into the pretzels, but they’ll still taste great.

Defrost by letting them sit on the counter for about an hour. Or, simply microwave for about 30 seconds. If desired for a crispier texture, once defrosted, refresh in the toaster for about 5 minutes.

Also Check Out:

4.94 from 110 votes

How to make
Homemade Pretzel Recipe

Yield: 10 pretzels
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 16 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 1 minute
How to make the BEST Homemade Pretzels you'll ever eat! These traditional Bavarian-style pretzels have a deeply browned exterior and chewy texture. Surprisingly easy to make. Thanks to my boyfriend Joe for helping me develop this recipe!

Ingredients

For the pretzels:

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon barley malt syrup or light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (355 grams) warm water (about 110°F), divided
  • 5 cups (635 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine salt

For the lye bath:

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Spray with nonstick cooking spray or grease with butter.

Make the dough:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast, barley malt syrup/sugar, and 1/4 cup of the water. Whisk to combine. Let stand for 5 minutes or until frothy.

  2. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups water, flour, and salt, and stir to combine. Mix on low speed until combined.

  3. Increase speed to medium and knead for five minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth and doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl or your hands, adding more flour if needed. This will be a very dense dough, so be careful not to step away from your mixer in case it decides to jump on the counter.

Shape the pretzels:

  1. There is no need to allow this dough to rise. Remove the dough to a clean work surface (do not flour). Divide into 10 equal pieces (each should be about 100 grams). Roll each piece against the counter or between your palms into about a 24-inch long log. The thinner the log, the crispier the pretzels. The thicker, the softer the pretzels.
  2. Shape the log into a letter U. Cross the arms placing one over the other then twist them around each other once. Bring the ends down to the bottom of the U and gently press to stick. Place on two greased parchment lined baking sheets.
  3. If you prefer softer spongier pretzels, allow the shaped pretzels to rise for 30 minutes before bathing in the lye.

Prepare the lye bath:

  1. Refer to the safety disclaimer in the blog post before using lye. If lye isn’t an option, see the baking soda bath directions below. Place safety gloves and goggles on and a face mask too if you prefer. In a well vented area, place a plastic or glass container (do not use metal) on top of a few pieces of parchment paper to protect your counter from splashes. Carefully sprinkle the lye into the water. Use a silicone spatula to carefully stir the lye to dissolve. The lye is dissolved when the water looks clear.
  2. Dip a shaped pretzel into the lye bath for about 30 seconds. Remove to the prepared greased parchment lined baking sheets. Use a paring knife to score two slices into the thickest part of each pretzel. Sprinkle with pretzel salt to taste. Repeat until all pretzels have been lye dipped, scored, and salted.

Bake the pretzels:

  1. Bake both trays at 400°F for about 16 minutes, alternating the trays halfway through the baking time for even baking, until deeply golden brown. Bake for less time for softer pretzels and more time for crispier pretzels.

  2. Let cool for 5 minutes before peeling away from the parchment paper. Serve warm or at room temperature the same day you bake the pretzels. To store, freeze the pretzels in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes

Baking Soda Bath Alternative

If working with lye isn’t an option for you, here are the directions for using baking soda instead. Note that the pretzels will be much lighter in color and won’t have the same chewy texture.
Ingredients for baking soda bath:
  • 2/3 cup of baking soda
  • 10 cups of water
Directions:
In a large pot, bring the baking soda and water to a boil. Boil the pretzels in small batches in the soda solution for about 1 minute, pushing the pretzels into the water to submerge occasionally. Proceed with the recipe as written after the lye bath step.
Course : Snack
Cuisine : American
Keyword : pretzel recipe

Photos by Joanie Simon.

January 2022 Baking Challenge

This recipe was the January 2022 selection for our monthly baking challenge! Every month you can join the challenge by baking the recipe and snapping a photo for a chance to win prizes! Full challenge details here. Check out everyone’s pretzels:

Tessa Arias
Author: Tessa Arias

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

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Recipe Rating




  1. #
    Jessie Shepherd — September 25, 2022 at 3:15 pm

    I made this and they turned out delicious! BUT, I don’t know what I did wrong but it was NOT easy. My dough was super dry and I had to add a lot of water to get it to come together. I’m sure I added at least an extra 1/2 cup of water. The dough was still very difficult to work with. Start to finish it took me about 2 1/2 hours. Most of that was spent getting the dough to the right texture, stretching (couldn’t get it to roll) and shaping the dough. I will make them again because they lye and malt barley syrup weren’t cheap but what did I do wrong? How do I make it easier? I don’t see any comments about the same issue.

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — September 26, 2022 at 1:45 pm

      Hi Jessie! I’m so glad you still enjoyed these pretzels, even though you had issues along the way! It sounds like maybe you accidentally added too much flour? How do you measure your ingredients? By volume (using cups), or by weight (using a digital kitchen scale)? When measuring by volume, it’s so easy to mis-measure ingredients, particularly flour, and throw off the entire chemistry of a recipe. Tessa talks about how to best measure ingredients to ensure accuracy every time, in this article here! The only other thing I can think is that perhaps the pretzel dough wasn’t kneaded long enough. As yeasted dough is kneaded, the dough should become fully hydrated and stretchy – but if the gluten isn’t fully activated, the dough can be uncooperative. I hope something here proves helpful, and if not, please feel free to reach back out so we can continue to help troubleshoot! Happy baking 🙂

  2. #
    Richard — September 16, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    How long will the dough last without cooking? Can it be frozen and thawed for later use?

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — September 19, 2022 at 9:39 am

      Hi Richard! We have not tried freezing the unbaked pretzels, and often yeasted doughs don’t have the best results when attempting this (not always the case, certainly, but often). Tessa describes how to best freeze the baked pretzels in the pink tip box above the recipe. This is the best way she has found for preparing these in advance. I hope that helps 🙂

  3. #
    Nicole — September 10, 2022 at 2:30 pm

    When do you add the barley malt syrup? I’m not seeing that step in the recipe but it’s in the ingredients list

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — September 16, 2022 at 8:51 am

      Hi Nicole! Apologies for the mistake in the recipe. It currently says at the beginning to “combine the yeast, sugar, and 1/4 cup of the water” and the barley malt syrup is an alternative to the sugar. I will update our recipe now to include this. Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention 🙂 Please let us know what you think once you have tried the pretzels!

  4. #
    Jennifer — July 6, 2022 at 7:35 am

    Hi. I want to make these for a crowd and would like to serve them warm. Could i put the pretzels in a Ban Marie (sp?) to keep them warm? I don’t think that they would get soggy as there is no steam in the pan they would set in.

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — July 11, 2022 at 1:36 pm

      Hi Jennifer! We haven’t tried that, so I couldn’t say for sure – but as long as they aren’t exposed directly to the water and don’t get soggy, and they aren’t in there for toooooo long, I think that should be okay! I do also want to mention that these pretzels are phenomenal cold, too, so no worries if you can’t serve them warm!! Let us know how it goes! 🙂

  5. #
    John — May 31, 2022 at 7:40 am

    Looks great, I plan to try this soon! Is the lye water harmful to the touch? Specifically, how careful do I need to be with the lye water dripping off the pretzel dough?

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — June 1, 2022 at 7:40 am

      Hi John! Lye is a harmful chemical, so you definitely do need to be careful, especially when mixing the lye with water (always add lye to water, never water to lye, to avoid any potential for splashing). While it’s totally safe to eat once baked, you do want to be very careful during the prepping and pre-baking lye bath processes. Use plastic gloves for your hands, and avoid any splashing or dripping on your clothing or skin. Tessa includes all these safety tips and more in the pink box above the recipe. There is also a baking soda bath alternative, in case using the food-grade lye is not an option for you! We can’t wait to hear what you think of these pretzels, so be sure to let us know once you have tried them! 🙂 Happy baking!

  6. #
    Cat — May 17, 2022 at 4:12 pm

    So the baking soda bath is before or after baking the dough? It’s put after the pretzels have been baked, so the recipe reads like it’s a step you take after baking the pretzels. Is the baking soda after the bath or are the steps out of order?
    Also, how long do you whisk for the first step with the yeast? It just says ‘whisk’ but not how long to do it for which seems very important for most baking.

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — May 18, 2022 at 7:03 am

      Hi Cat! I’m sorry the recipe was not clear to you.
      The baking soda bath is written after the baking instructions because it is an alternative to the recipe as written; our preferred method of making pretzels is using a lye bath prior to baking. The baking soda bath is an alternative if a lye bath is not an option for you. You would follow the directions for the baking soda bath, and then follow the baking instructions above as written.
      To answer your other question, the initial directions to whisk the yeast, sugar and water say “whisk to combine”, meaning exactly that; you are just simply mixing these ingredients together until combined (which only takes a few moments), and then setting aside so the yeast can proof for a few minutes.
      I hope this helps! Happy baking 🙂

    • #
      Eva — June 6, 2022 at 12:30 pm

      You bath the dough before baking. ..i have a bread machine ..making my dough in that …its souch faster. And u cant make any mistakes

  7. #
    Mitchell — April 26, 2022 at 4:18 am

    Do you have a suggested (product) plastic container for the lye bath? Should the container be shallow or deep? Thank you!

    • #
      Emily — April 26, 2022 at 8:44 am

      Hi Mitchell! Most importantly, you want to make sure that your container can hold 1 liter of water. It can be shallow or deep, but we’d recommend for a beginner to follow the photos in this blog post and place your pan on a parchment covered baking sheet in case of any spillage. Tessa uses an 8×8 glass pan, and I use my Pyrex 8-cup measuring cup, which works perfectly as well. I hope that helps! Please let me know if you have any other questions, I can’t wait for you to enjoy these! They’re forever stocked in my freezer 🙂

  8. #
    Elizabeth Ballek — April 15, 2022 at 6:19 am

    These were super easy to make & really great to eat! I used the baking soda bath & they were perfect! But they dont store well & i gotta work on getting them thinnerl! Thanks for this recipe!

    • #
      Haley Wehner — April 15, 2022 at 1:01 pm

      So glad you enjoyed these pretzels! Make sure to check out the pink tip box for more tips on how to store and freeze pretzels. We always keep a batch of these pretzels in the freezer!

  9. #
    Fawnda Opel — March 27, 2022 at 2:06 pm

    Tessa, I made these today. First time making pretzels. They turned out beautiful! I used the lye bath. Recipe was easy to follow, instructions were clear. This was relatively quick to make. I will make these again! Next time, I’m making the beer cheese too!

    Happy Baking!

    Fawnda

    • #
      Emily — March 29, 2022 at 12:55 pm

      So happy you loved this recipe, Fawnda! Can’t wait for you to enjoy them next time with the beer cheese, it’s incredible!

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