Filed Under: Bread | Snack

How to Make Pretzels

Recipe By Tessa Arias
  |  
September 22nd, 2021
5 from 8 votes
5 from 8 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.

homemade pretzels on a baking sheet after being salted

I can’t take credit for this 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)!

homemade baked bavarian style pretzels on a pan with a bowl of beer cheese dip
the most chewy traditional pretzel recipe on a marble surface

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 membership waitlist here.

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

How to Make 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.

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:

a comparison of lye bath pretzels vs baking soda bath pretzels

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.

lye being poured into water for a lye bath for pretzels
spatula stirring lye into water for lye bath for pretzels
homemade pretzel being dunked into lye bath
homemade pretzel in a glass dish for a lye bath

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. 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.

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.

tutorial showing how to shape pretzels

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.

homemade pretzel being dunked into beer cheese dip

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.

homemade bavarian style pretzel on a plate with beer cheese and a glass of beer to the sides

Also Check Out:

5 from 8 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:

  • 2 tablespoons (40 grams) food grade lye
  • 1 liter (1000 grams) water, slightly warm is fine-the water doesn't need to boil like in the baking soda bath alternative
  • Pretzel salt or coarse salt

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, 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 Ashley McLaughlin.

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. #
    Matt Munson — September 22, 2021 at 8:51 am

    If I wanted to make soft pretzel sticks with this, would I do everything the same except the shaping?

    • #
      Emily — September 22, 2021 at 9:50 am

      Yup! Can’t wait to hear what you think of this recipe 🙂

  2. #
    Kathy P — September 22, 2021 at 10:05 am

    These are absolutely amazing and so much fun to make!!! They were a huge hit!! I’ll be making them often!!

    • #
      Emily — September 23, 2021 at 2:30 pm

      So happy to hear everyone loved them! Thanks for the rave review 🙂

  3. #
    Sarah Carver — September 22, 2021 at 10:16 am

    Wow! Amazing pretzels! And to think I made them myself is even more amazing! I had no idea how easy it was too! The tips really helped a lot. That is what makes Handle the Heat recipes always my go to website! Yum!

    • #
      Emily — September 23, 2021 at 2:26 pm

      YAY! So excited you love this recipe so much! I agree, it’s so much easier than you think!

  4. #
    David B — September 22, 2021 at 10:17 am

    This was the very first time that I made pretzels. This recipe is so detailed and the instructions are so clear and easy to follow. The results were great, with the best balance of soft and chewy. Will definitely make these again.

    • #
      Emily — September 23, 2021 at 2:29 pm

      Your pretzels looked amazing!! So glad you loved them 🙂 Honestly, my freezer hasn’t been without these pretzels since I first started testing them haha! You’re absolutely right, they’re the perfect mix of soft and chewy!

  5. #
    Pam — September 22, 2021 at 10:58 am

    Great recipe! Pretzels turned out crisp on the outside and soft & chewy inside. I used the lye bath. I will definitely be making them again!

    • #
      Emily — September 23, 2021 at 2:31 pm

      Woohoo!! Isn’t the lye bath a game changer?! So happy you enjoyed this recipe!

  6. #
    Karen — September 22, 2021 at 11:01 am

    Loved this recipe! It was quick and easy to make and delicious! I will certainly be making this over and over again!!

    • #
      Emily — September 23, 2021 at 2:33 pm

      Wonderful to hear that, Karen! Yay!!

  7. #
    Tricia — September 22, 2021 at 11:08 am

    Absolutely delicious – both ways! And the beer cheese dip … oh my goodness!!! I had friends standing in line for seconds and one friend insisted she gets to take the one pretzel leftover home. Others protested saying they wanted it but she stood firm and said she called it first.

    Another amazing success story from Tessa and Handle the Heat. Thanks for sharing and teaching us the why’s of baking, Tessa!! ❤️

    • #
      Emily — September 23, 2021 at 2:35 pm

      Yay!! I agree about that beer cheese dip-my husband and I didn’t even leave the kitchen, we ate it straight from the pan with our fresh, warm pretzels haha! So happy to hear how much your friends enjoyed this recipe, thanks for taking the time to comment, Tricia! 🙂

  8. #
    Michael Gilson — September 23, 2021 at 3:36 pm

    These pretzels are AMAZING. And actually very easy to make (once you acquire the ingredients!). I took part in the Zoom baking session where these were made, and I have to say, I was impressed at how fun and easy these were to make.
    Don’t be scared of the lye! It definitely gives them an authentic look and taste, and I didn’t have any safety issues.

    These were delicious, and my friends who saw my photos were definitely impressed! I made the beer cheese dip for these as well, and it was very yummy….grating the cheese was the hardest part. 🙂

    • #
      Emily — September 24, 2021 at 9:45 am

      Wonderful! My freezer is never without these pretzels now, so glad you loved them! And I agree about the beer cheese dip too, it’s fantastic and so quick to make!

  9. #
    Patricia Roman — September 24, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    Do you flip the pretzels in the lye bath or only one side for 30 seconds?

    • #
      Emily — September 27, 2021 at 12:10 pm

      Hi Patricia! There’s no need to flip the pretzels in the lye bath, but you do want to make sure to press them down to submerge them completely at least once. Doing so will allow for an even bake as well as helps your pretzel salt stick to the pretzels 🙂

  10. #
    Mike Sr — September 25, 2021 at 6:53 am

    We love pretzels! Now that you convinced me that lye is the way to go for authentic darker finished pretzels one question remains. How do you dispose of the rest of the lye /water mixture after dipping your pretzels? Pour it down your kitchen sink drain? We have a stainless steel sink, will it etch or damage our sink or do harm to the plumbing?

    • #
      Emily — September 27, 2021 at 2:53 pm

      Yay! It should be completely fine with a stainless steel sink-just pour the lye down the drain with the water running and keep the water running for a few minutes after. Honestly, if you have a clogged drain, it’ll help! So you’ll not only have a delicious treat, but you’ll have a clean drain too 🙂 Please let us know what you think with the lye bath, I’ve made five batches so far and can’t wait for you to try them!

  11. #
    Postcard Stories — September 25, 2021 at 10:54 am

    The recipe is great! Thank you for sharing this 🙂

  12. #
    Deepa — September 25, 2021 at 9:21 pm

    Hi – can I replace half of the flour with whole wheat flour

    • #
      Emily — September 27, 2021 at 12:07 pm

      We haven’t tried that!

  13. #
    Claire Russell — October 3, 2021 at 5:57 am

    Great recipe. I appreciate the forming tutorial. I ended up making the dough the night before and putting it in the fridge. I set out for a few hours before I formed the pretzels and they turned out great. Opted for the lye bath, definitely recommend. The safety tips were also very helpful.

    • #
      Emily — October 4, 2021 at 2:01 pm

      So glad to hear your overnight in the fridge worked out well! And that lye bath is a game changer for sure, happy to hear you enjoyed this recipe! 🙂

  14. #
    Patty — October 5, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    You said its alright to pour lye bath down the sink with the water running. My question is i have a septic will pouring it down the drain hurt the septic

    • #
      Emily — October 6, 2021 at 9:52 am

      Safety wise, lye isn’t so different than using household bleach. This is such a small amount of lye that it will not cause damage to your septic, plus, it’ll help clean out your drain 🙂 We do suggest running water while pouring the lye down the drain and keep it running for a few minutes after. Hope that helps, and I hope you try using the lye bath with your pretzels. It’s a game changer in appearance, taste, and texture!

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