Learn How to Make Soft Pretzels at Home

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This soft, chewy snack is a staple at German beer halls and breweries, but why make the trip when it's this easy to learn how to make soft pretzels at home?

Whether you’re enjoying a pilsner at your favorite beer garden, taking in a baseball game at the stadium or catching a flick at the theater, there’s one treat everyone craves: soft pretzels.

Chewy, salty and often paired with a tempting dip (hello, neon yellow nacho cheese), these pretzels always hit the spot. They’re not a treat many of us bake at home—but learning how to make soft pretzels yourself isn’t too challenging. We bet you’ve got all the ingredients and gear already on hand. All you have to do is practice that perfect pretzel twist!

How to Make Soft Pretzels at Home

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When learning how to make soft pretzels at home, you want an ultra craveable recipe. Lucky for us, reader Elvira Martens of Aldergrove, B.C., assures us that her recipe never lasts long in her house. After one bite, you’ll see why.

Ingredients for Soft Pretzels

  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (110° to 115° F)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Optional toppings: Kosher salt, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, grated Parmesan cheese or cinnamon-sugar

Tools for Making Pretzels

Although pretzels may look a little complicated, they really don’t require many special tools. If you are looking to pick up some gear to make the process even easier, these are the Taste of Home Test Kitchen’s top picks.

  • Dough whisk: It might be funny looking, but this OXO Good Grips Dough Whisk is a wonderful tool for stirring bread dough, quick breads, biscuits and more.
  • Mesh spider: This wiry strainer is an easy way to fish pretzels out of the baking soda bath. You’ll find plenty of other uses for it, too, such as when frying.
  • Large baking sheet: Whether you make small soft pretzels or oversized pretzels to share, you’ll need a generously sized sheet to hold them.

Directions

Step 1: Proof the yeast

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Like with any yeasted bread, the first step is to proof the yeast. To activate the yeast, mix a packet with warm water (100º should do it) and a tablespoon of sugar. The small amount of sugar in this recipe isn’t to add sweetness—it’s to feed the yeast. You could use honey or agave syrup if you prefer.

Give the mix a quick stir and let it sit for 5 minutes as you prep other ingredients. The yeast is ready to use when it’s foamy. If you don’t see any change in your mixture, the yeast may be expired or the water may have been too hot. If that happens, start again.

Step 2: Make the pretzel dough

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Next, combine the yeast mixture, salt and two cups of flour. Mix with your dough whisk or stand mixer. Gradually add in more flour until you’ve got a stiff dough.

Test Kitchen Tip: While this recipe calls for all-purpose flour, you can use bread flour instead. The extra gluten in bread flour can help the pretzels hold their shape a bit better.

Step 3: Knead the dough

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Next, lightly flour your work surface. Just a sprinkling will do here; adding too much flour will make your dough dry and difficult to work with. While the dough may seem a little messy to start, it will become less sticky as you continue to knead. Kneading helps to hydrate the flour fully (meaning it will absorb some of the water) and helps develop gluten which gives soft pretzels their texture.

Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and can be stretched without tearing between your fingers. To tell if you’re kneading dough the right way, try the windowpane test.

If you have a stand mixer, feel free to let the machine do the work. You can knead dough in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Because the machine is pretty darn powerful, you only need to let the mixer run for about 2 minutes to achieve the right consistency. You’ll know the dough is kneaded enough when it starts to pull away from the bowl and creep up the dough hook.

Step 4: Proof

After kneading the dough, it’s time to let it rise. Put the dough in a large greased bowl, being sure to grease the top of the dough as well. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm spot in your kitchen until it doubles in size. This will take about an hour.

If the temps in your home are too cool (yeasted dough proofs best in warm weather, above 75º), you can invest in one of these nifty dough rising mats or you can convert your oven into a proofing chamber. To do this, just pop your bowl of bread dough into the oven—the oven should be off!— along with a pan full of simmering water. Let the heat and steam do their work and you’ll find your bread will double in about an hour.

Step 5: Divide the dough

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When the pretzel dough has doubled in size, punch it down and turn it onto a clean work surface. From there, divide the dough into 12 equal portions.

You can do this all by eye—divide the dough into quarters and then each quarter into thirds. You can also use a kitchen scale. Just weigh the dough and divide the weight by 12. Once portioned, roll each section into a ball.

If you want to make oversized pretzels to share for a party, divide the dough into four.

Step 6: Roll into ropes and shape

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Now for the twisted part of this process! Start by rolling each ball into a 22-inch rope (or 40 inches if you’re making oversized pretzels). That’s where your kitchen ruler comes in handy.

To make the pretzel shape, take each end of the rope and make a U-shape. Cross one end over the other, twist, and bring the twisted ends to the bottom of the U. Press the ends lightly into the dough to secure them in place. If they won’t stick, use a dab of water.

If you can’t picture those movements, watch our video (above) to see the technique in action! Your first pretzel might not be the prettiest, you’ll get the hang of it after one or two.

Test Kitchen Tip: To try out different pretzel shapes, use your bench scraper to cut the rope into small pieces for pretzel nuggets or slightly longer lengths for pretzel rods.

Step 7: Boil in a baking soda bath

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Now comes the step that gives the pretzels their signature color: the alkali bath. Traditionally, food-safe lye was used for this step, but it’s much simpler to swap out the lye for baking soda (though you can still use lye if you want to go the strictly authentic route). This step provides the pretzels with their classic mahogany color and also gives them that chewy texture. Don’t skip this step!

To create the bath, bring water and baking soda to a boil in a large pot. Using the wire spider, carefully place each pretzel into the bubbling water and let it sit for 30 seconds. Once boiled, lift the pretzel out and let it drain on paper towels that have been lightly spritzed with cooking spray.

Step 8: Top and bake

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After all the pretzels are boiled, move them to a baking sheet that’s been greased with cooking spray or lined with a silicone mat. Don’t use parchment paper; the pretzels will stick to it. Brush each pretzel with an egg wash, then top with pretzel salt or coarse salt.

Bake the pretzels at 425º for 12 to 14 minutes. Let the pretzels cool slightly and then enjoy!

The Best Ways to Eat Soft Pretzels: Dips and Toppings

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To serve soft pretzels, be sure to have plenty of dips at the ready. These are some of our favorites:

  • Obatzda: This traditional German cheese dip is made with cream cheese, Camembert, onion and a hint of caraway. It’s a must with homemade pretzels—along with these German beers.
  • Mustard dip: Pretzels and mustard go together like peanut butter and jelly. This dip gets a bit of a kick thanks to spicy horseradish.
  • Bacon dip: Level up your basic mustard dip with this super-simple dip made with bacon crumbles.
  • Orange marmalade: It may sound odd, but marmalade and pretzels are a great sweet-salty pairing.

You can also try different toppings on your pretzels.

  • Everything bagel seasoning: In addition to pretzel salt, shake on a bit of everything bagel seasoning before the pretzels go into the oven. The blend of garlic, sesame seeds and onion is perfect for pretzels and goes well with savory dips.
  • Garlic and chives: While warm, brush the pretzels with melted butter and shake on a bit of garlic powder and chopped fresh chives from your herb garden. This is a combo that always satisfies.
  • Cinnamon-sugar: Skip the salt going into the oven. When your pretzels are warm, brush them with melted butter and sprinkle with plenty of cinnamon and sugar.

How to Store Soft Pretzels

As soon as the soft pretzels come out of the oven, they are ready to enjoy. In fact, the sooner you eat these pretzels the better. They are one of those bakes—like doughnuts and bagels—that taste best on the first day. Though if you seal them up in an airtight container, you can try this stale bread trick and revive the pretzels the next day.

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.