Pretzels are one of those classic snack foods that seem a lot harder to make than they actually are. But why limit yourself to only enjoying pretzels at movie theaters and baseball games when you could whip up a homemade batch on your own? Whether you like your pretzels hard or soft, salted or unsalted, sweet or savory, we’re sharing some of our best pretzel recipes, including fan favorites like chocolate-covered pretzels and a simple recipe for soft pretzels that even novice bakers can master.
From the surprising pretzel origin story to the basics of making and shaping pretzel dough, here’s everything that you need to know to finally get your pretzel fix at home.
- Where Did Pretzels Originate?
- Ingredients You Need to Make Pretzels at Home
- How to Make Pretzels
- How to Shape Pretzels
- 8 Must-Try Pretzel Recipes
- Put Your Own Twist on National Pretzel Day
Where Did Pretzels Originate?
We’ve been eating pretzels for more than a thousand years, but long before they were indulgent treats dipped in melted cheese at county fairs, they were austere food staples for Catholics who were fasting at Lent. That’s because early pretzels, made from just a simple mix of flour, salt, and water, were a good option when so many basic ingredients (eggs and dairy among them) were off the table.
As for the soft pretzels we’re more familiar with today, those have their roots in Germany, where they were first called “bracellae,” which turned into “bretzels” and, eventually, pretzels. German bretzels became widely popular throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, and in 1710, German immigrants brought their bretzels to America. The rest, as we know, is salty and delicious history.
Soft Pretzels vs. Hard Pretzels
It was Julius Sturgis, founder of the first commercial pretzel making company in America, who gets the credit for adapting a soft pretzel recipe to create hard pretzels.
The difference between hard pretzels and soft pretzels comes down to technique. Hard pretzels are made with less moisture than soft pretzels and stay in the oven for more time. The result is dryer pretzels that are more shelf-stable than their soft counterparts while remaining just as tasty.
Ingredients You Need to Make Pretzels at Home
You only need a few baking essentials to make pretzel dough, and you probably already have all or most of them sitting in your pantry.
Flour lends gluten to pretzel dough, making it stretchy and malleable so that you can twist it into shape. The best flour for pretzels is unbleached all-purpose or bread flour, however it’s possible to make gluten-free pretzels by swapping out all-purpose for a gluten baking flour with xanthan gum. If you go the gluten-free route, your dough might not be quite as stretchy or airy, but you’ll get that same great pretzel flavor.
Yeast (active dry or instant) helps the dough rise so that you get that excellent chewy texture to your soft pretzels. You’ll activate the yeast first in warm water before combining it with your dry ingredients.
Deciding whether to use salt for pretzels is ultimately up to you, although unsalted pretzels—especially soft ones—may have a pronounced metallic flavor. Salt helps cut the natural bitterness of pretzels, and many people do prefer it both added to the dough and sprinkled on top. As for the best salt for pretzels, regular kosher salt should be used in the dough and coarse sea salt (or salted butter) on top.
Baking soda doesn’t go in your pretzel dough, but it’s still a crucial part of the pretzel-making process. Before heading into the oven, your pretzels will go into a baking soda bath, which will help them achieve that rich golden brown color and perfect pretzel texture. For even better results, bake your baking soda first by spreading a layer on a foil-topped baking sheet and putting into the oven at 250℉ for an hour.
Optional: Butter and Sugar
Most pretzel recipes include sugar as a dry ingredient (usually granulated, but you’ll also see brown sugar or barley malt syrup as an alternative to or in addition to regular white sugar). This lends a nice sweetness that further counteracts the pretzel’s natural bitterness. The same goes for adding a bit of melted butter to your dough, though both of these ingredients are optional.
What Gives Pretzels Their Pretzel Flavor?
You have baking soda to thank for that distinct pretzel flavor. Baking soda is highly alkaline and imparts that subtly metallic taste onto the dough before your pretzels go into the oven. Some recipes call for a lye bath, which does the same thing.
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How to Make Pretzels
Mastering a basic soft pretzel recipe is your first step toward making standout homemade pretzels. There are just a few steps to follow, though do read through the whole recipe before starting so that you can time out your steps, and head to the next section for a quick overview on how to shape your pretzels before adding them to the baking soda bath.
Basic Easy Pretzel Recipe
Make your first batch by following this easy pretzel recipe adapted from The Kitchn. It covers how to make your dough by hand, but if you’re well-stocked on baking tools and have a mixer handy, you can make your dough in there with a hook attachment.
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 standard packet active dry or instant yeast
- 2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ¼ cup baking soda (or baked baking soda)
- 1 tablespoon barley malt syrup (optional)
- 1 large egg, whisked with 2 tablespoons warm water
- Coarse sea salt to top (leave off if you want to make unsalted pretzels)
1. Combine warm water and yeast in a large bowl and let stand for a minute or two, then give it a stir to make sure the yeast is fully dissolved. Add in 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, and salt.
2. Use a spatula to combine all of the ingredients into a dough, then knead on a floured surface for 5-7 minutes. You’ll know your dough is ready when it holds its shape and is soft but not too sticky. Place the dough in a large bowl and cover with a clean dish towel, then set on the counter to rise for about an hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
3. Divide the proofed dough into eight even balls then roll into ropes about 20” long. Shape your pretzels (more on that below) and set them on a parchment-lined sheet under the same dish towel to rise for another 20 to 30 minutes.
4. While your pretzels are rising, preheat your oven to 450℉ and get your baking soda bath going. To make the bath, add eight cups of water to a large and wide pot set over high heat. When it’s reached a rapid simmer, add in the baking soda and, if using, the barley malt syrup. Stir to dissolve and reduce heat to keep a simmer without boiling.
5. Drop a few pretzels at a time into the baking soda bath and boil for 20-30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon, then brush with egg wash, sprinkle on coarse salt, and bake on parchment paper until pretzels reach a glossy brown—about 12 to 15 minutes.
How to Shape Pretzels
Shaping pretzels is a cinch. Working with one rope of dough at a time, fold the two ends of the rope up and away from you and cross one over the other. Twist the two ends together twice and bring the twisted section down until it connects to the bottom of the circle or horseshoe shape that you’ve created. Press gently to connect.
Shape not important to you? Create slightly shorter ropes and just form your dough into circles instead.
8 Must-Try Pretzel Recipes
You can’t go wrong with plain pretzels, but there are tons of ways to mix it up if you want to get creative. Try one of these variations and take your pretzel game to the next level.
1. Chocolate Covered Pretzels
Chocolate covered pretzels are traditionally made with hard pretzels, but you can make them with soft, too. Just melt chocolate chips in the microwave (white, milk, dark, or semisweet would all be great, though dark chocolate pairs beautifully with coarse sea salt) and dip or drizzle to coat your pretzels. Optional additions include sprinkles, coconut flakes, or chopped nuts.
2. Gluten-Free Pretzel Recipe
Eating gluten-free doesn’t have to mean giving up on pretzels. Make gluten-free pretzels by swapping out regular flour for gluten-free all-purpose with xanthan gum. Most yeast is gluten-free so you shouldn’t have any issues there, but do check the package just to be sure.
3. Honey Mustard Pretzels
There are two ways to enjoy honey mustard pretzels. One is to make a honey mustard dipping sauce by whisking together ¼ cup each of Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, and honey with a tablespoon of white vinegar and a ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder. The other is to work dry honey mustard seasoning into your proofed dough before making your ropes and shaping your pretzels.
4. Peanut Butter Pretzels
For peanut butter pretzels, take each of your dough ropes and use a knife to cut a shallow trench down the middle lengthwise (don’t cut through to the bottom). Spread creamy peanut butter into the trench, then pinch the sides back up to seal. Shape, boil, and bake as normal.
5. German Pretzels
German pretzels are smaller and thinner than the pretzels normally served in the States. Use the same soft pretzel recipe as above but cut down the time in the baking soda bath to just 10 seconds and bake at 400℉ instead of 450℉.
6. Honey Wheat Pretzels
To make honey wheat pretzels with just the right amount of added sweetness, you’ll want to add 1/3 cup of honey to your warm water and yeast mixture and swap in whole wheat flour for all-purpose. For a nice touch, skip the pre-bake egg wash and brush on a layer of melted butter instead.
7. Whole Wheat Pretzels
You can make whole wheat pretzels by using whole wheat flour for pretzels instead of all-purpose. As with any time you make bread, using whole wheat in lieu of white flour will result in a stiffer dough and slightly less rise. It will also rise faster, since there are more nutrients for the yeast.
8. Everything Pretzels
Who needs everything bagels when you can make everything pretzels? For this yummy flavor, you’ll just top with everything seasoning after your egg wash instead of coarse salt. You can buy the seasoning pre-made, or make your own by combining sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion, dried garlic, and salt.
Put Your Own Twist on National Pretzel Day
You can make pretzels any day of the year, but National Pretzel Day, held annually on April 26, is as good of an excuse as any! Celebrate by making traditional German bretzels or a fun alternative pretzel recipe. Other things to try include making pretzel rolls to replace sandwich bread, creating dippable pretzel bites, or giving hard pretzels a shot. Just be sure to double up your recipe so that you can spread the pretzel love and share with a friend.
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