Homemade Pretzels Made the Right Way

by Pamela

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How many times have you gotten one of those soft pretzels when you were at the ballgame, fair, or waiting for the train in Germany and wish you could have them anytime you wanted? If you’re like me…it’s every time I get one in my grubby little hands! I have a very LARGE weakness for soft pretzels, or brezel as they’re called in Germany. These homemade pretzels taste just like those you get when you’re out, except now you can have a whole pile of them to eat…whenever you want.

The last time I was in Germany, I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in brezels. It was so bad, that the guy who ran the snack shop, outside the train station, knew me by name. Oh well…there are worse people that know my name. 😉

Did you ever wonder why those pretzels taste so good and your homemade pretzels were good, but didn’t taste quite the same? It’s a little poison thing called lye. Did I say poison? Well…it kinda is, not kinda…it is. Even in small doses on  your skin and eyes it can cause hella pain, oh and maybe a touch of blindness, but we’re going to be using it wisely and for making pretzels, not as an ingredient for a facial ok? deal?

Learn how to make soft pretzels just like the one's you get at the fair.

Yes, lye is used by plumbers to clean drains, making wood pulp and cleaning machinery, but it’s also the secret ingredient in making a great soft pretzel. Before you COMPLETELY  freak out just remember that lye is also used in curing olives as well as making soap. Love that all natural Castille soap? Yep, there’s lye in there…just check the label.

But this recipe is no one trick pony. Do you love those chewy pretzel rolls they’re making into sandwiches and even serving on airplanes now (and the airplane pretzel rolls actually taste good)? You can use this very same recipe to make those rolls. All you need to do is roll the dough into balls and put a couple of slashes on the top. Dunzo!

So make a little visit to your local hardware store, you know the little guy, and pick up some 100% lye (don’t get anything that’s mixed with anything else…that stuff’s bad for you.) I say the local store because the big box guys don’t carry lye. I’ve found mine at both Ace and True Value Hardware as well as a small mom and pop store. No, I’m not making that many pretzels or olives and I’m not poisoning my husband or the critters eating up my garden. I just look to see if a store carries it so I can post where to find it.

These homemade pretzels are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside and delicious

You’ll also notice that I make a little pretzel starter, which is different from most recipes. I like to do this because I like the little extra tang it gives to the pretzel flavor. It also makes the dough rise higher.

You know you want some of these homemade soft pretzels, and now that you know how to make them (the right way) you should get on it. Oh, and you can fold or twist your pretzels anyway you want. They don’t have to be twisted in the traditional shape. I especially like all the chewy ends, so I twist mine up like you see in the pictures.

By the way…it’s almost olive season, so if you pick up the lye now, you’ll be ready when they harvest those olives. (Here’s a link on how to cure olives so you can start tracking down those olives.)

Homemade Pretzels Made the Right Way
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Homemade pretzels made the right way...with just a little bit of poison. This is how to make pretzels that are crisp browned outside and chewy inside.
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: German
Serves: 16
  • Pretzel Starter
  • ⅛ Teaspoon Yeast
  • ½ Cup Water
  • ½ Cup + 3 Tablespoons Flour
  • Pretzel Dough
  • 1 Cup Warm Water (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 1 Tablespoon Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoons Kosher Salt
  • Remaining Yeast from 1 Packet Instant Yeast
  • Pretzel Starter
  • 4 Cups Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter (melted)
  • 1 Quart Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Lye
  • More Kosher Salt, for sprinkling (or pretzel salt)
  1. Pretzel Starter
  2. In a small, non metallic mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water. Set the bowl aside and let the water have time to absorb the yeast. (I let mine sit for about 5 minutes.) Use a wooden spoon to stir in the bread flour and make sure that everything is thoroughly combined.
  3. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and make sure the bowl is really sealed well.
  4. Set the bowl aside at room temperature (ideally 68 to 70 degrees) so that the sponge becomes bubbly and thick, like the consistency of wallpaper paste (thicker than a pancake batter but thinner than dough), This will take 12-24 hours depending on how warm your kitchen is.
  5. Making the Pretzels
  6. Add the water, sugar, salt, yeast and pretzel starter into the bowl of your stand mixer. Then add the flour and butter to the bowl, attach your dough hook and begin mixing the dough.
  7. Start the mixer on low and gradually bump up the speed as the flour mixes in and the mixer needs more power to keep kneading the dough. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes or until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl completely as the dough hook spins.
  8. Lightly oil a large bowl and drop the pretzel dough into the bowl. Cover with a tea towel, or plastic wrap, and set aside in warm, draft free, place.
  9. Let the dough rest for about 45 minutes or until it doubles in size.
  10. While the dough is rising, mix up your lye (make sure you're wearing eye protection and gloves. Long sleeves are a smart idea too. Pour the water into a glass or stainless steel bowl then add the lye (always add the lye to the water) and mix with a wooden spoon until no more crystals are visible and set aside.
  11. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  12. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and brush the paper with oil. (crucial step if you don't want to eat parchment paper with your pretzels)
  13. Put a big pot of water on to boil.
  14. Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces.
  15. Roll the balls into 12-18 ropes (or balls if making rolls) and twist into desired shape and arrange on lined baking sheets.
  16. Pop the pretzels into the refrigerator for 10 minutes (this forms a bit of a skin on the dough and helps with the outer crusting of the pretzels).
  17. Once pretzels are formed, drop them into the boiling water (turn them) and let them be in the water for 30 seconds. Remove from boiling water and dunk into lye water (get both sides of the pretzels) and arrange on lined baking sheets.
  18. Sprinkle pretzels with salt. (If making rolls, make 2 slashes in the tops of the balls.)
  19. Slide baking sheet into the oven for 12-15 minutes or until pretzels are browned and done.
  20. Remove from the oven and slide pretzels onto cooling rack.
  21. Eat!
If you don't want to make the starter, you can skip it. Just make sure you add those ingredients into the total recipe. For example, that ⅛t of yeast + the remaining packet of yeast = 1 whole packet of yeast. Add the ½ cup of water to the 1 cup in the main recipe and add the ½ cup +3 tablespoons of flour to the 4 cups in main recipe. Then you don't have to wait for the overnight resting.


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Maureen | Orgasmic Chef September 17, 2014 at 7:09 pm

I’ve never thought about making soft pretzels at home. You make it look easy but I bet it’s not. You’re just clever. 🙂

Pamela September 18, 2014 at 8:22 am

Hi Maureen, It really is easy. It’s about as hard as making a loaf of bread. And making them with the starter makes them fluffier/chewier in the middle. The hard part is the twisting, which is why I just fold them in half then twist. 😉 HA

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