German-Style Soft Pretzel Recipe
A pretzel’s uniquely flavored, dark brown crust comes from being dipped in a strong alkaline solution. Pros use food grade lye for the dipping solution, but lye is highly caustic. We offer two friendlier finishing options:
- Dunking the pretzels in a boiling baking soda solution is easy and produces a beautiful, shiny pretzel.
- Our alternative finishing option uses a stronger alkaline, baked baking soda.
Food chemist and author Harold McGee has developed a method that takes plain baking soda and bakes it in the oven to create a stronger alkaline for home pretzel making. Heat transforms the baking soda into sodium carbonate, also known as washing soda, the natural laundry aid that has been around for decades. We tested the baked baking soda solution and found it works quite well, no hazmat suit required. Most importantly, it comes closest to lye in delivering true pretzel color and flavor.
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Equipment: Brød & Taylor Folding Proofer & Slow Cooker
Yield: Eight pretzels.
Timing: Start these pretzels about 4 hours before serving time. They are best eaten the day they are made.
|Pretzel Dough:||U.S. Volume||U.S. Weight||Metric||Baker’s %|
|Bread Flour*||2¾ C||15.1 oz||429 g||100%|
|Instant Yeast**||1 tsp||0.1 oz||3.2 g / 1 tsp||0.7%|
|Salt, fine||1 tsp||0.2 oz||6.0 g / 1 tsp||1.4%|
|Water, 80 °F / 26 °C||1 C||8.3 oz||237 g / 237 ml||55%|
|Butter||3 T||1.5 oz||43 g||9.9%|
|Malt Syrup or Molasses||2 tsp||0.5 oz||14 g||3.2%|
|Baking Soda||1½ C or 3 T, according to option chosen|
|Egg (optional, for shine)||1|
|Coarse or Pretzel Salt||½ tsp, or to taste|
*Unbleached all-purpose flour can also be used. Reduce the water by 1-2 T to maintain a soft but not sticky dough consistency.
**If using Active Dry Yeast, use 1¼ tsp and dissolve it in the water from the recipe before mixing the dough.
Equipment: Folding Proofer, preferably fitted with a shelf kit. Two Proofer-sized sheet pans, each at least 9 x 13″ / 23 x 33 cm but not bigger than 14¼ x 12” / 36 x 30 cm. Slotted spoon.
Get ready. Set up the Proofer with water in the tray and the temperature set to 80 °F / 26 °C. Mark a dough rising container at the 9 C / 2 L level.
Mix the dough. Add the flour, salt and yeast to a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the butter, malt syrup and lukewarm water. Mix by hand or machine on low speed until the dough comes together.
Develop structure. Knead until the dough is moderately well developed, about 7 minutes by hand or 6 minutes in a stand mixer on speed 2. Alternatively, give the dough two eight-way folds now and two more during the first half hour of rising.
Let the dough rise. Transfer the dough to the marked rising container and allow it to ferment in the Proofer until tripled. The peak of the dough will just reach 9 cups (a little over 2 liters) in about 90 minutes.
Divide and pre-shape the dough. When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a sparsely floured work surface and de-gas by pressing it into a rectangle. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into eight pieces about 3.1 oz / 90 g each. Throughout dividing, pre-shaping and shaping, work with one piece of dough at a time and keep the rest covered. Press each piece into a little rectangle and then roll it up into a cylinder, starting from a long end. Pinch the seam closed and seal the ends, then allow the cylinders to rest, covered, for 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven. Turn the oven to 400 °F / 205 °C and allow to preheat.
Shape the pretzels. Lightly dust the two Proofer-sized sheet pans with flour. Starting in the middle and using a fair amount of pressure, roll the cylinders into ropes with your hands, until they reach a length of about 20″ / 50 cm. If you enjoy a pretzel with a chubby lower loop, leave the dough thicker in the middle. Form a U shape, then twist and bring the ends down to create the classic pretzel shape. Press lightly to seal the ends.
Proof the pretzels. Once all the pretzels are on the floured sheet pans, check the water tray in the Proofer to see that it still has water. Add the upper rack hangers to the sides of the Proofer and load the pretzels onto the rack. Proof for 15 minutes. Alternatively, the pretzels can be proofed, covered, on the countertop. In a 68 °F / 20 °C room, they will take about 25-30 minutes. The pretzels should still be a little underproofed when they begin the finishing process.
Set up the finishing station. While the pretzels are proofing, bring one quart or liter of water to a boil in a wide pan (ideally it should be large enough to float four pretzels in one layer). While the water is coming to a boil, set out a slotted spoon and parchment or silicone liners for the sheet pans. Have the ½ tsp sprinkling salt ready. When the water comes to a boil, stir in 3 T /47 g of baking soda to dissolve and keep it at a low simmer.
Dip and finish the pretzels. When the pretzels are finished proofing, boil them in two batches, about 10 seconds on each side. Remove them from the pot, drain and set on the parchment-lined sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake the pretzels. Load the pretzels into the center of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating half way through baking to promote even browning. Remove to racks to cool.
Alternative Finishing Option
To incorporate Harold McGee’s baked baking soda into the recipe, skip the “Set up the finishing station” and “Dip and finish the pretzels” steps, and do the following.
Make the washing soda. When the dough begins its first rise, preheat the oven to 350 °F / 175 °C and line a large sheet pan with foil. Spread 1½ C / 375 g baking soda out over the foil and bake until the pretzels begin their final proof, about 75-90 minutes.
Remove the washing soda from the oven when the shaped pretzels go into the Proofer for the final rise. Set it aside to cool.
Set up the finishing station. While the pretzels are proofing, set up a non-reactive container with one quart / one liter of cool water. Ideally, this first dipping container should be large enough to float four pretzels in one layer (we used a stainless steel frying pan). Next to that container, place a bowl with about 1.5 quarts / 1.5 liters of cool water for rinsing the pretzels. Rinsing prevents the crust from being bitter. After the dipping and rinsing bowls, prepare two pieces of parchment (or use silicone liners) to line the baking pans. Last in line, lightly beat one egg for an egg wash (optional but creates a nice shine) and set out the sprinkling salt.
Sensible precautions. Keep washing soda away from eyes and avoid reactive surfaces such as aluminum. We used our hands to dip the pretzels and had no issues, but those with sensitive skin might opt for a slotted spoon. If the solution gets on seasoned stone surfaces it will clean off the seasoning.
To prevent lumps, gradually pour the cooled washing soda (it will now be about 1¼ C / 190 g) into the first dipping container while whisking, then continue to whisk until dissolved. You may notice the solution warm up a bit.
Dip and finish the pretzels. When the pretzels are finished proofing, gently remove the first batch from their sheet pan and float them top side down in the washing soda solution. Allow them to float for 3-4 minutes, occasionally spooning dipping solution over the part that is not submerged. While the pretzels are floating, tap the flour out of the now-empty sheet pan and line it with the parchment. One by one, gently remove the pretzels from the dipping solution and turn them briefly in the rinse bowl. Drain and place on the parchment-lined pan. Rinsing keeps the crust from being bitter.
Float the second batch of pretzels in the dipping solution and prepare the second sheet pan in the same manner as the first. Brush the first batch of pretzels with egg wash (if using) and sprinkle with about half of the salt. When the second batch is dipped and rinsed, egg wash and salt it, too. Bake and cool according to the directions, above.