Saturday, January 8, 2011

Soft Pretzels

I don't drink, but I am very interested in the food served at "gastro pubs." There is some incredible cooking going on late at night in bars and taverns across the states. This makes a lot of sense. People are drinking late and they get hungry. Rather than have the guests leave, the bar's ownership offers fare worthy enough to keep people at their tables. It's terribly clever.

     Below is a recipe for delicious, soft pretzels worthy of a late night or game day snack.You even get to use lye, so that’s pretty rad. You can go all Tyler Durden and give yourself a hell of a chemical burn to focus on the here and now. “Stay with the pain. Don’t shut this out.”

Soft Pretzels

3 ¾ cups bread flour, plus a bit more for light dusting (see notes)
1 ½ cups warm water (see notes)
1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
10 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup food-grade lye micro-beads (see notes)
Coarse salt for sprinkling

1. Fit a Kitchen Aide or other stand-up mixer with a dough hook. In the bowl, combine the 3 ¾ cups of flour, 1 ½ cups of warm water, yeast, salt and butter. Set mixer to low and let run for 10 minutes. The dough will be smooth, elastic and clinging to the hook.

2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, cover with a towel and let sit for 5 minutes.

3. With a dough knife, cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. Form each one into a ball. Cover with the towel and let rest for 5 more minutes.

4. On an unfloured surface, roll each ball into a rope that is 18” to 22” long. The ends should be slightly tapered. Fold each rope into a pretzel shape. (see notes)

5. Place the eight pretzels on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Place them in a warm area for 45 minutes. (see notes)

6. Next, transfer the baking sheets to the refrigerator and cool for two hours or overnight.

7. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While wearing long, latex gloves, long sleeves and safety goggles, add the lye to a metal bowl or glass baking dish containing warm water. Be sure to add the lye to the water and not the other way around. Make sure your workspace is well-ventilated. Stir the lye until dissolved.

8. With your gloved hands, place each pretzel into the lye and water mixture Let each side float for 15 seconds, then turn it over for an additional 15 seconds. Gently shake off the water and return it to the baking sheet.

9. Sprinkle the pretzels with kosher salt. Bake on the top and middle racks for about 17 minutes. Halfway through the baking process, switch the pans. Let the pretzels cool slightly before service. (see notes)

For the flour, be sure to use a dry measuring cup and not, say, a Pyrex measuring cup, which you will use for the water.

For the warm water, it should be about 95 degrees. You can use a digital meat thermometer.

You can order the lye online. Please be careful, being sure to wear gloves and goggles. At 10 cups water to ½ cup lye, your skin won’t burn, but it will sting. (Ask me how I know.) I’m pretty sure you could wreck your eyes, so exercise extreme caution.

On YouTube you can find several videos on how to roll and twist dough into pretzel shapes.

My warm place is my bathroom. I turn on the heater, place the sheets on the counter and close the door.

For added flavor, brush each pretzel with garlic butter prior to service.


  1. Dude, don't lie to me, but why the lye? heh

  2. I'm inspired to create some criminal mastermind who use his, um, spare lye to bake.

  3. Making pretzels with 25 kindergartners this Thursday. Started to do elementary school field trips with in our district to raise funds and have older kids teacher younger students. We will be not letting the dough rise, bowling them, and baking them. Let you know how they turn out. We will be making fresh lemonade to go with our pretzels.

  4. Good luck! Let me know how it turns out. :)

  5. Lye is a must for authentic german pretzels! it gives them a wonderful texture and color and they taste awesome! check out they sell their lye in easy to use and store containers making it so easy to work with, and safer too!

  6. Bill,

    Thank you so much for the link. Later this summer, when we harvest some pumpkins, I want to make pumpkin soap so we will need some more lye.

    Be well,

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