How to make traditional soft German pretzels recipe, a salted bread with a soft crumb and a crunchy and crackly crust. This recipe is delicious and very easy to make at home, perfect for the holiday season or to enjoy.
Homemade soft pretzel
Soft pretzels are a traditional Germanic salted pastry, originating from Eastern Europe, precisely from the south of Germany but also from known in Austria and Switzerland.
These pretzels are very popular in Alsace, a French province where they are part of the culture and are usually eaten during the festive holidays of the year.
With its original shape of a knot or crossed arms, this homemade German pretzel is a brioche recipe, or rather a soft and crunchy bun covered with fleur de sel.
There are several variations of soft pretzels, such as this version of sweet cinnamon pretzels flavored with a cinnamon sugar mixture, mini pretzels appetizer, or chocolate pretzels.
This homemade pretzels recipe is made with brioche dough, then shaped to give it this funny shape. But what makes this recipe so special is its unique taste and the dark color given by the lye bath.
In the traditional pretzel recipe made in a German bakery, they are bathed in a lye solution of boiling water mixed with a pure sodium hydroxide solution, but baking soda is used instead for this homemade recipe, which gives them that brownish, crispy crust with that incredible flavor.
Ingredients and substitutions
Pretzel dough :
- Baker's yeast: Use a packet of dry yeast or the equivalent in fresh baker's yeast.
- Sugar: Use brown sugar, preferably flavored, cane sugar or, as in the traditional recipe, malt syrup.
- Water: You can replace the water with milk or make a mixture of both.
- Flour: Use white wheat flour or bread flour.
- Salt: fine salt or fleur de sel.
- Butter: soft unsalted butter, melted and cooled.
- Coarse salt: sprinkle on pretzels before baking, use coarse sea salt or fleur de sel.
- Lye solution: Use food-grade lye or, if you prefer, just baking soda and boiling water to make the baking soda bath.
⚠️ You will find the quantities and instructions in the recipe sheet further down on this page.
How to make homemade German Pretzels
1 - Rehydrate the yeast
- Place milk, brown sugar, and dry baker's yeast in a bowl.
- Stir with a tablespoon and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes until the mixture starts to bubble.
Tip: Mix the yeast in a warm liquid at about 86°F / 20-30°C, no more than this will kill the baker's yeast. The warm liquid and the addition of sugar will help activate the yeast.
2 - Brioche dough
- Place the flour and salt in the large mixing bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
- Then add the yeast, water, and sugar mixture and the melted and cooled butter.
- Knead for about 5 to 7 minutes at medium speed until you have a smooth dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature in a warm place for 1h30 to 2 hours, until it doubles in volume.
Tip: The German soft pretzels dough should be soft and a little sticky, if it seems too sticky, then add a bit of flour, and on the opposite, if it seems too dry, then add some liquid.
3 - Shaping pretzels
- Once the pretzel dough has risen, remove it to a work surface and degas it with your hands to release the gas.
- Cut into 10 equal-sized pieces (about 90g), form balls of dough, and leave covered under a tea towel.
- Roll one ball of dough into a long sausage, about 50 cm long.
- First, form a U shape and cross the two ends twice (see photos).
- Then bring the ends back to the bottom of the U and press lightly to stick them together.
- Place the shaped pretzels on a sheet of parchment paper and let them grow a second time for 30 minutes.
Tip: If the pretzel dough seems too soft and sticky, let it rest in the fridge before shaping it. You can make the dough the day before and let it rise in the fridge, it will be even better and easier to handle.
4 - Baking soda bath
- In a saucepan, bring the water and baking soda to a boil.
- Lower the temperature to a simmer.
- Dip pretzels into boiling water one at a time and leave for about 10-15 seconds per side until they rise to the surface of the water.
- Use a skimmer to remove the pretzels and drain them, then place them back on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, making sure to separate them because they will still puff up during cooking.
- Sprinkle the top with pretzel salt, sesame seeds, or poppy seeds.
5 - Baking
- Preheat the oven to 428°F / 220°C and bake the soft pretzels for about 12 - 15 minutes until they are golden brown.
- Let them cool down before moving them to a wire cooling rack.
- Brush melted butter over the pretzels with a pastry brush and enjoy a bit warm.
Tip: Be careful with the baking time, as soon as they are golden brown on top and after the indicated baking time, take the pretzels out of the oven immediately, otherwise they will be overcooked and too dry.
5 Tips for this recipe
- Activate the dry baker's yeast in lukewarm water that should not exceed 86°F / 30°C and in the brown sugar for at least 5 minutes.
- Let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume, and if possible, make it the day before and let it rise overnight in the refrigerator, they will be even better.
- Bathe the pretzels in an alkaline solution, a mixture of boiling water and baking soda, and not more than 20 seconds at the risk of leaving a metallic and bitter taste.
- Bake in a high-temperature oven, at least 392°F / 200°C, until they have a nice brown crust.
- Brush baking pretzels with melted butter right after baking and enjoy hot.
Storage and freezing
For about 1 week under a cloth or in a storage box with a lid. You can put the leftover pretzels back in the oven for a while to give them some softness.
In the freezer
You can also store pretzels for up to 3 months in a storage box or in freezer storage bags.
Let them come back to temperature slowly or use the defrost function of the microwave or for a few minutes in the oven at 302°F / 150°C.
More bread and bun recipes
- Homemade bagels
- Chocolate rolls with chocolate sauce
- Chocolate star bread
- Buchteln Austrian yeast rolls
- Chocolate babka
- Cinnamon rolls with cream cheese
- Cinnamon rolls with chocolate glaze
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