Soft Sourdough Pretzels

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European-style soft, sourdough pretzels made with baking soda or lye and sprinkled with flaky sea salt. Chewy, soft and delicious!

Is there anything better than a fresh, hot pretzel? The chewy texture, salty exterior and just all around deliciousness! My husband and I both lived in Germany as kids (not at the same time and we didn’t know each other at the time). One of our favorite shared food memories are the “Laugenbrezel” (a traditional German soft pretzel) and the “Laugenbrot” which was basically a roll or bun made from pretzel dough. Top it with some melty cheese or dip the soft pretzel in some mustard and you have yourself the perfect snack or lunch. This recipe for sourdough pretzels brings us back to those childhood days and fills our kitchen with the aroma of a German bakery. Soft sourdough pretzels are being made on repeat right now because we love them so much. This recipe takes almost 24 hours start to finish (with lots of hands-off time). If you are looking for a quick and simple recipe, try these pretzel bites with sourdough discard.

Sample Soft Sourdough Pretzel Baking Schedule

Working with sourdough takes time. I find it helpful to see a sample schedule so I have a reference point for making the recipe fit in my own life. When I make soft sourdough pretzels, this is often how I do it. You may need more or less time depending on the warmth of your kitchen and how quickly your sourdough rises. This recipe schedule assumes a temperature of 78-80℉.

Day 1
8:00 PM-8:00 AMMix Levain the night before baking, 1:10:10 ratio
Day 2
8:00 AM-1:00 PM Mix the dough and give it a long rise with one stretch and fold
1:00 PM-3:30 PMPre-shape/Rest/Shape/Rise at 78-80 degrees F
3:30 PM-4:30 PMRefrigerated Rest
4:30-5:00 PMScore and Bake

Building the Pretzel Levain

The night before you want to make the pretzels, build the levain. Take 13 grams of ripe/active sourdough starter and add 130 grams all purpose flour and 130 grams of water. Stir it up, cover it and let it rise and peak overnight. This will take about 10-12 hours if the levain is kept at 78 degrees F. The next morning your levain should be bubbly and doubled in size-ready to use. Make sure to use both your starter and your levain at peak height.

Diastatic Malt Powder in Pretzels

One ingredient you may not be familiar with in the list of ingredients is diastatic malt powder. This can be purchased online (affiliate link) or you may be able to find it in your local grocery store. The technical explanation is that diastatic malt powder contains the amylase enzyme, which consumes the starches in your pretzel dough and creates sugars. This helps create an evenly browned pretzel and good crust. Diastatic malt powder also promotes a good rise. The yeast has “more food” from the breakdown of starches into sugars, which gives your pretzels a better rise. When working with diastatic malt powder, a little goes a long way. Typically you only want about 1/2 a teaspoon of diastatic malt powder per cup of flour. This recipe only calls for a small amount. Too much diastatic malt powder and your pretzels will overproof quickly. If you don’t have diastatic malt powder you can add a teaspoon of brown sugar to the dough.

Soft Sourdough Pretzel Dough

Once your levain is ready, add all of the dough ingredients to a stand mixer except the butter. Knead for about 5 minutes. The dough will initially looks and feel a little stiff, but don’t worry. As you add in the softened butter, the dough will change into a smooth and silky dough. After kneading for 5-6 minutes, add in the softened butter a few chunks at a time. Knead for about 10 minutes until incorporated and smooth. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can do this by hand, it will require some elbow grease but is possible. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let rest for 4-5 hours at 78 degrees F. If your temperature is warmer, it may be closer to 4 hours. If your dough temperature is colder, it will be 5 or 6 hours.

Shaping Soft Sourdough Pretzels

In the past I’ve struggled shaping pretzels. I’ve found that this dough is the perfect consistency for shaping. No extra flour is needed, just a good countertop space. Once the dough as risen, use a bench knife to cut the dough into twelve equal pieces. Let the dough rest for another 20 minutes to relax before shaping.

To shape: Take a ball of dough. Roll it out like a rope, using both hands starting in the middle and going out toward the ends of the dough. Repeat this process, leaving the middle of the “rope” larger as you taper out toward the ends. Once you have the length you want, pull the ends up and around, twisting them together and then bringing them back down to the dough. Pinch the ends into the dough and set the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet (my favorite baking sheets here, affiliate link). Repeat with the other balls of dough until you have 12 shaped pretzels. Check out this video to watch the process below.

Alternative Shaping

Shape the dough into “logs” for a German-style “Laugenbrot” pretzel roll. These rolls may need an extra few minutes of baking time because of their thicker shape.

Refrigerating Sourdough Pretzel Dough

One of the keys to keeping a good shape on the pretzels and not letting them break apart when soaking them before baking is to refrigerate the shaped dough for an hour. You just need it long enough to help the pretzels keep their shape. After shaping, let the pretzel dough rise and puff up for about an hour at 78-80 degrees F. Then stick the soft sourdough pretzels in the refrigerator on their baking sheet for about an hour. I have never kept them in the refrigerator for a longer period of time. They could most likely be refrigerated overnight and baked the next day, though I haven’t tried it yet. I wouldn’t let them sit much longer than 24 hours refrigerated before baking. If you try it out, let me know!

European-Style Soft Pretzel Flavor

To get the traditional pretzel flavor, you have one of two options before baking. Your can dip the pretzels in a lye solution or you can boil them in a baking soda bath. The lye solution is traditional and will produce a beautiful mahogany color, glossy sheen and a chewy crust. Lye is also caustic and you need to take safety precautions when using it. The baking soda method is a bit more cumbersome ie: boiling water, adding baking soda, boiling the pretzels and then baking them. Pick which method works for you. I’ve done both and both produce delicious pretzels. If I’m going for most “authentic,” I will choose the lye method.

Lye Method for Sourdough Pretzels

Disclaimer: lye is caustic. Always use safety glasses and rubber gloves. Wear long sleeves/pants and closed toed-shoes. Use paper towel to wipe up spills and throw them away. Rinse everything that touches lye with large amounts of water. Be sure to wash your hands and arms throughout and if you do feel anything burning, re-wash wherever it burns with soap and water and rinse dry. Lye should not be around children or pets.

I bought food grade lye here (affiliate link). It comes in a large jar and you add small amounts of lye to water to dilute it which makes it safe to consume once baked. To use the lye, begin by putting on your protective gear (including protective goggles and rubber gloves). To a large bowl, add 5 cups of water and 3 Tablespoons of food grade lye. Stir together with a spatula until dissolved. Dip each pretzel in the lye solution for 15-20 seconds. Place pretzel back on the parchment-lined baking sheet to bake.

Baking Soda Method for Sourdough Pretzels

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add 6 Tablespoons of baking soda once the water is boiling. The water should be vigorously boiling, not just a simmer before boiling the dough. Taking a few pretzels at at time, place them in the boiling water for 90 seconds per pretzel. Remove the pretzels and place them on the parchment-lined baking sheet. 

Scoring and Baking Sourdough Pretzels

Once the pretzels have been soaked or boiled, take a bread lame and score the bottom, thicker- part of the pretzel. A bread lame (affiliate link) will help give you the perfect score but a sharp knife will work in a pinch. Sprinkle the top of the pretzel with some flaky sea salt (affiliate link) or pretzel salt (affiliate link) for the perfect flavor. Bake the pretzels at 475ºF for 15 minutes. 

These sourdough pretzels evoke all the best memories and are just delicious. We love them dipped in mustard, covered in melty cheese or just eaten hot and plain. The crisp, chewy crust with the flaky sea salt means that these are basically devoured once they come out of the oven, though they do freeze well after they cool to enjoy a few days later. Enjoy!

If you like these Soft Sourdough Pretzels, you’ll also like:

Soft Sourdough Pretzels

Amy
European-style soft, sourdough pretzels made with baking soda or lye and sprinkled with flaky sea salt. Chewy, soft and delicious!
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Rise Time 20 hours
Total Time 21 hours
Course Bread, Snack
Cuisine American, German
Servings 12 pretzels

Ingredients
  

Levain (1:10:10, overnight/ready in 10-12 hours at 78 degrees F)

  • 13 grams ripe sourdough starter
  • 130 grams all purpose flour
  • 130 grams water

Sourdough Pretzel Dough

  • 250 grams levain
  • 430 grams water
  • 20 grams salt
  • 3 grams diastatic malt powder
  • 850 grams bread flour see note
  • 70 grams unsalted butter softened

Lye or Baking Soda Solution

  • 3 Tablespoons food grade lye OR
  • 6 Tablespoons baking soda
  • water for mixing with lye or boiling with baking soda
  • flaky sea salt for topping

Instructions
 

Levain (1:10:10, overnight/ready in 10-12 hours at 78 degrees F)

  • The night before making the pretzels, mix together 13 grams of ripe sourdough starter with 130 grams flour and 130 grams water. Cover and let rest overnight until bubbly, active and ready to use.

Sourdough Pretzel Dough

  • The next morning, to the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the risen levain, water, flour, salt and malt powder using a dough hook. The dough will be on the thicker side and you may think you've added too much flour, but it will come together as you add the butter.
  • Knead for about 5 minutes. Then add the softened butter, 1/2 Tablespoon at a time and knead for 5-8 minutes until completely incorporated.
  • Let dough rise for 5-6 hours at 78-80 degrees F, until puffy. After the first hour, perform one stretch and fold: reach down onto the side of the dough, pull the dough up and stretch it over the top, pushing it back down onto the other side of the dough. Rotate the bowl and repeat two or three more times as you go around the bowl. The warmth of your dough/kitchen will determine the length of rise time, though this is typically 5-6 hours.
  • After 5-6 hours, the dough should have risen and be smooth and aerated. If it's not, find a warmer place for the dough and give it another half hour before checking again. Pre-shape the dough into 12 equal-sized balls, cover and rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.
  • Shape the pretzels by rolling them into a long rope. Begin rolling in the middle and then easing your way out. The middle of the "rope" should be thicker than the ends. Pull the thinner ends up, twist and press down into the pretzel. Watch this video to see how I shape my pretzels. See recipe note for pretzel rolls.
  • Place pretzels on a parchment lined baking sheet. Let rise for about 2 hours at 78-80 degrees F until puffed up, soft and aerated. Then stick the pans with the pretzels on them in the fridge for 1 hour.

Baking Sourdough Pretzels

  • Preheat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Choose which method you are going to use to dip the pretzels. Pull the pretzels out of the refrigerator and use either the lye or baking soda bath on each pretzel.
  • Lye Method: Put on protective goggles and rubber gloves. Lye can burn your skin or eyes. It should not be around children or pets. To a large bowl, add 5 cups of water. Add 3 Tablespoons of food grade lye (affiliate link). Stir together with a spatula. Dip each pretzel in the lye solution for 15-20 seconds per pretzel. Place pretzels back on the parchment lined baking sheet.
  • Baking Soda Method: Bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add 6 Tablespoons baking soda. Place pretzels in the boiling baking soda water and boil for 90 seconds per pretzel. Remove pretzels from the boiling water and place on the baking sheets.
  • Score the bottom half/thick part of the pretzel with a sharp knife or bread lame. Sprinkle with pretzel salt or my favorite flaky sea salt.
  • Bake immediately after the lye or baking soda bath. Bake for 15 minutes at 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Let cool or enjoy warm. For longer-term storage, freeze pretzels in a ziplock bag and re-heat when ready to eat.

Notes

Bread Flour: If you need a substitute for bread flour, use 810 grams all purpose flour and 40 grams vital wheat gluten.
Using Lye: Lye is caustic. Always use safety glasses and rubber gloves. Wear long sleeves, pants and closed-toed shoes. Wipe up any spills with paper towels and throw away. Rinse everything that touched the lye with large amounts of water and wash hands and arms thoroughly. If you feel anything burning, re-wash affected area with soap and water, rinse and dry.
Shaping: These pretzels can also be shaped into logs or rolls for a traditional “Laugenbrot” roll. Roll up into a cylinder or shape into a roll. Proceed with recipe. Add a few minutes to the baking time so they are baked all the way through.
Keyword german sourdough pretzels, homemade pretzels, pretzel, soft pretzels, soft sourdough pretzels, sourdough, sourdough pretzels
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7 Comments

  1. Beautiful soft pretzels!! Thanks for sharing both the lye and baking soda methods. And, enough can’t be said of the chewiness of this recipe! Delicious!! 🥨🥨🥨😋

  2. I made these with the baking soda method. They are deliciously salty, moreish and chewy! Yum!!

  3. Was really wanting to try this recipe but don’t have (never have used) malt powder. Is there a substitute for this? Is there a reason you want to use this since the sourdough already rises the dough so much? Thanks 🙂

    1. The malt powder improves the color, flavor and gives them a better oven spring. It makes the crust evenly brown and I like the taste with it. With that said if you don’t have it and don’t want to purchase it, you can just leave it out.