Soft Sourdough Pretzels

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.

Jump to Sourdough Pretzel Recipe

Sample Soft Sourdough Pretzel 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.

Day 1 (night): 8-10 PM: Mix Leaven the night before baking

Day 2 (morning): 8 AM Mix the dough and give it a long rise with one stretch and fold

12-2 PM: After the dough has risen and is a bit puffy: pre-shape, rest, shape pretzels and refrigerate

2-4 PM: Score and bake

Building the Pretzel Leaven

The night before you want to make the pretzels, build the leaven. Take 1 Tablespoon of ripe sourdough starter (i.e. starter that has not been recently fed and needs to be refreshed). Add 150 grams all purpose flour and 150 grams of water. Stir it up, cover it and let it work overnight. The next morning, your leaven should have doubled in size and be nice and puffy, ready to use. These pretzel use a large percentage of leaven and no commercial yeast. The recipe has been developed based on the percentage of flour and water in the leaven. If you choose to use bubbly sourdough starter instead, you may need to increase or decrease the amount of flour and water in the dough recipe relative to your leaven. 

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 leaven is ready, add the dough ingredients to a stand mixer and mix together using a dough hook. Every time I make soft sourdough pretzels, I wonder if I’ve added too much flour to the dough because initially it looks and feels a little stiff, almost crumbly. Don’t worry! This is normal. As you add the chunks of softened butter to the dough while it’s mixing, the dough will change from a little shaggy into the most perfect soft pretzel dough. After kneading for 5-6 minutes, let the dough rise and perform one stretch and fold about an hour into the bulk rise (you can watch a video on folding techniques here—stretch and fold is about halfway through the short video). The bulk rise time takes about 4-6 hours (remember this is sourdough and will take much longer than commercial yeast), depending on the warmth of your kitchen.

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.

It is also possible to shape the dough into “logs” or even rolls for a German-style “Laugenbrot” pretzel roll. These rolls may need an extra few minutes of baking time because of their thicker shape.

Refrigerate 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, 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

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

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/Salt

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 475 degrees 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!

Soft Sourdough Pretzels

European-style soft, sourdough pretzels made with baking soda or lye and sprinkled with flaky sea salt. Chewy, soft and delicious!
Course Bread, Snack
Cuisine American, German
Servings 12 pretzels

Ingredients
  

Leaven

  • 1 Tablespoon ripe sourdough starter
  • 150 grams all purpose flour
  • 150 grams water

Sourdough Pretzel Dough

  • 850 grams bread flour see note
  • 420 grams water
  • 250 grams leaven
  • 19 grams salt
  • 3 grams diastatic malt powder
  • 68 grams unsalted butter softened

Lye or Baking Soda Solution

  • 3 Tablespoons food grade lye OR
  • 6 Tablespoons baking soda
  • flaky sea salt for topping

Instructions
 

Leaven

  • The night before making the pretzels, mix together 1 Tablespoon of ripe sourdough starter with 150 grams flour and 150 grams water. Cover and let rest overnight.

Sourdough Pretzel Dough

  • The next morning, in the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the risen leaven, water, flour, salt and malt powder using a dough hook. The dough will be very thick, almost crumbly at first, but will come together as you add the butter.
  • Within the first minute or two of kneading, add the softened butter, 1/2 Tablespoon at a time and knead for 5-6 minutes until completely incorporated.
  • Let dough rise for 4-6 hours until puffy and just about doubled in size. 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 4-6 hours.
  • After 4-6 hours, 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. (LINK to video). See recipe note for pretzel rolls.
  • Place pretzels on a parchment lined baking sheet. Stick in the fridge for 1 hour.

Baking Sourdough Pretzels

  • Preheat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • 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 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: To 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 pretzel, sourdough

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