How to make soft pretzels at home, according to Erin Jeanne McDowell

Soft pretzels are the perfect weekend baking project

Published October 10, 2022 5:00PM (EDT)


This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

I love to make homemade pretzels, because they are at their absolute peak when they are warm and fresh from the oven. Classic pretzels are made with the help of food-grade lye, which is responsible for a pretzel's characteristic chew and deeply brown exterior. But food grade lye is tricky to use — read: actually dangerous — if handled improperly. My friend Erin Clarkson of Cloudy Kitchen finally produced a beautiful pretzel without lye, and it inspired me to try, too. This combination of finishes emulates lye beautifully — a soak in baking soda water, which performs a similar reaction to the lye on the surface of the dough, and egg wash — and helps get the dough to the level of brown I think they deserve. — Erin Jeanne McDowell

Watch this recipe

Soft Pretzels
12 pretzels, 8 sandwich buns, or 90 pretzel nuggets
Prep Time
3 hours
Cook Time
40 minutes


Pretzel Dough

  • 660 grams / 5 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 25 grams / 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 9 grams / 1 tablespoon instant dry yeast
  • 12 grams / 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 56 grams / 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 340 grams / 1 1/2 cups warm water (around 110°F/45°C)


  • 18 cups / 4.25 kg water
  • 160 grams / 2/3 cup baking soda
  • Egg wash, as needed for finishing
  • Coarse or flaky salt, for finishing



  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, mix the flour, sugar, yeast and salt to combine, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  2. Add the butter and water and mix on low speed until the dough comes together, 3 minutes. Raise the speed to medium and continue to mix until the dough is very smooth, 4 minutes more.
  3. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until noticeably puffy and nearly double in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Divide the dough (keep any dough you're not working with covered to prevent drying out). To make pretzels:Divide the dough into 12 even pieces (about 85g each). To make sandwich buns: Divide the dough into 8 even pieces (about 130g each). To make pretzel nuggets: Divide the dough into 6 even pieces (about 175g each — each piece will get rolled into a log and you'll cut the bite-size nuggets from there).
  5. Shape the dough. Line one baking sheet (rolls) or two baking sheets (pretzels/nuggets) with parchment paper as each piece is shaped, transfer to the prepared baking sheet. To shape pretzels: Working with one piece of dough at a time, press into a slightly oblong in shape, just by pushing it flat with your fingers. Starting at the top of the dough (the edge farthest away from you), fold one-third of the piece of dough over onto itself. Press firmly with your fingertips or with the heel of your hand to "seal." Continue to fold the dough over and press to seal until it has formed a log shape. Starting with very light pressure in the center of the dough, roll the dough between your hands and the work surface, elongating the log. Roll until the dough into a log, about 20 in/50 cm long. To shape the pretzel, hold the two ends in your hands. Twist the strands around each other once (still holding the ends), then again, to make two twists in the dough. At this point, lift the rounded part of the dough at the top and bring it down below the two twists. Bring the ends through the round and press down with your fingers to seal the pretzel. To shape sandwich buns: Working with one piece of dough at a time, cup your hand over a piece of dough and roll it in a circular motion on the work surface to form it into a tight round. To shape pretzel nuggets: Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough into a log about 1 inch in diameter (about 15 in/38 cm long). Cut the dough into 1-inch-long (2 1/2 cm) pieces, and set aside on your work surface, covered with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel.
  6. Cover the shaped pretzels with greased plastic wrap and let rise until noticeably puffy, 30 to 45 minutes.
  7. Make the soaking mixture: Bring the water to a simmer in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, stir in the baking soda. Reduce heat to low. Working in batches, add the shaped pretzels to the water and let soak for about 1 minute, using a slotted spoon or spider to gently flip the dough halfway through soaking.
  8. Remove the soaked pretzels and return to the parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving at least 1/2 in/1 cm all around each piece. Heat the oven to 425°F/220°C with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
  9. Egg wash the pretzels and sprinkle with coarse or flaky salt. Bake, rotating the pans half way through baking, until deeply golden brown and the interior temperature is at least 195°F/90°C in the thickest part. Cool at least 10 minutes before serving. For pretzels:12-15 minutes. For sandwich buns: 18-22 minutes. For nuggets: 10-12 minutes.
  10. Variation: Pretzel Wrapped Dog or Sausage — In step 4, divide the dough into 10 even pieces (about 105 g each). To shape, work with one piece of dough at a time. Press into a slightly oblong in shape, just by pushing it flat with your fingers. Starting at the top of the dough (the edge farthest away from you), fold one third of the piece of dough over onto itself. Press firmly with your fingertips or with the heel of your hand to "seal." Place a hot dog or fully cooked, cooled sausage on top of the seal you just made, then fold the remaining dough over the meat, pressing firmly to seal. Transfer to a baking sheet with the seam side down. Proceed as directed in step 6-8 to proof, soak, and egg wash. Bake for 17-20 minutes. Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel — Shape as classic pretzels (I still like to use a little salt, but use a significantly less). In a medium bowl, mix together 198 g / 1 cup granulated sugar and 13 g / 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon. After soaking and egg washing, lightly sprinkle each pretzel with cinnamon sugar (you should have plenty left over). Bake as classic pretzels. While the pretzels bake, melt 170 g / 12 tablespoons unsalted butter. While they are still warm, brush each generously with melted butter  and toss in the cinnamon sugar to coat. Serve warm. Everything Pretzels — Shape as classic pretzels. After dipping and brushing with egg wash in step 9, top each generously with Everything Topping before baking.
  11. Make ahead and storage: Pretzels are best in the first 24 hours after baking. Store leftover rolls tightly wrapped at room temperature for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. 
  12. LEVEL UP: Stuffed Pretzels: Prepare the pretzels as if you're making sandwich buns, but after you shape the round, punch the dough down to flatten it and make it larger. Proof, soak, egg wash, and salt as directed in steps 6-8, then transfer to parchment lined baking sheets with at least 2 inch/5 cm between each pretzel. If the center of the pretzel is too puffy at this stage, use the greased base of a 1/4 cup measuring cup to press down the center and make room for the filling. Pile about 2-4 tablespoons of your favorite toppings in the center, and top each pretzel with about 25 g / 1/4 packed cup, shredded cheese of your choice. Bake until the cheese is melted and browned and the pretzel is deeply golden brown, 22-25 minutes. The possibilities are endless, but here's some ideas to get you started: Caramelized Onion Pretzel — Spread 10 g / 2 teaspoons whole grain mustard around the center of the pretzel, then top with 36 g / 3 tablespoons caramelized onions and 25 g / 1/4 packed cup shredded Gruyere cheese. Pepperoni Pizza Pretzel — Spread 15 g / 1 tablespoon tomato sauce around the center of the pretzel, then top with 12-17 g/ 6-8 slices of pepperoni, and 25 g / 1/4 packed cup shredded mozzarella cheese.PB S'mores Pretzel — Spread 18 g / 1 tablespoon peanut butter over the center of the pretzel. Place 28 g / 1 ounce of coarsely chopped dark or milk chocolate into the center on the pretzel. Use scissors to cut 20 g / 2 jumbo marshmallows in half, and place on top. Finish with 7 g / 1 tablespoon coarse graham cracker crumbs.


By Erin Jeanne McDowell

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Baking Bread Erin Jeanne Mcdowell Food Food52 How-to Pretzel Recipe Snacks