Sourdough,  Sourdough Breads

Sourdough Soft Pretzels

We’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos and old television over the past month and a half. And the best thing to snack on while watching TV are soft pretzels. So when my sister’s friend asked if I knew any soft pretzel recipes I knew I had figure this out. I didn’t want to use any strange flours because of the shortages going on now. So I wanted to make sure any recipe I shared used All-Purpose flour. Also, with yeast being hard to come by I wanted to make these pretzels with sourdough.

At first I wanted to get a really intense rise off the sourdough culture so I played with recipes that had an over night rise. But I found that the second rise made the dough too soft to work with and would break during shaping. The recipes were more complicated then I wanted to deal with. So I watched some videos of yeast pretzels and looked at what kind of dough they were working with. It was a stiff dough that was slightly tacky so that it would hold its shape as you rolled it and then stick together after shaping it. So I went back to the kitchen and started to play.

The second dough was perfect in texture and how it held together but the dough shrank back in size losing some of the iconic shape. Also, it was too salty for a salt based topping and slightly too salty for a sugar coat. Back to the drawing board I go.

Third times the charm! I dropped the amount of salt and tweaked the process a little. So I’m sitting here in social distancing quarantine, eating soft pretzels missing Philly. I miss playing Roller Derby with Philly Roller Derby, I miss brunch and weird cocktails at a hole in the wall bars, and I miss all the weird events and markets that happen on a warm Saturday. Hell, I almost miss a City Wide Special.

If you haven’t already made a sourdough starter, check out my tutorial.

Recipe Notes

Baking Soda Vs. Caustic Soda

Traditionally, in Germany, soft pretzels are dipped in Caustic Soda which is food-grade lye. This creates a dark brown crust. The lye is cooked off when you bake the pretzels BUT you need to use protective gloves when you use this. Follow any and all safety procedures listed on the containers. For this, you would use 1 liter (about 4.5 cups of ) of water in a bowl and add 30g Caustic Soda. Dip chilled shaped pretzels in the soda water mixture for 30 seconds making sure both sides are submerged. To dispose, dump in the toilet.

Using baking soda is much easier! AND the kids can be involved. In a wok, large skillet with high walls, or stockpot bring about 3 inches of water to a boil and mix with 1/2 cup of baking soda. You can also add 3/4 cup of medium to dark beer for an added flavor and color (then you have half a beer to drink while parboiling the sourdough pretzels). Without overcrowding the skillet, dip up to 3 shaped and chilled pretzels into the simmering water.

Beer Note

A Medium or Dark beer would be better in this. The beer adds color and some flavor during the poaching process. An IPA or light beer will add flavor but it will not add too much color. Overall, the best beer to use is the beer in your house. In today’s batch, I used an IPA that was covered in dust from a party sometime in the summer. Also, beer will react with the baking soda and foam as you cook, feel free to skim that off.

Please do not waste the other half of the beer. Enjoy it!


Shaping a pretzel can be as complicated or as simple as you make it. Some people can do this twist in the air and it is perfect every time. I cannot do that. Luckily, there is a simple way to do this. Using the palm of your hands and even pressure, roll a portion of dough into a long log about 24 inches. Then, pull the ends together and twist. Finally, pull the twist down over the loop.

Size does matter, you want to shape these bigger then you think you need to. Rolling the dough out to 24 inches will yield about a 6 inch pretzel. The longer log you make, the bigger pretzel you will make! Also, the dough will shrink as it rests meaning that your pretzel will get smaller between shaping and baking.

If your dough is too soft, you won’t be able to shape these easily. Chilling the dough for a half hour will help. Additionally, if you’re dough is over-proofed, it will be hard to shape, add additional flour and gently knead it to a stiff and softball. Be sure to let the dough rest for 15 minutes before continuing.


After pretzels take a dip in the beer water, lightly score the thickets parts of the pretzel, this will help them rise. To score, take a sharp knife, razor, or Bread Lame across the thickest part(s) of the dough. Do not cut too deep, it only needs to be about 1/4 inch deep and about 1.5-2 inches long.

Sourdough Soft Pretzels

Yield: 12 Pretzels
Active Time: 1 hour
Inactive Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Bake Time: 18 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 38 minutes

  • 75 g All-purpose Flour (about 2/3 cups)
  • 75 g water (about 2 oz)
  • 40 g sourdough (About 1/3 cup)
The Dough
  • 685 g All Purpose flour (about 5 to 5 1/2 cup)
  • 335 g water (about 1 1/3 cup )
  • 15 g salt (2.5 teaspoons)
  • 75 g unsalted butter (1/4 cup/4 Tablespoons/half of a stick)
  • 1-2 quarts (2 liters) water
  • 1/3 cup (2.5 oz, 70 g) baking soda
  • 3/4 cup of beer
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 1 tablespoon water
Toppings for Garnish
  • Salt and Seeds
  • Coarse Sea Salt
  • Everything but the bagel seasoning
  • Sugar and Cinnamon – need 2 Tablespoons melted butter
Instructions– Making the dough
  1. Create the levain by mixing together flour, water, and sourdough starter. Place in a warm place until bubbly.
  2. Start the dough by mixing together flour, water, and salt and let sit for 45 minutes in a large bowl covered in a damp tea towel.
  3. After 45 minutes add the levain to the dough and mix it in completely. Next, room temperature butter to dough and mix well; 4-5 minutes in a mixer, 8-10 minutes by hand. Dough should be solid, dry (not sticky), and smooth.
  4. Let rest 60 minutes in a warm, draft-free place covered in a tea towel.
  5. Divide dough into 12 equal balls. Keep balls covered until you go to shape them. To shape, roll balls into logs, and twist ends together and fold over on itself. Put shaped pretzels on small squares of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and let proof. Covered in a damp tea towel.
  6. After 90 minutes, turn the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a stockpot, bring water, beer, and baking soda to a boil. Have parchment paper ready to line cookie sheets (or line a new sheet)
  7. Once the oven is heated and water is hot, place pretzel (on its parchment square) in the water for 30 seconds before returning it to your cookie sheet. The parchment should fall off in the water*.
  8. Whip egg and water together to create an eggwash for pretzels. This will help achieve a golden brown color. Sprinkle with salt or seasoning, leave plain for cinnamon sugar.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating at halfway point.
  10. Cool on wire rack.
  11. For cinnamon sugar coat- When warm enough to handle, Mix together cinnamon sugar and melt 2 tablespoons butter. Glaze pretzels with melted butter and toss with cinnamon sugar.

*Its OK if the parchment doesn’t fall off, having it on parchment squares is to help get the pretzels into the water without messing up their shape.

For more recipes, make sure to check out my recipe index.

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