Bavarian Pretzels


These are magnificent soft pretzels with a gorgeous, beautifully browned, crusty exterior, bejeweled with crystals of salt.

Prep Time:
45 mins
Cook Time:
15 mins
Additional Time:
10 hrs 50 mins
Total Time:
11 hrs 50 mins
8 pretzels

If you've researching making "real" Bavarian pretzels online, the one thing that every single article and blog post has in common is the insistence that you must, you have to, use a lye dip. And the one thing that every single person who reads this fun fact has in common is not having any lye around. Oh sure, a few folks who make their own soap might have some, but if you make your own soap, you're probably too busy to make pretzels anyway, like those two guys in the movie, who were really (Spoiler Alert!) the same guy.

Anyway, the good news is that we can get very close to the same effect using baking soda, as long as we bake it first, which is what raises the PH level closer to what we need. What happens is that this highly alkaline solution that we dip our dough in denatures the surface, which gives our pretzels their signature, dark brown appearance, unique flavor, and chewiness. Otherwise, the exact same dough will simply produce attractively knotted bread.

Speaking of highly alkaline solutions, I used a high ratio of baking soda to hot water, which means it might be a challenge to get it all mixed in. You can try using boiling water, which will make things easier, but if you make it way ahead of time, and let it sit, it might start to crystalize. So, you can bake the baking soda ahead of time, but I'd wait until you're close to dipping time before you mix the solution. Other than that, this is a fairly easy recipe and simple procedure, and whether you enjoy these with a beer for Oktoberfest, or not, I really hope you give them a try soon. Enjoy!

Bavarian pretzels
Chef John


For the Pretzels:

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

  • ½ cup warm water

  • ½ teaspoon active dry yeast

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

  • ½ cup lager-style beer

  • 3 ⅓ cups bread flour

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon butter, softened

  • nonstick cooking spray

  • 1 pinch flaked sea salt, or to taste

For the Baking Soda Bath:

  • cup baking soda

  • 2 ½ cups hot water


  1. Mix brown sugar and warm water until dissolved. Sprinkle yeast over top and let sit for 10 minutes.

  2. Add melted butter and beer to the yeast mixture and whisk until combined. Add bread flour and salt. Mix and then knead with your hands or an electric mixer for a few minutes until a dough ball forms.

  3. Grease a bowl with 1 teaspoon butter. Place dough in the bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about 8 hours, or overnight.

  4. Punch down the dough and knead until a smooth ball of dough is formed, about 1 minute. Place back in the bowl, cover, and let rise until dough has almost doubled in size, 2 to 3 more hours.

  5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Place baking soda in an oven-safe dish.

  6. Place baking soda in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Let cool, and then whisk into a shallow bowl of 2 1/2 cups hot water until dissolved. Mixture can be strained to remove any dissolved pieces. Reserve until needed.

  7. Punch down the dough and divide into 8 equal portions. Roll each one into a ball; let sit for 5 minutes.

  8. To form a pretzel, roll a dough ball into a sausage shape, and then press into a small rectangle with your fingers. Fold the outside third of the dough into the center, and press flat with your fingertips, and then repeat with the edge closest to you.

  9. Roll the dough into a rope 15 to 18 inches long, with the center (belly) of the rope being twice as thick as the ends. Cross the ends once or twice and fold them back over the pretzel so the ends are just past the belly. Repeat to form remaining pretzels.

  10. Put on some thin, food-safe gloves and transfer a pretzel to the baking soda bath; soak for 20 to 30 seconds, gently splashing liquid over the top of the pretzel to coat. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet that's been greased with cooking spray. Sprinkle the still-damp pretzel with large-grain sea salt. Repeat with remaining pretzels and let rise for 30 minutes.

  11. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F (245 degrees C).

  12. Use a razor or sharp knife to make a slash across the "belly" of each pretzel. Smaller cuts can also be made on other sides of the pretzel if desired.

  13. Bake in the preheated oven until well browned, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.


Chef's Notes:

You can use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour.

Make sure for the baking soda bath that your hot water is at 135 degrees F (57 degrees C).

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

224 Calories
4g Fat
39g Carbs
6g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 8
Calories 224
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 4g 5%
Saturated Fat 2g 12%
Cholesterol 9mg 3%
Sodium 3037mg 132%
Total Carbohydrate 39g 14%
Dietary Fiber 1g 5%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 6g
Calcium 13mg 1%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 64mg 1%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

** Nutrient information is not available for all ingredients. Amount is based on available nutrient data.

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a medically restrictive diet, please consult your doctor or registered dietitian before preparing this recipe for personal consumption.

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