It’s Oktoberfest! Which is funny to me because it’s actually September, but I’m not one to argue with soft German pretzels, sausage, and beer. Okay, and truth is, it’s not September anymore.
Anyway, I’ve never been to Munich, where Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival – is held, but one day I’d like to because I have a huge soft (pretzel) shaped spot in my heart for Bavarian food. I especially like pretzels and weisswurst, which, in Germany, go together like bacon and eggs.
Since we don’t have plans to be in Germany anytime soon (thanks covid ☹) we celebrated Oktoberfest at home this year, with homemade pretzels and weisswurst (not pictured). Making pretzels is no quick endeavor with that overnight rise but it’s totally worth it!
The truth is: making pretzels is dead easy.
Unlike some yeast doughs, this one comes together cleanly and smoothy, and rolls out like a charm. There’s beer in the dough too, which makes it doubly perfect for all of your Oktoberfest needs. The hardest part was not eating all of the pretzels in one go. Mike and I shared one, hot and fresh from the oven, then decided to go on a walk so we would be far away from temptation.
But then I kind of sabotaged us by popping an extra one into a paper bag and putting it into my giant cardigan sweater pocket. Let me tell you, the smell of a fresh pretzel in your pocket will drive you crazy, in a good way. Thankfully, we were able to put ourselves out of our pretzel craving torture, by eating the pretzel, of course. There was something especially celebratory and fall-ish, walking around sharing a soft pretzel in that crisp autumn air.
What are pretzels?
Pretzels are a traditional German bread shaped into a pretzel knot made from a long loop of dough that’s twisted back onto itself. All pretzels are given a lye/alkaline water bath that gives pretzels their signature shiny chewy crust and undeniable pretzel flavor. Pretzels come in hard (snacking pretzels) and soft, like these ones and the ones you find at the mall at Auntie Anne’s.
What makes a pretzel a pretzel?
While there are many pretzel shaped foods out there (I’m looking at you tiny pretzel-shaped Danish butter cookies), what makes a pretzel a pretzel is the alkaline bath the unbaked pretzel takes before it is baked.
Soft pretzel ingredients
If you’ve made bread before, you can make pretzels! The dough is made out of the same ingredients, plus a little special addition: beer. For these pretzels, you’ll need: instant yeast, water, brown sugar, bread flour, beer, butter, salt, baking soda, and an egg yolk. Easy peasy. I bet you have everything in your pantry right now. The beer adds an extra malty flavor, but if you don’t want to use it, just substitute water.
How to make soft pretzels
This is a two day recipe – like sourdough, the pretzel dough hangs out and proofs in the fridge overnight so it develops some really nice flavors. If you can’t wait overnight, start your dough really, really in the morning, it’ll need to proof for 8 hours.
- Activate the yeast: Stir together the yeast and sugar with warm water in your mixing bowl.
- Make your pretzel dough: Add the beer, butter, flour, and salt and knead until everything comes together into a smooth elastic dough.
- Rest. Move the dough to a large, lightly greased bowl, cover and let proof in the fridge for 8-24 hours.
- Shape: Divide the dough into 8 and shape into pretzels (see below).
- Proof. Let the pretzels double in size.
- Baked baking soda bath: In a large sauce pan, very carefully heat up the baked baking soda with water.
- Dip. Carefully dip the pretzels in the baking soda bath shake off the excess and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush with an egg yolk wash and sprinkle with salt.
- Bake. Bake until beautifully brown and golden. Brush with butter if you want some extra shine and that delicious buttery flavor.
How to shape soft pretzels
Shaping soft pretzels seems complicated, but if you do it step-by-step it’s easier than pie!
- Divide the dough up evenly, making sure to keep the dough you’re not working with covered so it doesn’t dry out
- Roll each piece of dough out into a log
- Roll each log out into a rope about 12-16 inches long, let it rest for a short bit, then roll it out into a rope 24-28 inches long
- Put the dough rope into a U-shape with the ends pointing up. Cross the ends once or twice, then bring them down towards the bottom of the U at 4 and 8 o’clock. Press down lightly. That’s it!
What is baked baking soda?
Traditional pretzels are dipped in a lye solution to help their skin firm up and give them their pretzel flavor, but since lye is almost impossible to get, the next best thing is baking soda that you bake. Baking baking soda in a low oven changes the alkaline levels, will makes it possible to get a much better dark, burnished pretzel-y crust.
To bake baking soda: spread out 1/4 cup baking soda on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Bake the baking soda for 1 hour in a 250°F oven. Let it cool completely before using. Use gloves when handling the baked baking soda.
Do I have to do the baking soda bath?
If the baking soda bath step makes you nervous, you can skip it and just brush your pretzels with a baking soda wash. The baking soda bath will be even better if you used the baked baking soda mentioned above. The pretzels won’t taste as “pretzel-y” but they will still be good.
To make the baking soda wash: mix together 1/4 cup warm water with 1 teaspoon baked baking soda – it will foam up. Stir until dissolved. Throughly brush the pretzels with the soda wash, twice, then let dry slightly. Brush on the egg yolk wash, sprinkle on the salt, and bake.
Tips for the best soft pretzels
- use a mixer or knead by hand, it’s up to you
- mini pretzels are cute and you can eat more than one!
- brush/dip the hot pretzels in melted butter for that Auntie Anne’s finish
- always reheat your pretzels before eating for the ultimate pretzel experience: 5 minute in a 350° oven
- you can freeze them, just toast them in 350° oven for 10-15 min or until heated through
- make some beer cheese for dipping (see below for recipe)
- try some other toppings other than salt: everything bagel spice, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, even cinnamon sugar
- melt some cheese on top for a cheesy pretzel
I hope you guys make these! It’s my absolute favorite German pretzel recipe and reminds me of all the pretzels I ate while we were in Berlin a couple of years ago. Super traditional with just the right amount of pretzel-y flavor, soft and pillowy in some parts and denser and chewier in others. They’re the perfect combination of soft, chewy, and crisp.
Beer Cheese Recipe
To create the ultimate Oktoberfest snack, make sure to make some beer cheese for dipping:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup milk
2/3 cups beer, IPA, lager, or pilsner
1 tsp dijon
1 tsp Worcestershire
2 cups shredded cheddar
1 cup shredded gruyere
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When warm, stir in the flour, onion powder, and garlic powder. Cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes.
- Slowly drip in the milk while whisking, to ensure the mix is smooth.
- Slowly whisk in the beer.
- Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and bubbles.
- Reduce the heat to low and stir in the dijon, Worcestershire, cheddar, and gruyere, until everything is smooth and melty.
- Enjoy with freshly baked pretzels!
pretzels and cheese and mustard and weisswurst,
Soft Pretzel Recipe
Traditional soft German pretzels for all your Oktoberfest needs (kneads!)
- 2.25 tsp active dry yeast 7g (1 standard packet)
- 1/2 cup warm water ~100º-115ºF
- 1 tbsp tightly packed dark brown sugar 12.5g
- 1/2 cup pilsner beer or lager/beer of choice
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter room temp
- 3.25 cups bread flour 420g
- 2 tsp fine sea salt 12g
- 1/4 cup baked baking soda see notes
- 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp water
- coarse salt to finish
Activate your yeast: Stir together water, yeast and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer, then let stand for 5-7 minutes. The mixture should be foamy and bubbly.
Add the beer, butter, flour, and salt then knead using the dough hook on low speed until combined. Continue to knead on medium low until your dough is smooth and elastic, 5-7 minutes. The dough should be slightly tacky but not at all sticky. Place dough in a lightly greased large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in the fridge for 8-24 hours.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Turn the dough out on an unfloured work surface. For the next few steps, always keep the dough covered and work with 1 portion at a time.
Punch down to deflate and cut into 8 equal portions. Roll out each portion one at a time into into 12-16 inch long ropes by rolling with light pressure against the work surface with your palms from the center outwards. Keep the center thicker than the ends.
Go back to the first rope of dough and continue to roll each log out into 24-28 inch ropes.
Form the pretzels: position the rope into a U with the ends pointing away from you. Cross the ends over twice starting about three inches from the tips, then bring the ends down towards yourself and press into the U at 4 and 8 o’clock. Place the pretzels on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart, as you form them.
Let rise in a warm spot, until doubled (about 30 minutes) or in the refrigerator (up to 8 hours). Arrange the racks in your oven: one in the upper third and one in the lower third. Preheat to 500°F.
Add about 3 inches of hot tap water to a large pan or pot, then place over high heat to just below a boil. Add the baking soda and stir until dissolved, being careful not to splash it on yourself. Soak each pretzel one at a time into the baking soda water for 20 seconds, using a spoon to carefully spoon the water over the top.
Once each pretzel has been dipped, brush with an egg wash, top with coarse sea salt, and immediately bake until the pretzels are deep mahogany, 8-12 minutes, rotating the pans half way through, front to back, top to bottom. Cool slightly and enjoy!
Inspired by Andrea Slonecker.
Soft Pretzel Recipe
Amount Per Serving (1 pretzel)
Calories from Fat 36
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 2.1g13%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.