Soft and Chewy Sourdough Pretzels

I have a soft spot for pretzels. I don’t know how it started; it’s not like we ate pretzels that often growing up. But every time I see pretzels on a menu there’s a good chance I’ll order them; and if I attend a baseball game I’m more likely to get a pretzel than a hot dog. What can I say? I have a weakness for warm, chewy carbs.

Making sourdough pretzels has been on my to-do list for awhile; and after quite a few batches I’ve finally come up with a version that I’m pretty pleased with. For awhile I was tinkering with an authentic pretzel recipe, which produces a more chewy and dense product. Call me inauthentic, but I like my pretzels a bit softer — so the recipe here reflects that. If you prefer a denser pretzel, you can use the ingredients below but skip the bulk rise — divide right after mixing, let the dough rest for 45 minutes, shape the pretzels, and refrigerate overnight. Then proceed with baking as directed below.

One final thing — I would love to try making lye-dipped pretzels because I hear it’s the bee’s knees, but I can’t find a reasonably priced source for food grade lye in Toronto (ordering online will cost me about $70). One day I’ll find a way to do it, but for now baked baking soda is my dip of choice. Just spread out a box of baking soda on a baking sheet at bake at 250F for an hour, then store in an airtight container to use whenever your pretzel cravings hit.

Soft and Chewy Sourdough Pretzels

Makes 8 | Adapted from various sources, including Tasting Table and The Fresh Loaf

For the dough:

  • 175g Pilsner-style beer (room temperature is fine)
  • 120g mature sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 14g barley malt syrup (or honey)
  • 30g lard (or softened butter)
  • 360g flour (I use half bread, half all purpose)
  • 8g sea salt

To finish:

  • 1/4 c baked baking soda
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 Tbsp milk/water (for egg wash)
  • Pretzel salt / flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Method

Day 1:

  1. Combine the beer, starter, barley malt syrup, and lard in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the liquid mixture and stir to combine with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Knead, by hand or with the dough hook in a stand mixer, until the dough is smooth and the gluten is well developed (about 10 minutes with a mixer, longer if by hand). The dough is fairly stiff and should be slightly tacky, but not sticky.
  3. Transfer the dough to an clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, folding once an hour. Refrigerate overnight (or for at least 8 hours).

Day 2:

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a rack in the center and oil a large sheet pan.
  2. On a clean work surface, divide and round the dough into 8 equal portions, about 85g each.
  3. To shape, flatten a round into a rough rectangle about 3″ x 5″. Starting from a long edge, roll the rectangle up into a tight log and pinch to seal the seam. Roll the log out to about 12 inches and set aside to relax while you repeat the process with the remaining rounds.
  4. Once all the rounds have been initially rolled out, return to the first log and continue rolling it out into a rope roughly 26 inches long, tapering the ends slightly. If you’re having trouble getting enough traction, lightly mist your work surface with water (you don’t want to use flour, which will actually make it harder to roll out the dough).
  5. Form the rope into a “U” shape. Holding the ends, twist together twice about 3-inches from the ends, then fold the ends down and press them into the “U” at about 4 and 8 o’clock. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
  6. When all the pretzels are formed, fill a large pot with 8 cups of water (I like to use the leftovers from the can of beer used to make the dough, plus enough water to equal 8 cups). Stir in the baked baking soda, then bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the baking soda is dissolved.
  7. Once the liquid is simmering, turn the heat down to medium to maintain a gentle simmer. Use a slotted spoon to dip the pretzels in one or two at a time for about 20 seconds each. Remove the dipped pretzels from the liquid, drain, and return to the baking sheet, spacing at least an inch apart.
  8. Brush the pretzels with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, make about a 1-inch long slash at the thickest part of each pretzel (the bottom of the “U”).
  9. Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, or until pretzels are well browned. Transfer pretzels to a cooling rack for about 10 minutes before serving. Pretzels taste best within an hour of baking, but leftovers can be wrapped tightly with plastic and frozen for up to a month. Reheat for about 10 minutes in a 350F oven.