Pretzel dough 9 ways, part 1: minimum effort, maximum fun!

Have you noticed that the classic street-vendor soft pretzel has made its way out of the stone canyons of New York City and Philadelphia and Chicago, and into mainstream Fast Food Nation?

Try Wendy’s pretzel buns. And Little Caesars’ pretzel crust pizza. To say nothing of 7-11’s array of pretzel sandwiches. Yes, pretzels have come a long way since your only chance to get them was from a cart with a charcoal-fired brazier on 47th Street.

Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels is one of the most popular recipes on our site. And we expect our newly introduced Soft Buttery Pretzel Mix to be a slam-dunk winner, as well.

Let’s talk about the mix, OK? While I’m a from-scratch baker, I confess to keeping a stash of King Arthur Flour mixes in my cupboard, as well. They’re handy when you want to make something fresh and yummy but don’t have enough time – or all the ingredients you need.

So when I was tasked with taking our new pretzel mix and seeing what else I could make with it (besides the traditional soft pretzel), I took the bait – and after a couple of days of baking, I’m hooked.

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You can make pretzels – of course. Soft yet dense and chewy pretzels with their signature satiny, deep-brown crust and sprinkle of coarse salt. Don’t forget the mustard.

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Or take that same dough and make something simpler: pretzel rolls.

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Or onion rolls.

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Or soft, buttery garlic knots.

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It all starts with our new pretzel mix. Talk about wicked simple – all you have to come up with is 2 tablespoons butter and some water; there’s a packet of yeast right in the box.

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Mix the dough, knead it, and let it rise for 30 minutes. Yup, just 30 minutes. Pretty easy so far, right?

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Shape 8 big pretzels – like this. Remember to squeeze those ends onto the body of the pretzel, then flip it over.

Let the shaped pretzels rest for 15  minutes, while you heat 6 cups water, 2 tablespoons baking soda, and 1 tablespoon table salt in a large saucepan or electric frying pan.

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Simmer the pretzels for 60 seconds on each side. I guess I could have fit four at once into this pan, eh?

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Plop the pretzels onto a baking sheet, and sprinkle with coarse salt (included in the mix).

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Bake for 20 minutes. Enjoy hot pretzels. Or room-temperature pretzels; their texture remains just as compelling as they cool down.

Tip: Don’t skip the water bath. It’s crucial for both texture and color.

So, that’s what the instructions on the box cover. But, as you regularly read on your Facebook feed, “What happens next will astound you.”

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Pretzel sandwich buns? We can do that. Divide the dough into 6 to 8 pieces (depending on how large you want your buns; I prefer the smaller size, which results in a palm-sized bun).

Shape into flattened balls. Simmer 20 to 30 seconds on each side. Finish as you would the pretzels, baking for 18 to 20 minutes.

Bring on the grilled burgers. Or ham and cheese. Or how about good old-fashioned sloppy joes?

Tip: The sturdy texture of these buns makes them perfect for overstuffed sandwiches and “messy” fillings of all kinds. They won’t crumble or split under the weight of even a double cheeseburger with all the fixings.

Next up: onion rolls.

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Divide the dough in half, and pat each half into an 8″ x 12″ rectangle. Spread each piece with about 1/4 cup chopped onion or shallot, pressing it into the dough.

Roll the dough into logs the short way, as you would for cinnamon rolls. Cut each log into six rolls. Gently flatten them.

You know the drill after that: let the rolls rest for 15 minutes, simmer 30 seconds on each side, top with salt, bake for 20 minutes.

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Now that’s a nice-looking roll! And the onion inside adds wonderful flavor.

Tip: You might think the chopped onion would fall out during the rolls’ trip through the water bath. But don’t worry; that doesn’t happen.

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Soft, buttery garlic knots – gotta love ’em.

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These require that you dredge up your long-dormant knot-tying skills. Are you ready?

First, divide the dough into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a 13″ rope.

Start with a simple granny knot (I think that’s what it’s called). Then tuck those hanging ends into the center, and squeeze them together.

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Simmer for 20 to 30 seconds on each side, then bake for about 15 minutes; you want these knots to be a bit softer than pretzels.

I try an experiment: what happens if you don’t put the knots through the water bath?

The four on the left go through the bath; two of the four on the right I brush with water from the water bath; two I leave naked.

As you can see, the ones that go through the bath have much better color than those that don’t.

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Still, they all taste wonderful. Particularly after their “bath” in garlic butter: 4 tablespoons melted butter and as much chopped garlic as you like.

Tip: Don’t be conservative with the garlic butter; you want to really soak the knots. This is no time to count fat grams – enjoy!

Some key points to remember:

•The oven temperature for both pretzels and rolls is 400°F.
•Bring the water bath to a medium (but not rolling) boil; when you add your pretzels, it’ll calm down to a simmer.
•Sprinkle the salt onto whatever you’re making as soon as you lift it out of the water bath and put it onto the pan. If you wait for your knots or rolls or pretzels to dry off, the salt won’t stick.
•If you’re worried about appearance, these treats are best enjoyed the same day you make them. When stored overnight under wraps, the salt tends to melt and disappear. They’ll still taste good; they just won’t show that pretty white-salt coating.

Note: While I use our pretzel mix for all of the treats pictured here, you can also start with our Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels recipe. Yields will be different, but the techniques are all the same. Enjoy!

Rolls are great but hey, we’ve only just begun. This dough also makes delicious pigs (and cheese) in a blanket; crazy-good cheddar and garlic bread; chili/cumin dipping sticks with a creamy jalapeño popper dip; pretzel-crust pizza… and something chocolate (of course) for dessert. See Pretzel Dough 9 Ways, part 2.

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Bonus for Valentine’s Day! Shape pretzel mix into hearts instead of pretzels. Proceed as directed for basic pretzels, above.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Carolyn

    Love when you tease us for what’s to come tomorrow! Something to look forward to! Thank you for all of the ideas on how to transform pretzel dough. I love when you take something relatively basic and make it into so much more – please keep these kinds of posts coming!

    A lye bath is the traditional method for boiling pretzels. I recently read a long ago published article (in the NY Times, I think) about baking baking soda to get a similar effect.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Carolyn, the baking soda bath does a really decent job – and most people shy away from using lye around their food (for good reason – it can be tricky). Glad you enjoyed the post – tune in tomorrow! PJH

  2. Julie Schaeffer

    I make sourdough pretzels all the time from my KA starter. Do you think I can use some of these recipes with my starter? Also, I keep looking for coarse pretzel salt. Is it just in your box mix, or is it available for sale? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We do sell coarse pretzel salt here: http://bit.ly/1CetPAk

      If you’d like to use your sourdough, use one cup of starter and remove 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour from the recipe. You may to do a bit of adjusting to get the perfect consistency. Happy baking! Laurie!KAF

    2. CathyGA

      I actually know something! I’m new at baking but I do know that Kosher Salt is the course type and really inexpensive. That is a word we don’t hear much any more.

      Good luck. I’m going to make the sourdough wheat starter and I am glad to hear you can use other breads to make the pretzel buns!
      Thanks

    3. Chris Smith

      I use coarse sea salt when I make pretzels. Also, there are a couple of great pretzel bite and pretzel wrapped mini hot dog recipes on the KA site that I have used extensively to rave reviews.

  3. Bill_Lundy

    Thank you for posting these great images. It reminded me I haven’t made pretzels for a while, and that I should dust off my recipe and make some. Could you please advise how one would use your recipe with a bath involving sodium hydroxide? Fortunately, I am able to access some NaOH (USP) (i.e., food-grade) and have in past made pretzels by dissolving some in cold water to make a 3.5% solution which is then heated to make the water bath. I have one recipe that does this, and it gives the fabulous mahogany burnish for which traditional pretzels are known. I prefer your recipe’s ingredients and ratios; though I hesitate to mess with your recipe without the benefit of your experience.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jeffrey Hamelman’s book Bread suggests using 1.3 ounces of lye (by weight) to each quart of cold water. Add the pellets to the cold water, and whisk or stir to dissolve, using only stainless steel equipment. Proof the pretzels at 75 for 20-30 minutes, or until 50% risen. Refrigerate to firm them up for 30 minutes, or chill overnight. Dip the pretzels in the solution for 5 seconds, then drain; place on lightly oiled parchment paper for the bake. Wear protective gloves and goggles, and dispose of the used lye by flushing it down the toilet. Hope this helps! Laurie@KAF

  4. Mom24_4evermom

    I agree with above, ^^, food porn for sure. However, I was wondering if there’s a basic recipe substitution for the dough you could recommend for those times these are calling your name and you just don’t have a mix on hand? Looks amazing. Whoops! So sorry, just saw the suggested recipe substitution. Didn’t read carefully enough.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Enjoy – who knew all the things a humble handful of pretzel dough could aspire to, eh? 🙂 PJH

  5. kgmom

    I love homemade pretzels. I would like to be able to make a big batch and keep some for later. Do you have a suggestion about how to prevent the “sweating” (think it’s moisture drawn out of pretzel by salt) that occurs after a day or 2? Could I leave the salt off, freeze and apply salt after thawing, maybe with a water wash? I appreciate your thoughts.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I think you could try this. You might also try refreshing them in the oven at 350 for 5 minutes or so to crisp them up (either after you experience the “sweating” or if you try to freeze the pretzels and then apply salt). Barb@KAF

    2. Deanna

      You can! Spritz them with water, lightly, sprinkle with salt, then warm in the oven. We have done this at my bakery with pretzels we made for an event. 🙂

  6. katieb684

    Your pictures and instructions are phenomenal! I can’t wait to try these out. Making pretzels has always confounded me. I am a very visual learner and, with these images, I think I will be able to produce some fabulous pretzels. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  7. EL

    This is interesting. When I was baking more, I used to make sourdough bagels using a pretzel recipe. The bagel recipe just didn’t taste like bagels while the pretzel dough did. Of course I dropped them into boiling/simmering water as that is what you are supposed to do with bagels.

    So I would guess that this mix should make great bagels as well, with the topping of your choice.

    Reply
  8. Shari Z

    I’m guessing this mix could be cut in half for empty nesters, right? It would take us several days to polish off 8 pretzels!

    Reply
    1. Colleen

      Shari, these are so good, 8 pretzels really don’t go very far at all! We are a family of 3 and 8 pretzels didn’t even last 6 hours.

    2. Victoria

      Colleen is correct; my family of three has no problem consuming this entire batch. The serving sizes do not reflect how many of these you will actually want to eat :).

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sadly no, Marge. The bread mix makes a far too wet of a dough for a pretzel. Hopefully we will have a GF version in the future. Jon@KAF

  9. Susan Moeller

    Wow! I’d forgotten how much I miss pretzels – in any shape! I recently had to return to. Gluten-free diet and breads are what I miss most! Especially a hot, soft pretzel! Any chance there could be a gluten free pretzel mix around the corner?? KA’s gluten free line ROCKS!!

    Reply
  10. Jeff Dalseg

    I noticed that when you use the mix you add butter but in the scratch made versions it is omitted. Could you add butter to the other recipies like the one for pretzel bites? Also I noticed the whole pretzel versions call for 2 tbs baking soda mixed with 6 cups water and put to a simmer and the bites call for 2 tbs in 1 cup of water and to let it cool, would it work to simmer the bites like the whole pretzel version or are they just too small?
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Yes, to both of the above, Jeff – with the caveat that the bites will only probably need to simmer for about 20 seconds. Make sure you have a slotted spoon or slotted spatula to get them out of the water quickly; if they simmer too long, then start to shred and fall apart. Good luck – PJH

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re working on a GF version, but it’s not ready quite yet… stay tuned. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  11. LaabsMath

    Thinking about making a bunch and freezing – What would happen if I froze them after the water bath but before the baking? Then sprinkle frozen with a tad bit of water, so the salt will stick and bake from frozen. Has this been done, and if so, what are the results?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t tried that here at King Arthur, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead and give it a try. The final pretzels may come out a bit more dense if you freeze before baking, and they may also lose a bit of the sheen that the water bath gives them. We prefer to freeze baked goods after they are fully baked, allow them to cool completely, and then store them in zip-lock bags. It’s easy to allow these items to thaw in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for a few hours and then pop into a warm oven for 5-10 minutes until they are nice and warm. You could give both methods a try and see which one gives you the texture you prefer. Happy pretzel making! Kye@KAF

  12. Moondust

    What great ideas! I would like to make the onion pretzel rolls but also spread the inside with a mustard sauce. Any thoughts about how to make a suitable mustard sauce for spreading?

    Another question I have is what kind of saucepan to use for the boiling. I tried a cast iron skillet and the seasoning was completely stripped by the baking soda! I tried in an aluminum skillet and the baking soda discolored it. I’m running out of pans I can try – maybe my old cheap enameled pot will have to do. Comments?

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I would try making a spread using a combination of your favorite mustards, mayo and even some sour cream. A heavy gauge pot made of stainless steel is best! Elisabeth@KAF

  13. Sara R.

    I am planning on using my mix today, however, can I knead using the dough hook on my stand mixer? Alternatively, can I use the dough cycle on my bread machine? Thank you!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I would use the dough hook on your stand mixer. That would be the perfect tool. Happy baking! JoAnn@KAF

  14. Chelsea

    Curious – your original pretzel recipe says to use a cooled water/baking soda bath, and this says to simmer them. What’s the difference? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Chelsea, in this blog PJ is using the pretzel mix, which does call for bathing the pretzels in simmering water and baking soda and (optional) salt. If you’re using the pretzel recipe, I would follow the directions for bathing the pretzels listed in the recipe. Barb@KAF

  15. Bonnie

    Can I make like a focaccia bread with this soft pretzel mix? Or can I make a hot dog bun in bun pan with this mix?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Bonnie,
      You’re getting creative here, we like it! You are welcome to try making focaccia by following the original steps in the recipe through the first proof–the only trouble is it may be difficult to boil a large piece of bread. You could skip the boiling and let the dough rise right on a cookie sheet, dimple it with your fingers, then bake. It won’t have quite the same color or crust, but it will be a tasty focaccia. The same goes with hot dog buns; you could prepare the dough and put it in the pan to rise after the initial 30 minutes, but you will likely need to skip the boiling step. If you go ahead and experiment with these methods, be sure to let us know how it turns out! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sandra, we’ve suggested that you try these tricks with our recipe for Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels. You can either click on the link in the post or here to get to it. Happy scratch baking! Mollie@KAF

  16. B

    Yum! I have made the from scratch KA recipe method before and have always enjoyed them. I used the recipe again this week but used the cooking times and simmering method described here and had very good results. I made the knots, regular pretzels, bites, and then I tried the rolls. Yummy but had no rise and were sad versions of the lovely puffed up roll shown here. I did use active dry yeast, and considering the blog post this week about the differences in types of yeast, perhaps I should have give the dough I used for the rolls more time with initial rise. I let it sit about 45 minutes in the bowl (as described above) and covered, rather than in a plastic bag (as described in the from scratch recipe). I hate using plastic bags. It did double in size and all my other items rose fine. Just those darn pretzel rolls. They looked just like the picture when they were flattened balls but they didn’t rise up much more. Any thoughts on what I might do next time to get the lovely shape shown here?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      There are a number of factors that may have come into play here, B, including how long the rolls were left to rest a second time and how they were shaped. They might simply need more time to become puffy before being baked, especially if you’re using active dry yeast. You can also consider checking out this video about how to shape dinner rolls, which can be an important step in achieving the best rise. Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

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