Sourdough Pretzels

Sourdough pretzel dough is straightforward, there’s a trick to the crisp “shell” and soft center. Get sourdough recipes at
Have you ever decided to try a recipe for the first time for a party? That was our first attempt at Sourdough Pretzel Bites. Several years back, George and I volunteered to prepare a fondue-themed surprise party for a dear friend. We bought about 10 kinds of cheese and made several sweet and savory fondues: classic Emmenthaler, cheddar and beer, Gruyere and wine, gjetost, Brie and shiitake, squash and cheddar, Spanish Manchego, bagna cauda, and of course chocolate. I guess that 30, maybe 40, people passed through the house that night, poking various dippers into every fondue pot we could get our hands on.

Our first sourdough soft pretzel attempt disappeared quickly that night, but in the years since I’ve tweaked and perfected the recipe. The dough is straightforward; where opinions vary widely is in how to achieve a crisp “shell” and soft center. German soft pretzels have long been dipped in lye, an alkaline substance so caustic that it’s used to clean clogged drains and requires gloves when handling. As much as I love traditional flavors and techniques, I wasn’t ready to introduce that element into my kitchen.

The eminent Harold McGee has recommended sodium carbonate, sometimes called soda ash, as a replacement: simply bake sodium bicarbonate, also known as the common kitchen staple baking soda, at a low temperature until most of its water and carbon dioxide evaporate. On the upside, your pretzels will have that traditional bite; on the downside, this “baked soda” will still irritate your skin. So I prefer standard baking soda in my soda water bath. It may be less traditional and less flavorful, but it balances well with the sourdough tang and doesn’t eat into my hands.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need sourdough starter plus some kitchen staples. Need starter? I’m giving it away all month! Click here to learn more.
1. Mix your dough and let it rise.
2. Roll the dough into snakes and let them rise.
3. Score the snakes and drop them briefly into a baking soda bath.
4. Bake and enjoy.

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Sourdough Pretzel Bites

  • Servings: 120 pretzel bites
  • Difficulty: 4
  • Print
180 grams Sourdough Starter (100% hydration)
90 grams water
14 grams (about 1 tablespoon) olive oil
240 grams all-purpose flour
12 grams (about 1 tablespoon) sugar
5 grams (about 1 heaping teaspoon) flaky salt
1/4 cup baking soda
6 cups water
2 tablespoons coarsely ground salt or rock salt

Set a bowl on a kitchen scale. Measure in the starter and then the water, stirring until they begin to combine. Add the oil, flour, and sugar; mix until it forms a sticky dough; let rest for 10 minutes. Feed your starter.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and sprinkle with the flaky salt. Fold the dough over the salt, and then knead for about 30 seconds, until it forms a ball. Oil the bowl lightly, return the dough to it, and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave to rise 6–10 hours at room temperature.

Separate the dough into 10 pieces; let rest for 10 minutes. Roll each piece into a 12-inch snake. Put the snakes on a floured surface to rest for 2 hours, covering them with a piece of waxed paper.

In a wide, 6- to 8-quart pot, mix the baking soda and water; bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat to keep it simmering. Using the side of a fork, slice each pretzel snake into thirds and then press the fork partially into each snake, marking 1-inch bites. Working in batches, transfer the sections of pretzel bites to the simmering soda water, adding no more than will fit in a single layer; let simmer for about 45 seconds, flipping halfway through. Transfer the sections to a tea towel to drain and sprinkle immediately with coarse salt. Repeat the process with the remaining pretzel sections.

Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper, and then transfer the drained and salted pretzels to the tray. If desired, break the bites apart at their score marks. Bake at 425°F for 12–15 minutes, until crisp and brown. Serve immediately with a dip (see below), if desired. Makes about 120 pretzel bites.

Tips & Tricks
  • It’s easy to mix this dough in the morning, let it sit all day, and then form your snakes and bathe and bake the pretzel bites in the evening. If you’d rather stretch the process into 2 days, you can put the dough in the refrigerator at any point during the rise time or after the snakes are shaped. Just bring the dough back to room temperature before continuing on.
  • If you let the dough rest before you try to form a snake or rope, it should roll evenly and easily. If it wants to break, let it rest another 10 minutes or alternately roll and stretch the dough to keep the thickness consistent.
  • I played with several ratios of water to baking soda before settling on the soda bath in this recipe: more water made the pretzels paler and more like breadsticks, but less water produced darker bites with a slightly soapy taste. For a sharper traditional pretzel flavor, consider reducing the amount of water in the soda bath or using one of the other techniques mentioned in the introduction.
  • These pretzels color up well enough that they don’t need an egg wash, but you can always add one if you want to put a sheen on the bites. Simply beat 1 egg with 1 teaspoon of water and then brush it onto the pretzels before sprinkling on the coarse salt. The brushing and sprinkling are easier if the bites are still connected in sections.
  • The fine salt you use in the dough will dissolve in the oven if sprinkled on top. Instead, use a coarser grind. If you don’t have a salt grinder with an adjustable setting, put rock salt into a zip-close bag; seal, pressing out all the air; and then crush it to your desired coarseness using a rolling pin.

Sourdough pretzel dough is straightforward, there’s a trick to the crisp “shell” and soft center. Get sourdough recipes at

Twice as Tasty

Sourdough pretzel dough is straightforward, there’s a trick to the crisp “shell” and soft center. Get sourdough recipes at my opinion, you can never go wrong by pairing beer and cheese. Where you can take a misstep is in how you pair them. Just about any cheese can be snacked with a pint of beer in your other hand. But cooking with beer requires you to be a bit more selective. I made that mistake with my first attempt at Boozy Potato Chowder. I simply poured into the pot from a growler of my go-to local beer: a rye IPA. As the soup cooked, the bitter hops took over, making it almost inedible.

The secret to cooking with any beer is to save strong, hoppy brews for your glass and seek out beers low on the International Bitterness Unit (IBU) scale for your recipes. For my latest batch of Beer–Cheese Dip, I used Fair Winds Scotch Ale from one of my favorite craft breweries. Even at 20 IBUs, the beer hinted at a bitter note but was balanced by its malty, bready flavor. For a sweeter dip, you could choose a bright lager or nutty brown, but you’ll get the fullest flavor if you grab a microbrew instead of a cheap can from a brewing giant.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 3 main ingredients plus some bonus flavorings if desired.
1. Coat the shredded cheese with cornstarch.
2. Heat the beer.
3. Melt in the cheese and flavorings and enjoy.

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Beer–Cheese Dip

  • Servings: 3 cups
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons cornstarch
12 ounces low-IBU beer, such as a brown or lager
1 tablespoon Home-Smoked Chili Paste, or smoked paprika to taste
2 tablespoons Spicy German-Style Mustard
2 cloves Roasted Garlic, minced (optional)

Shred the cheese, tossing it with the cornstarch until coated. In a small pot, bring the beer to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering beer, letting the cheese melt into the liquid until smooth before adding more. Stir the chili paste, mustard, and minced garlic, if desired, into the smooth dip. Serve immediately with Sourdough Pretzel Bites or other dippers. Makes about 3 cups.

Tips & Tricks
  • The only potentially challenge in about this recipe is keeping its homemade ingredients on hand. Don’t worry if you don’t have everything; by substituting in store-bought ingredients as needed, you’ll appreciate your homemade ones even more next time.
  • This is one place where I disagree with the adage “Cook with the alcohol you drink.” I’m a fan of hoppy IPAs, which quickly turn dishes bitter when cooked. Stick to low-IBU beers like browns and lagers for this recipe.
  • When I take this warm dip to a party, it’s usually eaten so quickly that I can serve it from a bowl. The cheese will start to separate if it cools; for slow eaters, heat and serve the dip in a fondue pot or mini slow cooker.
  • Sourdough Pretzel Bites are my favorite vehicle for moving this dip from bowl to mouth, but you can fill a platter with other options. Sourdough Pita Chips are sturdy enough to hold this dip, as are crisp storage fruits and vegetables like apples and carrots.

Like what you’ve learned but don’t have a sourdough starter? Now’s your chance! The 3rd Annual Sourdough Giveaway runs through January 31, 2020. Learn how to get your free sourdough starter here. Then join the Twice as Tasty Challenge by becoming a newsletter subscriber; click here to subscribe.

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