Homemade soft pretzel knots are as fun to eat as they are to make. This recipe starts with a basic yeast dough, which is rolled out, twisted, then double treated with alkaline to trigger the maillard reaction. The result is a delicious soft pretzel knot with a crackly brown exterior and soft chewy center. Perfect for dunking in nacho cheese, mustard, or my bacon beer cheese. Prefer something sweet? Swap the salt for sugar and dip in homemade bourbon caramel sauce. However you choose to enjoy them, they make for a tasty homemade treat.
One of my favorite ways to deal with stress is to bake. It allows me to shut off from the outside world and emerge not only with a tasty treat, but also a sense of accomplishment that I’m able to create something from ingredients that normally stock my pantry.
While I do enjoy baking up indulgent desserts, when I’m stressed the last thing I want is to have sugar filled treats laying around just waiting to be eaten. So, for me, stress baking often means baking with yeast and these soft pretzel knots are a prime example.
The dough is super simple, only 5 ingredients, and you can make it by hand or with a stand mixer. They result in a soft, chewy pretzel, with a crackled brown exterior and that distinctive pretzel flavor. Bonus: they freeze incredibly well, which allows you to tuck them out of sight and out of mind until you are ready to eat them.
Making Soft Pretzel Dough
My recipe for soft pretzel knots is one of the easier yeast dough recipes in my kitchen. It’s the same recipe that I use to make garlic knots and pizza dough, the difference is in how you bake it. It calls for five ingredients: all purpose flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and warm water.
For the most part, you combine the ingredients then allow it to rest five minutes so the flour can absorb the water and the gluten can activate. Then knead the dough either by hand or using the dough hook on your stand mixer.
The dough rises twice. First in a large ball and again once it’s shaped into pretzel knots. From there, boil the dough in a baking soda bath, brush with an egg white wash, then bake in a very hot oven.
Working with Yeast
If you’ve never worked with yeast before, I highly recommend you go check out my English Muffin Bread post. Believe it or not, that recipe is even easier than this one and it’s the best recipe for first time bread bakers. It’s also where I go into a lot of detail about the two main kinds of bread yeast, including when and why proofing is important.
Before you start any bread recipe, it’s important to know what kind of yeast the recipe was written for and what type of yeast you have. It’s easy to adapt a recipe either way, but only if you know what you are working with. This recipe is written for instant yeast, aka bread machine yeast. Instant yeast does not need to be proofed before use, meaning all the ingredients can be combined in one step. Just make sure your yeast has not expired.
This recipe is written for instant yeast. If you only have active yeast, read this:
To use active dry yeast, mix your ingredients in two steps instead of one. Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in one bowl. In another bowl combine the flour and salt. Once the yeast mixture becomes foamy, add it to the flour and proceed with the rest of the recipe.
Tying Pretzel Knots
The art of tying pretzel knots is mainly fun, with a little bit of science mixed in for good measure. Start by partitioning your dough into 18 smaller, equal pieces. Having them all roughly the same size is key to getting them to bake evenly.
Like when making homemade pita bread, I use a scale for weighing out my dough for pretzel knots. Start by weighing the dough ball, then divide that by 18 so that you know what each pretzel knot should weigh. Zero out the scale (leaving the dough on it) and then pinch off the amount you need. Repeat this process of zeroing out the scale and removing dough until you have all 18 pieces.
If you do not have a scale, you’ll have to estimate. You can do this by dividing the dough into half, then divide each half into thirds, then divide each of those by thirds to get 18. Or go at it at random, aiming for balls roughly the same size, adjusting the cook time depending on how many knots you make.
Once you have your dough divided into 18 smaller sections it’s time to shape them into knots. On a floured surface, roll the dough into logs that are about 8″ long. Tie the log into a simple knot by forming a loop and tucking one end through the hole. The resulting shape should look like a soft pretzel knot. Cover the tied knots with a dry towel and let them rise until doubled in size.
The Maillard Reaction: How pretzels get their color and flavor
Once the knots have plumped up they are almost ready to bake, but before they go in the oven they need an alkaline treatment. The alkaline treatment is what triggers the maillard reaction, giving the exterior of the pretzels their flavor, color, and texture. Without it your pretzels rolls will look more like pale dinner rolls. They would taste great turned tossed in garlic butter, but then they would be garlic knots, not pretzel knots.
Traditionally, the alkaline treatment is a bath in boiling water laced with food grade lye. Yep, the same stuff that we use in drain cleaner. When using a food grade solution and diluting it to the right degree to boil pretzels, the amount of lye remaining on your food is not toxic. However, I don’t keep lye in my home, food grade or not.
Instead, I prefer to use a combination of two much more common alkaline foods: baking soda and egg white. In using both of these together, your homemade results are about as close as they can be to professional without the lye and protective gear.
The Boiling Baking Soda Bath
A boiling baking soda bath made from the same baking soda we use for making biscuits and cakes is the first step. I get good results with a ratio of one tablespoon of baking soda for every one cup of water.
Bring the water and baking soda to a roiling boil in a wide pot. I used my 4 quart enameled dutch oven, which held three knots at a time.
Carefully add the pretzel knots using a slotted spoon or spider strainer. Boil them for 30 seconds, then roll them over to boil the other side. Once you’ve boiled both sides remove the knots to a greased baking sheet.
The Egg White Wash
The second step in our two part approach is an egg white wash. This not only adds another alkaline layer, it is also a great way to make the coarse salt flakes stick. In order to get the best reaction, remove all of the yolk. Yolk is acidic and even a little bit can work to neutralize our alkaline efforts.
Whip the egg white until foamy, then brush it on top of the soft pretzel knots. Do not dilute it with water or milk. If you are adding the salt, do it now and make sure to do it while the egg white is still tacky.
Soft Pretzel Knots Recipe
Homemade soft pretzel knots have a crackly brown exterior, soft chewy center, and a uniquely pretzel flavor. Serve yours fresh from the oven with bacon beer cheese, garlic herb dip, or spicy sweet sriracha sauce.
Looking for a sweeter, more indulgent spin? Dip your hot-from-the-oven soft pretzels in melted butter, followed by a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar (I use 4 teaspoons sugar to 1 teaspoon cinnamon), then serve them with bourbon butterscotch sauce. However you choose to enjoy them, they make for a tasty homemade treat.
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Soft Pretzel Ingredients
- 4 cups flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
Baking Soda Bath Ingredients
- 4 cups water
- 4 TBSP baking soda
Egg Wash Ingredients
- 1 egg white
- kosher or sea salt (optional)
- In a large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, measure out flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. Stir to combine, then add the warm water in the center of the flour. Gently stir to incorporate. The dough will be shaggy and loose. Allow to rest 5 - 10 minutes.
- If mixing by hand: turn rested dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes. If using a stand mixer: attach dough hook and knead on lowest setting for 10 minutes.
- Shape dough into a ball. Place into an oiled bowl turn to coat the dough, then cover with a damp kitchen towel and place in a warm location to rise 1 - 2 hours or until dough has doubled in size.
- Punch down dough and divide into 18 equal parts. Shape each smaller section into a ball, then roll it out into an 8" log. Tie the log into a simple knot, by looping it over itself and tucking in the end.
- Line up tied knots with space between them and cover with a dry kitchen towel to rise a second time, until doubled in size, approximately 30 minutes.
- Butter or grease a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 425º.
- In a wide pot, bring water and baking soda to a boil. Using a slotted spoon or spider strainer, add the pretzel knots to the baking soda bath. Boil for 30 - 45 seconds then flip them over to boil the other side. Remove knots from the baking soda bath and place on the baking sheet.
- Separate your egg and whip the egg white until foamy. Brush over the tops of the pretzels and sprinkle immediately with salt, if using. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes in a 425º oven until dark golden brown.
- Enjoy hot from the oven with your favorite dip.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 18 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 105Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1136mgCarbohydrates: 22gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 3g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix and is for general information purposes only. For the most accurate information, calculate using your select brands and exact measurements.
For the step by step version of this recipe, check out the Soft Pretzel Knots Story.