soft pretzel buns and knots

Guess what we’re making this weekend?

I have been obsessed with make soft pretzels at home since about 16 seconds after I learned that you could, 7 years ago. For something that looks so twisted, dark and complex, they’re actually simple to make, requiring only a basic bread dough (flour, water, salt and yeast), formed into pretzel knot (a rope with the ends twisted together, then folded back over itself), dipped briefly in a baking soda solution, salted, and baked until pretty. This is almost exactly the way they are made in southern Germany and surrounding pretzel-loving regions, save one bit: instead of a baking soda bath, the pretzels are dipped in a lye solution. Lye, as in the poison. As in the stuff used in oven cleaners, drain openers, the kind of thing you shouldn’t touch without a mask and latex gloves, the kind of thing no sane cook would bother with at home.

what you'll need for the pretzel dough
making the dough

Or so this was the case nearly a decade ago. In the time since, as the DIY/handmade/homemade ethos has swept the food-curious population, things that once seemed adorably old-fashioned (pressure cookers, water bath canning, freezer jams, just to begin) or just plain nuts to do at home (making you own bitters, butter, or barley hops) have become delightfully mainstream, and I suspect directly related to this shift, the last five times I’ve read about pretzel-making at home, seemingly sane people with their whole lives ahead of them have suggested that you, another seemingly sane person who probably didn’t have Dabble In Harmful Chemicals Because This Food Blogger Told Me To on your holiday weekend agenda, should go buy lye, don some gloves and goggles and make Laugenbrezeln as if you were a 10th generation baker in Bavaria. No big deal at all.

the kneaded dough

formed hot dog and hamburger buns
oh and some tiny pretzels too
into the lye bath! seriously.

The thing is, pretzels made with a baking soda solution are quite pretzel-ish! They’re almost right. But I guess I’ve always known that it was just a matter of time before I joined my people, the crazy kitchen obsessives, in seeing exactly how much of a difference it makes to use a lye solution.

pretzel hamburger buns

Which is to say, I have good news and bad today. The bad news is: lye. I mean, seriously, you do not want be careless with this stuff. The good news is that if you were wondering how to get your homemade pretzels to have that telltale crackly dark brown shiny finish and unmistakeable pretzel smell at home, well, the lye-dipped variety is unquestionably the real pretzel deal. And whether you form them into teeny tiny pretzels for preschool snack time, small rolls (langerbrauten, as we once made here), or more fittingly for the holiday weekend, hot dog or hamburger rolls for your next cook-out, you’re going to be completely and totally amazed by how simply you can make these at home, any old time you want. Which, realistically, will be often from this day forward.

pretzel hot dog buns
tiny pretzels for preschool snacktime

Soft pretzels, previously: Over here.

One year ago: Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies
Two years ago: Asparagus with Almonds and Smoky Yogurt Dressing
Three years ago: Spring Salad with New Potatoes
Four years ago: Braided Lemon Bread and Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint
Five years ago: Broccoli Slaw, Almond Raspberry Layer Cake and Aspargus, Lemon and Goat Cheese Pasta
Six years ago: Mushroom Streudels
Seven years ago: Cellophane Noodle Salad with Roast Pork

Soft Pretzels Hot Dog Buns, Hamburger Buns and Knots
Adapted from Zingerman’s Bakehouse via the NYTimes

I’m sharing three dips below today, the standard baking soda bath which when brushed with an egg wash will produce a bronzed and lightly pretzel-flavored crust; a concentrated baking soda bath recommended by Harold McGee (read more here) which produces about the same baking soda color and a slightly stronger pretzel flavor though I’m not entirely convinced it makes enough of a difference to be worth the extra effort; and finally one made with a food-grade lye bath, which produces the dark, crackly authentic pretzel finish you see in the photos here. Pick the one that you’re most comfortable with and prepare to make a habit of it.

Yield: 14 hot dog buns, 12 hamburger buns, 32 tiny soft pretzel knots, 12 to 16 large soft pretzels knots (12 the size you’d see at a beer hall) or 16 sandwich rolls

Time: 2 hours (1 1/2 hours rising time)

For dough
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup or dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons lard or softened or melted and cooled unsalted butter
2 tablespoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
6 cups (about 30 ounces) all-purpose or bread flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For dipping (pick one)
1/4 cup baking soda (for standard baking soda bath), 1 cup baking soda (for concentrated baking soda bath) or 1/4 cup food-grade lye (for darkest, most authentic finish and flavor)

To finish
1 large egg (for baking soda methods only)
Coarse sea salt or pretzel salt

Make dough: In a mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), stir together syrup or sugar, lard or butter, yeast, water and half the flour. Add kosher salt and remaining flour and stir just until mixture comes together in a shaggy mass. Turn out onto counter (or attach dough hook to mixer) and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and supple. Cut into desired number of pieces (see Yield above) and let rest 5 minutes before shaping.

To form hamburger buns or sandwich rolls, form each piece into a ball and stretch and tuck the sides under, forming a neat round. To form hot dog buns, form each piece into a 7-inch log. To form pretzel knots, roll each piece into a rope (traditionally, the ends are skinny and the center is fat). Lift the ends, twist them around each other once and bend the twist back, pressing the ends onto the ‘belly’ at about 4 and 8 o’clock. Stretch the “shoulders” of the pretzels out as much as desired.

Transfer formed pretzel buns and knots onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper (for easiest removal), giving each room to grow. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes (no need to cover them, but I could not resist lightly covering them with plastic to protect from drafts), then in the fridge for 1 hour or overnight.

If using concentrated baking soda bath, you’ll want to begin prep now. Heat oven to 250 to 300 degrees F. Spread 1 cup baking soda on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake baking soda for one hour. You’ll have about 2/3 cup when you’re done; you’ll use it in a minute. Because of its concentration, it’s best to use latex gloves when touching it.

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.

Dip your pretzels:

  • For standard baking soda bath: Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and poach pretzels for 1 minute on each side in solution. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
  • For concentrated baking soda bath: Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Wearing latex gloves, add concentrated/baked baking soda from previous step (step back, it will foam up) and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and poach pretzels for 2 minutes on each side in solution, then [updated to note] rinse off the excess dipping solution in a large bowl of plain water. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
  • For food-grade lye bath: Place 1 quart of cold (never warm, unlike the baking soda methods) water in a glass or plastic bowl (lye can corrode reactive metals. I did this an empty sink, to keep it the most contained). At the minimum, wear latex gloves for protection, but to take better precautions, wear longer gloves (I used dishwashing ones!) or long sleeves, an apron and goggles (swim or onion goggles will also provide protection!) and mix lye slowly and carefully (so not to splash) into the water until dissolved. Dip pretzels for about 10 seconds on each side and place on baking sheets. Continue until all are dipped.

Bake pretzels: If using either baking soda method, beat egg with a teaspoon of water and brush it over poached pretzels for improved glossiness. If desired, make slashes in buns (I like a criss-cross on round buns and three diagonal ones on hot dog buns; slash deeper than you think necessary or the lines will disappear, as mine did in this batch). Sprinkle pretzels with coarse or pretzel salt and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating tray once to get an even, dark color. Transfer to rack. Serve warm.

Do ahead: Soft pretzels are always best warm from the oven. They will not keep well overnight; in a container or bag, the salt will dissolve and the tops will become wet — it’s very unpleasant. I find it easiest to form them the night before and just dip and bake them before taking them where we will eat them. Once baked, they’ll be good to eat for up to 6, but will be best in the first hour or two.


Rye pretzel variation: You can swap up to 1 cup of the flour for a dark rye flavor for a more complex flavor.

Yeast exchange: If you only have active dry yeast and want to use it here in a 1:1 exchange, you can do so by stirring it into the lukewarm water (not over 115 degrees F) and letting it sit for 5 minutes (it should dissolve and look a little foamy) before adding it when you’d add the water to the dough. The rising time should be approximately the same, but I’d still suggest that the first time you make it, you keep an eye on it in case it takes more or less time.

Where to buy pretzel salt: I just use a coarse sea salt (often La Baleine brand, but this time, something from a bulk bin) Amazon, King Arthur Flour, from Morton brand and many other places online.

Where to buy food-grade lye: You can order it from Amazon or Modernist Pantry, but if you’re in NYC, as of Tuesday morning, the Williamsburg location of Brooklyn Kitchen sold it in small and large bottles and had at least 18 (yes, I counted) bottles in stock, inexpensively.

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236 comments on soft pretzel buns and knots

  1. deb

    The lye bath uses cold water. In fact, once you get over the scary factor of lye (gloves and all that) I think you’ll find this to be the easiest, fastest method. I certainly did.

  2. My own early morning riser (her usual is now 5:15, although our princess awoke at 4:30 this morning) is in the getting-into-everything-and-then-putting-it-in-her-mouth-stage right now, so lye seems out of the question. I have done dark chocolate soft pretzels with a baking soda bath and was very happy with the results. But, let’s talk about lye for a second. Are olives coming next week? Yes, please?

    1. deb

      Molly — First I need an olive tree! Also, something was in the air today because Jacob woke up at 5:10 and I heard from two other preschool parents something similar. Maybe the thunderstorms overnight? Either way, it’s going to be a long day, huh?

  3. Keith

    NEVER add lye to hot water. Lye added to water is exothermic. If the water is hot the additional heat from the reaction in the water can cause the solution to instantaneously turn to steam. For the same reason, always add lye to water, not the other way around.

    1. deb

      The recipe notes clearly (I hope) that cold water should be used and it should be mixed carefully; please let me know if this is anything less than clear. If using gloves, common sense and following directions, I think most people will find this to be very simple for an exceptional result.

  4. vivi

    home-made lye solution is used (rather was used) in Greece for the making of kourambiedes, traditional festive sweet. I was always afraid to do it with lye from our hearth’s ashes because of the chemicals our bought firewood is sprayed with.

  5. rinakatha

    I always hesitated to make pretzels myself, even though that’s the one thing I miss most living in the US. Tried the baking soda version two weeks ago and was already quite pleased with the result. Now I ordered lye. Can’t wait!!! Thanks.

  6. Deanna

    Ordered food grade lye right after Louisa mentioned it in her pretzel post. I just had to decrease the amount of water…and lye used. I was throwing so much away and it made me sad since it was special ordered. I think I’m using a pint of water now, with 2 tablespoons of lye.

    And I may have ruined the finish on a cookie sheet by not heeding the parchment paper warning the first time. Now I have a dedicated pretzel cookie sheet.

  7. I’ve been dying to make soft pretzels but the recipes always seem so involved and scary – lye recipes in particular. You make it seem so easy! I’m definitely going to try it with baking soda this weekend! Thank you Deb!

  8. m o o n marked

    About lye: ALWAYS add lye to cold water, not water to lye. Have a bottle of distilled white vinegar open so you can rinse anything that gets splashed. Nitrile gloves are better than latex gloves because of their greater chemical resistance and because they rip easily when punctured so you know if you have a leak; they can be found in most drugstores. Dispose of the lye solution by adding additional cold water and pouring down a kitchen or bath drain but not down the toilet. Rinse the bowl you used with a weak vinegar solution before using soap to clean up. This is a relatively weak lye solution, but it’s worth having good habits from the start!

    I use lye to make olive oil soap, but also to make various chinese dumplings and to cure fresh olives.

  9. Andrew

    What do you do with the lye when you’re done? Can you pour it down the drain, or is some sort of special disposal necessary?

    1. deb

      Disposing of lye water/Andrew — I poured it down the drain, as I never read that I couldn’t. (More concentrated lye is used in drain openers, after all.) It made for a very simple, neat disposal as I’d already set the bin in an empty sink for dipping. But someone might yell at me in the next comment and correct me so stay tuned. :)

      Updated to add — Upon even further reading, the word is that the drain is fine (remember: it’s a mild drain opener) with three caveats: not if you have a septic system, not down a drain with a garbage disposal and not in a toilet.

  10. m o o n marked

    Deb, I think your directions are clear but I would add a stronger warning, just in case. It’s easy to think that adding water to lye would be the same as adding lye to water—but as Keith (post 9) notes, it sets up a very different chemical reaction. Or that you could use boiling water as in the baking soda baths even though you specifically say cold water if using lye. I think it’s worth it because lye can cause serious harm if used incorrectly.

    A caution not to make a stronger solution might also be in order; Deanna (post 15) by using less water you are concentrating the lye water which means it can more easily burn you. The higher ratio of lye to water also makes it more likely to bubble up or splash. It’s not really wasteful as it’s the correct ratio.

    I’m excited about the pretzels—I’d forgotten that we used to make them often when I was growing up here in BK.

  11. Liz

    We do this yearly as a “pretzel party” at a friend’s home! We coat the baking sheets with beeswax instead of parchment paper, which gives a nice crispy finish to the bottoms too. Except for the vegan pretzels, which are placed on parchment paper, of course.

  12. Donna Smith

    I use to work at a children’s hospital where we treated little children every week because they got into the lye and swallowed it. When lye is mixed with a fluid it becomes very hot, LIKE 500*F DEGREES HOT! SO, PLEASE if you have little children do not work with the lye if they around and keep it under lock and key so they can not get it.

    1. BeachMom65

      I lived in Basel, Switzerland for 16 years, snack dab at the French and German borders. Huge, soft pretzels are baked in every pub, train station and kiosk in the streets between the French Alsace, all of Germany, Austria and, yes, in the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland. I learned to make apéro silserli (pretzels) with butter, cheeses, sandwich meats, pizza style, you name it. They bake them covered in not only salt, but sunflower seeds (my personal favorite), sesame seeds, parmesan cheese, poppy seeds, etc. The best part of this is that no matter how you too them or fill them like sandwiches, you another them with a gorgeous Dijon mustard!

      8-9 inches wide, 1.5 inches thick and hot, I miss any kind of silserli!

      I made the dough, let it sit overnight on the freezing balcony to allow the outermost surface of the prezels’ dough skin to dry a bit. In the morning I’d heart my oven and dip them into lye, and bake.

      I routinely left them on the counter in a cloth bread bag the first day until ready to eat, but after that I could place them in the bread box for a few more days. They lasted a good five days, and never got soggy.
      I’m told the reason for this is because I’d left the risen dough shapes out overnight, as is the custom from which I learned to make them.

    2. BeachMom65

      I lived in Basel, Switzerland for 16 years, snack dab at the French and German borders. Huge, soft pretzels are baked in every pub, train station and kiosk in the streets between the French Alsace, all of Germany, Austria and, yes, in the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland. I learned to make apéro silserli (pretzels) with butter, cheeses, sandwich meats, pizza style, you name it. They bake them covered in not only salt, but sunflower seeds (my personal favorite), sesame seeds, parmesan cheese, poppy seeds, etc. The best part of this is that no matter how you cover them or fill them like sandwiches, you smother them with a gorgeous Dijon mustard!

      8-9 inches wide, 1.5 inches thick and hot, I miss any kind of silserli!

      I made the dough, let it sit overnight on the freezing balcony to allow the outermost surface of the prezels’ dough skin to dry a bit. In the morning I’d heat my oven and dip them into lye, add sunflower seeds and bake.

      After baking, I routinely left them on the counter in a cloth bread bag the first day until ready to eat, but after that I could place them in the bread box for a few more days. They lasted a good five days, and never got soggy.
      I’m told the reason for this is because I’d left the risen dough shapes out overnight, as is the custom from which I learned to make them.

  13. ok, I never considered making my own pretzels. I definitely wished I knew how. YOur recipe seems easy enough to follow and take the intimidation factor out of pretzel making. I also had no idea that lye was used to create that beautiful brown color on the pretzels. Now I’m even more psyched to give this a try. I love working with chemicals in cooking. Makes me feel like a mad scientists :) Thanks for posting. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Oh, if I wanted to make flavored pretzels, at what stage would I add the flavored ingredient?

  14. Sarah

    Question: Do you need to do anything special to dispose of the lye-water when you’re done? Can you just send it down the sink, or does it need to go to a household hazardous waste drop off? What about any leftover lye?

  15. Lauren

    This may be a dumb question, but how come the lye isn’t poisonous after baking? I think I may be too much of a chicken for this recipe, but those pretzels look delicious!

  16. Ted

    How do you dispose of the lyewater when you’ve finished baking? Dump down the drain? Would it be a good idea to neutralize the alkalinity a bit by adding some acid (vinegar), and run plenty of water to flush the pipes?

  17. Mary Ann

    I’ve made many different recipes for pretzels, pretzel rolls, nuggets – all kinds of shapes, always have just used baking soda due to easy availability. Any leftovers get individually frozen, then when I want to use them, I put a little water on top and add some salt to make it stick better – then into the toaster oven for a few minutes. Might not be good as new, but still pretty darn good! I’m lucky enough to live close to a pretel bakery, and they will just give me a packet of pretzel salt if I buy a few pretzels and ask for it.

    1. deb

      Anne — I just updated my comment above about disposing of the lye; I read a warning not to pour it down the drain if you have a septic system. As moonmarked noted, the bottle it comes in will have clear directions for everything including disposal; you can follow them.

  18. m o o n marked

    Pour the lye water down the drain and run cold water for a minute or two afterwards. Store the unused lye tightly covered in a dark, dry place. The package should have safety information, too, so make sure to use their guidance.

    1. deb

      Hungry — I still find day-old bread to be not the best tasting, but yes, they’d be better than with the salt. That said, I left mine in a basket with a towel loosely on top on the counter for more than a day. I’m not saying they weren’t more stale and firm (I likened them on day 2.5 to a bagel in texture) but they kept surprisingly well.

      Shelley — I used parchment. Most recipes call for an ungreased pan; it will work fine. But, lye is reactive with, well, reactive metals, so aluminum will get messed up by (or holes eaten in) it. I think my pans are stainless steel, but they’re also old and wrecked so I pretty much use parchment all the time anyway. In short: use parchment. It makes everything easier.

      Other flavorings — You could mix them right into the dough, depending on what they are.

  19. Milan

    Chiming in one more time: The first bit of water you pour into the lye will create a very concentrated, very hot solution that will spit and splatter everywhere. That’s why you always mix them by pouring the lye into the full amount of cold water.

    Also, don’t leave an aluminum pot in the sink when you pour away the used mixture, or put the dipped pretzels directly onto a bare metal aluminum baking sheet without the parchment paper! Lye _loves_ to eat holes in aluminum….

  20. schmubob

    A two tips from the ‘Laugen’-loving southeast of Germany:

    * After, doing the lyebath and salting, score your buns (‘Laugenwecken’) with a cross to give them a chance to bloom during baking. Same with the Hotdog shape (‘Laugenstange’) about 3-5 times in a diagonal fashion, and the pretzels (‘Laugenbrezel’) along the moon (more on that later). This will result in two effects. First, you’ll get a more interesting look. Second you’ll get more diversity in texture and flavour with every bite.

    * When you form your pretzels, roll them out in such a way that your mid is thicker and both ends are way thinner (about 1/3 of the mid section). Then sling them, the knotted part will naturally be formed out of the thinner parts of the dough. This has a few effects, first they’ll look nicer and less cluttered. Second, you’ll have two sections of the pretzel with a somewhat different firmness to the bite. Don’t overdo it and make the ends too thin, else they become too crisp.

    * After you formed your dough into your pretzels and buns, please resist the urge to cover them. You actually want to aim for a somewhat ‘dry’ thin dough skin to form during the final rise. If your dough is too wet after the final rise and before dipping, you’ll notice small bubbles on the skin of the final product after you finished baking.

    * I’d suggest dipping the dough into the lye for a few seconds (i.e. max 3-5), this is usually enough if you have the correct concentration of about 4-5% of lye.

    Hope this helps a bit. Just experiment. =)

  21. Ohhhh OK. I had no idea there was a food-grade lye and the whole time you were talking about the lye I was like “but then you can’t eat it!!!” So thanks for clearing that up.

    These pretzels look AMAZING.

  22. Anne

    Thanks, Deb. I can’t wait to try these! One question–do you continue to wear gloves when dipping the pretzels into the lye bath? Or is the lye/water solution diluted enough to be safe?

  23. Tara

    I’ve been making your pretzel rolls since the day I came across the recipe several years ago. We LOVE them! I had a “duh” moment when I saw this post – hot dog pretzel rolls?! What a wonderful idea! So excited to try this. I’ve always done the baking soda dip, and really like the flavor. I’m curious to try the lye though. Thank you for such a wonderful blog full of great eats!

  24. Lauren

    Fascinating post today. I loved all the links and read them thoroughly. You have the most amazing references from which to learn. I bookmark a lot of them, and some have become favorites.You always seem to strike just the right note between serious and comic, so that even a “warning” is not without a laugh or two.Just another reason we are all reading and cooking along with you every chance we get.

  25. m o o n marked

    Keep wearing gloves while dipping the dough and also while touching the dipped dough before it is baked. Use a slotted spoon so that you don’t drip lye water on your counters or baking pan or anywhere but the bin of lye water. If you are really nervous, keep a spray bottle of a weak vinegar solution—acetic acid— nearby, which will neutralize the caustic lye solution.

    Yes, lye can be dangerous but simple precautions make it manageable. I think chopping up and pulverizing scotch bonnet peppers can be just as dangerous to our eyes and skin if we don’t know how to be careful.

  26. Couple things to add about lye:

    The reaction when the lye hits the water generates a lot of heat, so be sure whatever container you mix it in won’t melt or crack from the thermal shock.

    It’s really important to add the lye to the water, and not the reverse. Pouring water on dry lye will frequently cause it to spatter, and you really don’t want granules of concentrated lye flying around

    Long sleeves are kind of a mixed blessing. They’ll protect you from small splatters, but if you spill a lot the cloth will absorb the lye solution and hold it right against your skin. The concentration used in this recipe really isn’t enough to worry about, but long plastic gloves might be a better idea than long sleeves.

    It’s best to not go barefoot or wear sandals when working with lye, just in case you spill.

    The fumes are mildly caustic, so work in a ventilated area and don’t stick your head directly over the bowl when you’re mixing up the solution.

    (Home soapmaker here; I work with lye a lot. It’s really not as scary as it sounds.)

  27. Jillian L

    I love making homemade pretzels, but they are always a bit, not quite right, I thought it was just one of those things that always seem better from the source, like a baguette, but maybe it’s just lye! I’m going to give these a shot, I’m a scientist so I work with hazardous chemicals everyday, and you’ve given great and clear directions to be careful, so I’m looking forward to my dark brown pretzels for the holiday weekend!!

  28. Courtney

    Also, be really, really careful about handling the lye before you add it to the water. A friend of mine was using lye to make soap and one grain/crystal of lye fell out of her measuring cup and skittered across her counter top. The counter was pitted everywhere the lye touched it.

  29. Catherine

    Re. the lye (sodium hydroxide, or NaOH)- imagine you’re back in your college or high school chemistry lab. Gloves, goggles, and covered arms, legs, and feet the whole time. You must ADD ACID, do not add other things to acid. As always, be very careful, pour and mix slowly, never inhale vapors, and immediately clean up any spills. Also, open a window or turn on your fume hood. In my chemistry labs, we used acetone to rinse chemicals off glassware, then washed said glassware with soap and water.

  30. Brittany W.

    I would have to second comment #21 by moon marked. You never know the assumptions people will make when it comes to chemicals.

  31. Erica

    If I were Jacob’s classmate, I’d make friends with him immediately so that I could “share” lunch with him everyday. Seriously.

  32. Annie

    @Brittany W.,
    So true, you can never assume what people know or think they know about chemicals. There was a recent question about food grade lye on the Food52 hotline. Someone asked what ‘food grade lye’ was and wasn’t it just pure NaOH?

    It cannot be emphasized enough that whenever you are making something that will be eaten, applied, inhaled, etc, any chemical you use MUST be certained as food grade. Even if the label has “100% pure”, you don’t know how that stuff was made, purified, and packaged.

  33. araminty

    Deb, I think maybe some readers are confused about the temperature of the lye dip because in your instructions, you call it “poaching.” As a science communicator, I think you’ve done a good job balancing the need for caution with being downright frightening :)

    1. deb

      Lye directions — I removed the word poached and hopefully it’s written as clearly as possible. Love the crowdsourcing, thank you.

  34. Leslie

    Weird, we *just* bought lye water (kansui), available in Asian grocery stores, to use in making homemade ramen noodles. I’m not sure how pre-made lye water differs in concentration from the quart of water to 1/4 cup of lye solution here, but it could be an alternative. I might explore that, since we now have a bottle of it.

  35. Francesca

    Oh, Deb! As someone who bakes bread regularly, I was feeling guilty that my busy work week had kept me from making hamburger buns for the long weekend. But I was starting to feel okay with picking them up from an excellent local bakery UNTIL I read your post. Now I HAVE to make them! Please tell me that they are worth making with the baking soda bath and that I needn’t wait until my next grill-out so I can make them with lye?!?

  36. Katherine

    I have the same question as Lauren in comment 26. How does the lye go from being dangerous to something you can eat?

  37. We loved your original pretzel buns and have made them a couple times. I’m both shocked and a little intrigued with the lye solution though and maybe, just MAYBE, we will try this method out too!


  38. Omar

    I will be making the baking soda version this weekend! Thanks for all the inspiration and the timely post! I love your recipes and make them often. XOXO

  39. Sue klish

    While I like your recipes, I think I will pass on this one. Using lye around food is not something I am not interested in doing.

  40. Sue klish

    Comment should read. Using lye around food is not something I am interested in. I love the recipes you post and have successfully made many of them.

  41. Annie

    To the question from #26 & #59,

    Technically lye (NaOH, sodium hydroxide) is not a poison, like arsenic or cyanide. Lye is dangerous because it is extremely caustic. It will burn through most things, like metal, paper, skin, human tissue, etc. This is why all that protective gear (goggles, gloves, etc) is required when handling lye. You won’t die from touching it or even ingesting a tiny amount, but you will get burned and your favorite shirt/pants might acquire a few new holes.

    Why is it then safe to use in pretzels? The lye bath is so brief that the reaction of the lye is only on the surface of the dough. There is no time for the lye to absorb into the dough. Theoretically, it cannot absorb into dough since bread dough is not a sponge. After the dip, the dough is removed from the bath and 99.999% of the lye solution remains in the bath. Whatever is left will drip off onto the baking sheet. The miniscule amount on the surface will have reacted with the dough (called the Maillard reaction) and essentially be used up or ‘neutralized’. After everything is baked, there isn’t any lye around to do any harm.

    For disposal of the lye solution, I would dilute with more water and add (slowly & carefully) white vinegar until the solution stops bubbling and then pour the neutralized mixture down the drain. If you want to be extra careful, test with litmus paper to insure that the pH is ~7. But once the lye has been neutralized, it can go down the drain, regardless of the septic system.

  42. Kathy

    Deb – I know that they are safe to eat, but can you tell us a bit about why/how they are safe to eat? This is one of those “mind over matter” things that just seems wrong. I trust you (and every other real pretzel baker), but am just curious.

  43. Jenn

    Those pretzels are gorgeous! That being said, the whole lye/death thing really freaks me out so I’ll have to pass. Sigh.

  44. JP

    It seems like putting the lye solution in smaller, deeper bowl and just dunking them in for the number of seconds needed would be safer than flipping them over…am I missing something?

  45. vh

    For those of you afraid of lye: do you etch glass? The HF (hyrdoflouric acid) in most glass-etching solutions is FAR more dangerous than sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide (lye). Google “HF burn”. As a chemist, I wouldn’t let that stuff into my house.

    And, as someone else has noted: you can indeed add water to the concentrated lye; yes, it will get warm. When making dilutions, add a little bit of water, stir to dissolve, add more water, etc. Or add lye to water– the chemical reaction is the same.

    As with anything, the concentration/dose determines everything: a 0.001M solution will have less effect than a 1M solution.

    Do be sure to wear safety glasses/goggles and gloves. Dilute lye on your skin isn’t a great problem: rinse with water a bunch. (It can saponify the oils in your skin– hence the resulting soapy feeling.) Lye in your eye isn’t a problem as easily solved; even dilute solutions can have permanent eye problems.

  46. Ellen

    Hi Deb,

    Thank you for this and all your wonderful recipes. I can’t tell you how often our dinner consists of several recipes I got from Smitten Kitchen.

    I have a question about the gloves. I assume that I can’t use my regular dishwashing gloves then go back to using them for dishwashing. Can I store them to reuse whenever I make pretzels or do I need fresh gloves each time?


  47. Suzanprincess

    Post #21 from m o o n marked berates Deanna #15 for using a different lye solution: “A caution not to make a stronger solution might also be in order; Deanna (post 15) by using less water you are concentrating the lye water which means it can more easily burn you. The higher ratio of lye to water also makes it more likely to bubble up or splash.” But Deanna said she decreased both the lye and the water, using the same concentration as Deb’s original directions. 2 T per pint is the same ratio as 1/4 C per quart; it’s just half the quantity.

    For those who plan to skip the recipe because of the lye, try it with the baking soda instead. That’s what I used in the past, and the pretzels were delicious!

  48. I’ve made pretzels quite a few times bit could never get hold of food grade lye in the Uk. I’ll have another look.
    But what I would like to know, from any pretzel experts out there, is how to reproduce the best pretzel I’ve ever eaten: I bought it at a Berlin underground station booth on the way to the airport, it had a seam of cold butter running through the centre of the pillowy dough. How do they do that?

  49. Linda K

    Is “2 tbsp yeast” correct? We love soft pretzels and I can’t wait to try these! Searching my city for food-grade lye right after I sign off…

  50. Katherine

    I live in Ann Arbor, and Zingerman’s pretzels (and just about anything else they make) are *amazinnggggg*. Can’t wait to try this recipe!

  51. cherie

    Sucked. Me. In.

    Food grade lye ordered – I always forego pretzel making because the baking soda bath is just plain unsatisfactory

    I’m in – thanks for the walk through!

  52. Wow, so crazy to learn this. These are absolutely beautiful!! I tried regular pretzels (without lye) and they did not turn out exactly how I wanted but I was trying to alter the recipe immediately with beer :-) I should probably perfect the recipe first and then play with it. I was also adding jalapeno and cheddar which they did turn out pretty decent but not exactly like pretzels.

  53. JJ Levenstein

    I’ve made similar pretzels before in a lye bath….my problem has been the parchment…it adheres tightly to the pretzels after baking and impossible to separate…so I have had to cut the bottoms off….any suggestions?

  54. Wow, that dark color is incredible. I’ve only ever make pretzels with baking soda, and I actually hadn’t even heard of the lye option. I recently wondered why I couldn’t get that color on my pretzels, and now I know – poison, of course! :) Sounds intimidating, but I’m definitely intrigued.

  55. Deb Paterson

    Deb, I’m excited to try this recipe but will start with the baking soda method. Did you use barley malt syrup or dark brown sugar? And did you use lard or butter?

  56. Anna

    re: Comment #80, Msmarmitelover: I am German, from Berlin. It sounds like you accidentally bought a “Butterbrezel”. Goes as follows: take a Brezel; run a bread knife horizontally through the thickest part to cut open; smear generously with butter. To me, it tastes of childhood because it’s such a classic after-school snack all over Germany :)

  57. Kendriana

    That’s funny how careful you were about handling the lye, people actually used to put that stuff on their heads. LOL

  58. p.j.

    Deb –
    We keep a kosher kitchen, so lard won’t happen. If I want to make the pretzels pareve, can I use butter-flavored Crisco (sorry: sometimes it is the best choice) or perhaps coconut oil? I am open to suggestions for a non-dairy, non-meat fat.
    Thanks to everyone for all the lye information.
    Your recipes are the best! Have a great weekend. Thanks, p.j.

  59. Kasey J.

    Question about the lye….my concern if lye is so poisoness why use it on our food? I keep artificial colors out of the house and eat mostly organic. Just my concern and would like to be led in the right direction, always willing to try something new :) Great post!

    1. deb

      For everyone nervous about using lye — Do read Annie’s helpful Comment #69.

      Kasey — It’s totally a personal choice. Many things that we eat are poisonous in a high enough concentration. Lye is more acidic alkaline than baking soda. If you bake the baking soda, it becomes concentrated enough that it’s best only to touch it with gloves. Would you stop using baking soda because of this? Anyway, I don’t think there is a correct answer; I’m just sounding off. I completely understand if this isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve an interest in authentic Bavarian pretzels, which date back to the Middle Ages, this is how they’re made and how they have been for hundreds of years.

      Ilaney — From what I read, some brilliant monks in the Middle Ages. :) I guess with enough time on your hands…

      p.j. — I think oil would be just fine, olive oil even. The flavor of the butter didn’t come through in any notable way.

      Deb — I used dark brown sugar.

      JJ — What kind of parchment do you use? I find that some brands don’t work as well. That said, even the brand I like (If You Care) was on the sticky side but I was able to remove them without damaging the roll. You can also baking these on an uncoated baking sheet, as most recipes call for, but it needs to be stainless steel or something nonreactive or the lye will damage it.

      Linda — It’s a lot, but you’re also using 6 cups flour so it’s in line with the proportions in other quick-rise recipes.

      Astrid — It’s only used in the baking soda methods and it’s not mandatory; it just improves glossiness.

      Ellen — I probably wasn’t supposed to, but I kept mine. I just washed my gloved hands twice while wearing them with dish soap (as well as the dish I used). And dried them well. They don’t bother me to touch them.

      Jessica — Yes, you can see the color in the previous times I’ve made pretzels, here and here. (I’m kind of obsessed.) I used to overbake them a little to get a darker color, so even when it looks darker, it never tasted as good.

      JP — It will be tricky because they’re soft (having just risen) and really want to float so you’d be holding it under the lye water and possibly misshaping it. It really is the simplest thing to flip it over with your already-gloved hands.

      Kathy — I mean to link to this earlier in the post, because Noelle Carter did such an excellent, thorough piece on soft pretzels for the LATimes in 2011… regardless, she notes that the alkali is neutralized in the baking process, making the pretzel safe to eat. This is food-grade lye we are speaking of, not drain cleaner-grade lye.

      Makeda — It’s just a translucent mailing label that can be printed on; you can buy them from Avery.

  60. llaney

    So I just wonder — who originally looked at pretzel dough and said “Hmmmm I wonder if these would be better if I dipped them in lye before baking them…”?

    Just like I wonder who was the first person to look at an artichoke and say “I bet there is some kind of food in there, somewhere!!”

  61. Keli M. from Lino Lakes

    I’m a soapmaker, so I’m pretty familiar with all the precautions with lye. Pretty cool that the cold water almost immediately gets to about 200 degrees. Way cool! Anyway, is “food grade lye” the same as just plain lye?

  62. Vanessa Chambers

    Correction to response 96 to Kasey … lye is alkaline, not acid. It is a strong alkali. That’s you can prepare it for disposal by neutralizing it with vinegar (which is an acid) as described by Annie in 69.

  63. Annie

    @Keli (#97),

    No, food grade lye is not the same as just plain lye. Anything labeled as ‘food-grade’ has been analyzed and found to be safe for use in food by the FDA. Your plain lye can have many other things in it like dirt, heavy metals, chemical residue from it’s production and much more. It will most likely not meet the FCC (Food Chemicals Codex) standard that would classify it as food-grade.

  64. Nicole

    @ Keli (#97) – Not all lye is food grade. However, my lye (I cure olives) came from a soap-making shop. Lots of soap-making supplies (lye, cocoa butter, essential oils etc) are actually food-grade, I suppose since the final product is supposed to touch the body? Anyway, check the packaging – mine very clearly states that it is food grade. I would not assume that it is without the labeling, but when I bought my container a couple of years ago, I noticed that a lot of the products in the store were labeled as food grade.

  65. Anna

    I have tried four different pretzel bun recipes in the last week in the hopes of creating a hamburger bun that has the chewy hold-together exterior of a pretzel bun but with a lighter more traditional bun interior. Is this your bun? If not, do you think it’s possible or does the bath produce the chewiness?

  66. Tess

    These look delicious! I just went to a pretzel party and we stuffed our pretzels with artichoke hearts, cheese, sauteed garlic and onions, olives, sundried tomatoes, and other yummy things…it made it feel (slightly) more acceptable to eat pretzels for lunch and dinner!

  67. One more question ;-) why do you shape the rolls after kneading the dough and then let them rise only once? Other recipes I’ve seen usually call for two rises (one after kneading and one after shaping…)

    Thank you!

  68. Re MsMarmitelover (hi Kerstin): in Germany, lye is easily availiable in pharmacies, though you have to fill out a poison request & explain what you are planning to use it for – some surprised raised eyebrows… Recently, I have seen small bottles of lye in in my local Asian grocer, maybe that is a s-lye port of call in London? Or stop by in Frankfurt at our place next time your on your way south. Nicole

    1. msmarmitelover

      Hi Nicole,
      I’ve only just seen your comment (2 years later) as I was having a compare of Deb’s recipe and mine. I got hold of the Asian lye and am going to have a go in the next few days. I’m a bit nervous I must admit.
      Any idea on the magical mystery seam of butter inside a large pretzel?


  69. Sam

    Bad news from the experimentation front: I made the miniature soft pretzels a few months ago with the baking soda boil and pleased with the results. This time I decided to go all out and do the lye dip but couldn’t find lye last minute so I opted for “lye water” I found at the asian grocery store. I did a 4:1 dilution and a quick dip and the results were disappointing- the crust was too light and soft. I didn’t pH the lye water but moral of story: Lye water’s not a good option.

  70. dad23g

    For everyone who is passing on this recipe because of the lye: I made them this weekend with the regular baking soda bath and they were terrific. I made the hot dog and hamburger buns. They looked great, smelled wonderful and were delicious. Rave reviews from my guests who also enjoyed watching the poaching and baking process. And I stored the (few remaining) leftovers overnight in a plastic bag with a couple of paper towels to absorb the moisture and they held up pretty well.

  71. Megan

    Hooooly cow, so good!! I used a cup of rye flour and a regular baking soda bath, skipped the salt because I don’t like getting it all over the kitchen floor, and these are the only burger buns I will ever ever make again. Amazing! Thanks for the recipe and the perfect holiday weekend timing!

  72. Elizabeth

    In the past, my pretzel endeavors have always failed. This recipe is great though. I was lazy and used the baking soda version, but the pretzels were still delicious. Thanks for posting this!

  73. Natalie

    I love these! I’m a soap maker too and use food grade lye in my soap – so I jumped on this recipe because I didn’t have to go out and get anything. It turned out great and was super easy with the mixer and dough hook. My only issue was my first batch stuck to the parchment paper and the bottom of the rolls was torn.

    Regarding the comments on disposing of lye solution – vinegar works but chemically the volume of vinegar required to actually neutralize the solution is a LOT. I recommend carefully pouring the solution down the sink (its not that different in pH from draino, so it won’t hurt anything) then washing lots of water down the drain and thoroughly rinsing then washing the glass vessel AND running through the dishwasher. Since I make soap, I keep a glass container and non-reactive spoon just for working with lye, but if you wash everything well that is probably just fine.

  74. Natalie

    *good point about the septic system, Deb – that would probably be a case where you wouldn’t want to pour down the drain. thank you for including that!

  75. Erin

    This looks great. I thought about making pretzels with lye a few years ago and decided it was too crazy. Crazy is the new normal now! I have made soap previously (long ago) so I have sort of been down that road. Question: Does the food grade lye bottle have a child proof cap? Also did you ship your son out when you made them? If it weren’t for my wee little crazy people I would have done this already. Authentic pretzels are so much better!

  76. Graham

    If I wanted to freeze the unbaked pretzels to bake at a later date, at what stage would that work? After the dip/egg/salt or before?

    1. deb

      To freeze unbaked pretzels — I would do so after the 30 minute rise. Do not dip or salt before freezing; the salt will melt off.

      Erin — It doesn’t have a childproof cap, but neither do a lot of our household cleaners and we’ve never childproofed our cabinets; he just knows not to touch them. Nevertheless, he was out when I dipped the pretzels (I know it would be too exciting and he’d want to help, and didn’t want to be mean) and keep the lye far from anyplace he could get to, just to be safe. I was mostly worried, since we keep cleaning stuff under the kitchen sink, that if a pipe broke I wouldn’t want to risk water getting into the lye container.

      Anna — It’s just no needed here to get a great rise. Enjoy the extra free time! :)

      Anna — Actually, these are quite tender inside, much like a true pretzel, which should not be dense inside. The baking soda bath produces a moderate pretzel flavor and a bit more of a crust (from the almost-boiling). The lye bath produces a crackly dark crust and strong pretzel flavor.

  77. g

    Please clarify the steps for method 2 (baked soda)? I followed method 2 and they were beautiful but the crust was bitter and inedible. I see now that McGee’s piece recommends a rinse after the baked soda bath. I also was confused about whether to use the whole 2/3 cup of baked soda when method 1 uses just 1/4 cup of baking soda. I used 2/3 cup, and I see that McGee recommends double the concentration you have here (he puts 2/3c into 1 pint instead of 1 quart), so I guess the rinse was the important step I missed. I’ll try again with the rinse! Thank you.

    1. deb

      Hi g — I’m so sorry they didn’t work out because I forgot to add the rinsing step. I owe you a homemade soft pretzel if you’re ever in NYC. :) Now fixed; apologies again.

  78. These look so tempting! I definitely want to make them, I’m not lye-ing. I have a feeling if they are as authentic as you say, my will-power to resist will “shrink” like George Costanza in a cold pool. Yikes! Better hold off until we take off our post-Memorial Day picnic weight.

  79. Nans

    @#38 schmubob
    I’m so glad you included those tips. I was coming to write the same thing. The Pretzels need to be scored. I was wondering why the pictures looked off. But most importantly, the knoted section of the traditional Pretzels need to be thinner to get the true shape, but more importantly, for the true texture. My favorite is to eat the crunchier middle part first, then the arms, and save the thickest part at the base of the pretzel for the end. Now I’m missing Germany!

    1. deb

      Re, scoring across the bottom — I love the look. My understanding was that it wasn’t done on all German pretzels, just some? But I am not the expert.

  80. Amy

    These look so great Deb! I love making homemade pretzels and having a German-themed feast with friends. I’ve never tried using lye instead of a baking soda solution though. I need to try and find out where I can get “food-grade” lye around here.

    Making buns for burgers is a great suggestion too, but wouldn’t they be a bit too tough or hard? I wish I would have read this recipe before I grilled out for Memorial Day. It’s a good excuse to do it again this coming weekend though! :)

  81. Leah

    Bad news: I am officially too terrified to attempt lye-bath pretzels at home. Good news: I just discovered there is a pretzel shop in Alphabet City that has a truffle-cheddar option with beet-horseradish dipping sauce. Enjoy, lye-ers – wish I were as brave as you!

  82. Ugh! I’ve always made soft pretzels with baking soda and been perfectly happy, but that nagging little voice trying to entice me to just try it…

    Quite possibly a super stupid question…I have a garbage disposal, I guess I could pour the lye mixture down a bathroom sink, but I’m afraid it will corrode the metals of the stoppers? Can I pitch the lye mixture into the grass or is that just impossibly dumb?

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  84. Holly

    I’ve had good success with the baked soda (like in your concentrated bath) however, the proportions I used were about twice as concentrated, so perhaps that makes a difference. I dissolved 2/3 cup of baked soda in 2 cups of water (rather than a whole quart), immerse the formed raw pretzels in this solution for three to four minutes, rinse off the excess dipping solution in a large bowl of plain water, and bake. This article suggests similar:

  85. Jenyfer

    Hi Deb, So after reading through all of these lye based comments, my question seems so silly! Nevertheless! Here goes silly… I plan to use this recipe with a baking soda bath, and I’m wondering if I can actually just wrap that bread around a hotdog? It seems as though yours is just a bun? Would it work to put a hotdog inside?

  86. Allie

    I used the concentrated baking soda bath but unfortunately the pretzels came out bitter. I used the same amount you recommended but maybe I didn’t rinse them well enough..?
    Nevertheless, even without the soda baths they are great!

  87. Ania

    I have just baked these and used the normal baking soda method – they are great, soft and chewy and wonderful in flavour. All 16 gone in the space of 30 minutes from coming out of the oven after their pretzel “spa” morning. Deb, you are a genius!

  88. I’ve been baking soft pretzels for years, but my approach is a bit different: I let the dough rise for three hours before I shape the rolls or pretzels. This gives it a more interesting flavor. Here is my recipe:

    If you go through the trouble to make pretzels, make more than you need, they freeze well: it thaw them in the microwave for 20 seconds and then finish them in the toaster oven for a minute or two on 400F to restore the crust they had when freshly baked.

  89. Brian

    Do you have any suggestions for my poor gluten free wife? We both love pretzels and I’ve been trying to find ways to replace what she isn’t able to eat anymore.

  90. cindy

    So, I’m confused..are you saying we SHOULD rinse them?
    Thanks…getting ready to make now…can’t wait..

  91. Tamara

    Made these with toddlers underfoot and a pre-schooler helping! (I used the first baking soda method.) I thought this was a super easy, very kid-friendly recipe- and, of course, they were delicious! Thanks Deb!

  92. Kim

    I don’t have lye unfortunately, and the only glass baking dish was being occupied so I just used the basic baking soda solution. My oven doesn’t like to be exact so I had to raise the temp and double the baking time but it all turned out excellent in the end! Thanks for sharing! :)

  93. Mai

    Just pulled a batch out of the oven and yum! Saving the rest of the dough to dip and bake in the morning to take to work because the problem with living alone and deciding randomly on a Tuesday I want a fresh pretzel bun to go with the bratwurst I bought at the grocery is tons of extras and I will sit at home and eat them all by myself given the chance. Took a bit of reagent grade sodium hydroxide from work to do the lye solution since I was too lazy to source some food grade and it was right there. Ended up doing 500g water and 15g sodium hydroxide and it gave excellent pretzelness.

  94. eclair

    OMG I’m going to use this recipe next time I teach chemistry. Method 2 “concentrated baking soda” is ACTUALLY making lye at home…
    When you heat baking soda it decomposes to sodium oxide. Then, when sodium oxide is dissolved in water it makes sodium hydroxide aka. lye:
    heating: 2NaHCO3 + heat –> Na2O + H2O + 2CO2
    dissolving in water: Na2O + H2O –> NaOH
    Too bad this method doesn’t give the right flavour, the science behind it is neat! Love when my interests collide, thanks Deb.

  95. PieKrust

    The pictures look absolutely divine.

    But… this may sound like a silly question, but having never used lye before, why would anyone use sodium hydroxide, something that can essentially break down metal, in your food?

    I know the properties changes through cooking, etc etc. But I’m a scaredy cat. o_0

  96. Morgan

    Hi Deb- I tried to make these last night and let them rise overnight in the fridge. This morning they hadn’t risen at all! I used brand new Rapid Rise yeast, so I’m wondering if my lukewarm water wasn’t warm enough. Do you use a thermometer or just guess it’s warm enough? I’m used to active dry yeast which usually requires a very specific temperature of water. Also, 30oz of flour seemed to be way too much- I ended up adding more water because I wasn’t getting a smooth elastic dough like I thought I should.

  97. rajbot

    Recipe typo in the yeast? Was 1 packet dry yeast last time, which is about 2 *teaspoons* yeast. This recipe says 2 *tablespoons* yeast, which seems like a *lot* of yeast.

  98. Sayuri

    Hi Deb!

    I tried making these pretzels, and was especially excited to use the lye since I’ve been trying various baking soda recipes and coming up a little short… but my pretzels turned out AMAZING on the inside but had a really weird taste on the crust. Maybe this is from the lye? I used food grade lye, but is it possible I should try rinsing them off before baking them?

  99. Sayuri

    Hi Deb – thanks for your reply! Yes, it was really bitter and tasted almost eggy. I’ll try baking them for a little longer next time! Thanks :)

    1. deb

      If you find that it comes from a slightly damp spot underneath (this happened to me once), it was (at least for me) because a kind of bubble had formed that the heat didn’t reach. Nowadays I flip the pretzel over for the last two minutes of baking, carefully, just to be safe. I’ll add an updated note.

  100. robinjay

    My question is: can’t we re-use the lye solution? As someone stated earlier, there is a lot left over to dispose of. So if I were to carefully pour the lye solution, say through a plastic funnel into a plastic or glass jug, is there any reason why I couldn’t re-use it for the next batch? And if so, for how many times might it still be viable? I’d appreciate your reply – I’m kinda on the fence about whether or not to give this a go!

  101. robinjay

    Actually, upon further thought, I would opt for mixing the lye solution in a tupper-type container to avoid risking splashes or spills by having to transfer the caustic solution to another container. Then it would simply be a matter of sealing/covering after using until the next batch. What do you think?

  102. Ella

    We made them, but unfortunately only four small pretzels were edible because i believe our container in which we rinsed the concentrated soda poached pretzels was too small. When the pretzels came out, they were beautiful but tasted too strongly of baking soda. Make sure you rinse them well and in plenty of water! The ones we did eat were spot on though!!!

  103. Cari

    I used this to make pretzel dogs. When it came time to form the dough, I rolled it into long strips, about 24″, then wrapped it around Miller’s Cheddar Chicken Sausages, covering the ends. They came out great! I reheated the leftovers in the oven this morning and served them with smashed poached eggs.

  104. Zach

    With the lye method, should I just sprinkle the salt straight on after removing from the dip? Will it stick? Should I be concerned about the small amount of lye left on after baking?


  105. Kate

    I made these over the weekend and they were amazing! I did baking soda, not lye, because I couldn’t find lye in Toronto, but I hope I’ll be able to get some before I make them next time.

    I particularly liked how easy they were to do for a party — like you suggested, I did everything the night before, stuck them in the fridge, and just had to do the baking soda/egg/salt before baking them the next day.

  106. Mark Ferguson

    I’ve been making pretzels with lye for a little while (weaker caustic solutions just don’t get the crust right), but I wanted to clarify the baking soda and “concentrated” baking soda chemistry.

    Heated baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) starts turning into sodium carbonate at about 210F and completely converts to sodium carbonate at about 400F.

    Also worthy of note: you can buy sodium carbonate directly from the same people who making baking soda: Arm and Hammer. It’s called washing soda. You’ll find it in the laundry section. It’s also known as soda ash.

    Eclair’s comment (158) is correct but it takes a long time for the complete conversion to sodium oxide — or considerably more heat.

  107. Karen

    Hi Deb. I loved this post. I have, unsuccessfully tried to make Pretzel rolls. Until now, I did not understand what I did wrong. Your posts are wonderful. I want to get up courage to try making them with the lye. I read all 178 comments :) :) :). I am feeling better about the adventure. I have two more questions. I have a Septic system? What do I do with the Lye-solution in this case? Also regarding #168 and #169 by robinjay on re-using the solution, would you elaborate just a bit more on that. How long can it be kept in a glass jar, safe to re-use? Thank you Deb. I love your sight and all your hard work.

  108. Lin

    This is the best soft pretzel recipe on the Internet. Thank you so much for providing it for us! I have made them so many times. Lye is the way to go for the most authentic flavor and texture. I really think it’s much easier than the baking soda method, as long as caution is used when handling the lye liquid. I have never had a problem. I ordered my food grade lye and pretzel salt off of amazon. I prefer to use Silpat mats instead of parchment paper. I find that the pretzels sometimes stick to the parchment. Thanks again for the great recipe!

  109. Ashley

    So… I accidentally made this while lining my baking sheets with tinfoil. I’d done it this way with the baking soda recipe before and it was fine, but this was the first time I tried the recipe with lye. It definitely fizzled, and there was a suspicious white solid left in the trey once the pretzels were baked which I looked up. Turns out that’s toxic, so we cut the bottoms off the pretzels before eating them (though I think it was such a small amount we probably would have been fine). Anyways, a few google searches later and we discovered combining lye and aluminum foil is actually a way to make hydrogen gas. No wonder the pretzels had amazing oven spring! Definitely going to invest in some parchment paper next time and make sure I use a glass baking pan.

  110. jimmy

    Hi, I tried different types of pretzel buns before,using just baking soda and water warm enough to dissolve it,and they turned out nicely browned,I actually made 2 b.soda solutions with one has almost twice the amount of it, each in 1 ltr of water to test them out,so as for my experiments, higher concentration of soda does the trick to get a nice brown crust. And I didn’t even boil the buns,I just dipped or brushed the buns liberally with it.

    I have a question though, in the recipe above, it’s mentioned to rest the dough for 1 hr in the fridge, is it a must or I can just skip it and let it rise in doom temp for a tad longer? Thank you

    1. deb

      jimmy — You can, but they’re a bit easier to handle once chilled (plus, longer rises create better flavor). But, you’ll be fine either way.

  111. Liz

    As along time soap maker, I learned to add some ice to the water before the lye and it won’t heat ups so much. Made these tonight for a BBQ and they were a huge hit

  112. leila

    I was going to ask if you could please change “concentrated baking soda” to “baked baking soda” or more properly “sodium carbonate” as the first is a little misleading — it’s actually changing the chemical properties. Then i checked to see if anyone else mentioned it first when came across eclair’s comment (158) above, “ACTUALLY making lye at home…When you heat baking soda it decomposes to sodium oxide.”

    That is completely wrong! The nytimes article you linked above explains that it changes to sodium carbonate. And the article specifically notes that carbonates are weaker alkalis than hydroxyls. You are ACTUALLY making a much stronger alkali (1000x as it’s a logarithmic scale) than baking soda, but you are not “making lye at home”.

    Here’s the pH of each:
    Baking soda / sodium bicarbonate: 8.4
    Sodium bicarbonate / washing soda / baked baking soda: 11.6
    Sodium hypochlorite / bleach (for reference for those who think the one above is “too caustic”): 12-13
    Lye / sodium hydroxide: 14

  113. Kimberly

    I made these with the lye solution for a party tonight. Sneaked a few early and they are absolutely fabulous. Warning: may cause your husband to quote Fight Club all afternoon.

  114. Bracha

    These look amazing, you say that the dough can be refrigerated over night, but if I want to make these in advance do you think the dough would hold up if frozen, then defrosted before poached in baking soda and baked? Thank you.

  115. tim maguire

    Lye? I never would have guessed. Fortunately for me, I’ve made my own soap several times and so am familiar with the requirements of working with lye. Can’t wait to try this recipe.

  116. Sarah R.

    I just made these for a dinner party and wanted to say thanks and report my veganized substitutions in case it’s helpful for anyone else. I knew I was going to have a vegan friend over, so I made the dough vegan by substituting grapeseed oil for the butter/lard. I brushed the tops of the ones I wanted to keep vegan with the grapeseed oil and did the egg wash on the rest, and the ones I brushed with oil actually browned a touch nicer than the egg. All were a huge hit!

  117. Joy

    Hi Deb, I’ve made these twice & believe this is one of the greatest recipes ever invented. I’m hosting my first thanksgiving &, trying to keep things simple, decided to NOT risk having enough counter/fridge/stovetop/oven space & stick with a simple white loaf of bread. THEN I just saw your parker roll recipe & was inspired! I’d like to stick with this more traditional pretzel roll recipe & make ahead anything possible…my plan is to make dough, shape into balls, place into 9×13 pan (I’m thinking they won’t rise/stick together much being in fridge? or do you suggest on sheets so they don’t stick together??), cover & fridge overnight, take out for 1 hour next day then boil & bake in 9×13. Using the 9×13 is strictly just for space issues. Tiny oven, kitchen, house, etc. Any advice is so appreciated! Love you & your recipes & ideas. Thanks for continuing to inspire!

  118. deb

    Hi Joy — Not sure I fully followed but you’ll need a couple inches of space between rolls if you want to 100% guarantee they won’t stick to each other. You might find the Parker House version simpler as it doesn’t require boiling or dipping, just brushing and can be made in-pan. They’re more geared for dinner. Hope whichever you went with were a hit!

  119. Hi Deb, I second schmubob’s comment about not covering the rolls in the fridge to allow a nice skin to form (I haven’t read all the comments, so if somebody else mentioned it, my bad). The crust will come out a lot shinier and with less crinkles and bubbles. Also, have you tried using a dough with a pre-ferment? I find that my pretzel buns don’t go stale as quickly when using one. They still taste great the next day and if you spitz them with water and pop them in the oven for a couple of minutes, they are good as new. (In the unlikely case that they don’t all get gobbled up the very same day.) My personal favorites are pretzel bun burgers and pulled pork sandwiches – devine!

  120. Alison

    Hi Deb!

    I am wondering: do you have any idea about the weight of the dough that one recipe would make? I usually make soft pretzels with store-bought pizza dough (it’s actually pretty great) and I am familiar with buying that by the pound. Usually I buy 4 lbs and make about 16 soft pretzels (about 4-5 inches across). Is that, more or less, the size of the 16 that you say the recipe yields?

    Also, just for anyone in Brooklyn, I’d recommend calling Brooklyn Kitchen about food grade lye before you trek over there, because I called them a few weeks ago and (after much runaround with the person who answered the phone not understanding or knowing about what I asked for, until we finally heard from the manager who DID know what I was after) it seems like they do not stock that product anymore and didn’t have any plans to do it for the future.

    Thanks for your wonderful blog! It’s been a great help to me over the last 7-8 years!

  121. Abby

    I made these for dinner tonight, and they were amazing! I still can’t believe that I managed to make such a delicious pretzel at home. They are simply beautiful, to look at and to taste. Thanks, Deb.

    I just used the simple baking soda dip, and it was excellent. I can tell already that this recipe will become a family favorite. My two-year old daughter loved the ones I made with pumpkin seeds.

  122. Ryan

    schmubob (Post 38) thanks for writing that. I’ve been having issues with little bubbles on the pretzels, and I had a feeling it was because the dough is too wet. Also, what temperature does the oven need to be at to get the lye to turn the dough dark brown? What’s the ideal baking temperature for these pretzels?

  123. Alex

    I’ve made this recipe a few times now, and first – I absolutely love it, it’s always a hit. But being me, I was unable to stop from fitzing with the recipe (and screwing it up occasionally). I’ve found that the egg is unnecessary, and can get drippy and gross. I’ve also started subbing 1 c beer for 1 c of the water in the poaching step, and it really helps them brown up nicely and cuts a little bit of the weird flavor that the baking soda adds to the crust.

  124. Melissa

    Well, I tried these, but had no room in the fridge so they proved too much. Sort of deflated on trying to get them off parchment and into bath. Hmong. Will have to try again with a less full fridge (or on a colder day!)

  125. judy

    I immediately thought of “Pretzel Logic” as a title for this post when I saw it, as that is the title of one of the best albums ever, by one of the greatest bands ever, STEELY DAN!

  126. Caitlin

    I have found that you can keep the dough in the fridge for up to two nights and it still bakes well. I have only done this with the baking soda method, however. I usually cut the recipe to 6 buns, make two and leave the other four in the fridge to make the over the next two days. I cover it lightly with plastic wrap on a jelly roll pan, then cover it with the plastic lid I have for the jelly roll pan. Great work ahead for yummy bread! It is still edible if you forget about it (oops) and make it a third night, but tastes less like a pretzel and is tougher.

  127. Julie

    These didn’t work out as I had hoped. I tried it with the baking soda instead of lye…it was only meh. I need to try them again, but they didn’t brown and had a very strong baking soda flavor.

  128. Megan

    I have made this recipe as burger/sandwich buns so many times. It’s such an easy way to make really impressive burgers, and they also make fantastic pb&j sandwiches. I sub in 1C of rye flour, and use the regular baking soda method. If you have a scale, Peter Reinhart says 1Tbs of malt syrup weighs in at .5 oz. I measure the pieces of dough to 3.6-4.0 oz, which makes a dozen buns. I convect bake them at 395 for 12 minutes, then flip them and give them 2 more, just to make sure all the baking soda taste is baked off. Slice and freeze, and you’re ready for anything. Fantastic recipe, thank you!

  129. Alex M

    I’ve made this recipe several times with baking soda and get really great compliments – my german friends request it specially (it was a plea for the World Cup!). I’m not 100% satisfied, though. I think there’s an aftertaste from the baking soda that I can’t quite shake. I also don’t love the egg coating and have had more success without.

    Does the lye avoid the aftertaste? I want to try the lye, if so!

    Also, to those with an issue with browning – Martha Stewart recommends using some beer in the water. When using baking soda, I substitute most of a bottle of beer for part of the water and have found it to be very successful.

  130. greengirlgreen

    I can’t wait to try the lye method. I’ve tried the baking soda method and was disappointed.

    Question: Can I safely dip pretzel dogs in the lye? During baking, will the lye react with the sausage the way it does with the dough to become safe to eat?

  131. Even food grade lye is not meant to be used at a dilution of more than 4% (40g per 1000ml water) for safety. It is also worth noting that if using lye, these are best baked on a silpat as it can react with aluminium if present in your baking trays. Both of these tips are discussed in a video titled ‘La Laugenbrezel’ on YouTube.

    I recommend weighing out 1L/1000g of room temperature water and adding 40g of lye as a method of best practice. The recipe in the above conversion seems a bit heavy on the lye to my knowledge.

  132. Nadine M Guck

    I made this recipe today using the standard poaching liquid, and the rolls are excellent! Thanks for sharing!

  133. Kyle

    Spell check about a million years later, but I am making these again and just noticed. “Done some gloves and goggles and make Laugenbrezeln” should be “don some gloves…”

    1. deb

      I haven’t tried it on this recipe (it might be a little unstructured) but I’ve definitely done lye washes on challahs and other breads. For fun. Because I’m weird.

  134. /var/folders/g5/qdk5pxv578zbd3v9txy1s42c0000gn/T/

    First sally, using lye: long sleeve shirt, latex gloves (my kitchen ones crumbled when I took them out!), swimming goggles. No major drama, and results are res ipse dixit. Ty to everyone who posted about preserving, esp. Karl Heinz Kremer, because eating a “test” pretzel, two hot dog buns, and two burger buns, still left a bonanza to store till I see friends in a day and a half…

  135. Deb, if you had to recomend me one pretzel recipe from your site, which one would it be? I don’t mind a less-than-perfectly-bretzelish crust, and I’m not going to play around with lyme. I’m simply looking for the best dough, ideally moist and soft. Many thanks!

  136. Jen Macintosh

    Could I add some shredded cheddar cheese to this? Not as a blob stuffed in the middle but incorporating it into the dough. If some was peeping out of the surface, would the lye dip mess with it?

  137. Cindy

    I made the dough yesterday. I used a scale to weigh the flour – 15 oz for the first addition plus a second 15 oz for the second addition. My dough turned out very dry; so much so that it was difficult to roll into ropes and I couldn’t get any long enough to make pretzel shapes. I got 18 rolls instead. I used King Arthur bread flour (just like in the picture at the top of the recipe, actually). After checking KAF website, 1 cup of KAF bread flour equates to 4.25 oz. So, 4.25 oz x 6 cup s = 25.5 oz. By weighing the flour, I effectively used over 1 cup extra flour. Makes sense that my dough would be dry. So, is this one of the odd times when using measuring cups would have been more accurate?

    I will be baking these this morning and will post an update how they turned out. I’m going to use the baking soda method as I couldn’t find lye locally. But, I did order the lye from Amazon, so I’ll be trying these again for sure!

    1. Erika

      I had this exact same problem. I weighed the flour, and the dough was so dry it wouldn’t even come together. I tried adding more water but ended up having to toss the whole thing. :( Afterwards I tested the weight of a cup of flour and it was significantly lower than the recipe calls for. I’m sure these are great and will try again using cups to measure.

  138. Deb – I just had a craving for a hot pretzel and in that thought process, also started thinking about making hot pretzels and different ways I could riff on them at home. I had the following idea: a sort of pretzel flatbread/pizza where instead of a white sauce or red sauce, the topping was something like a mustard/cheese situation, maybe like a rarebit? What do you think? If I was to try such a thing, do you think it would make sense to brush the entire rolled out “pretzel crust” with lye, then spread the sauce on top and bake? Or would that be unsafe somehow, to cover the lye with another ingredient before baking? I suppose instead I could only “pretzel” the rim of the crust, and the middle would just be plain dough with the sauce spread on top? Or pretzel the whole thing, then spread the sauce on afterwards?

  139. Abby Krueger

    HI, For the baking soda method the directions read:
    Remove from heat and poach pretzels for 1 minute on each side in solution.

    Am I correct that no heat is used in the poaching? It’s a soaking?

  140. Kate

    Do you think I can save & re-use the lye solution? If so, any idea how long it’d be good for??

    And as a side note from my soap-making experience: when working with lye, keep some white vinegar on hand. The acidic vinegar neutralizes the basic lye, meaning it’s the best way to deal with spills, or splashing on your skin.

    1. deb

      I haven’t saved mine before and am 100% not a chemist, so I have no business giving advice, however, I don’t see why you couldn’t.

  141. Caitlin

    Make ahead – it worked to freeze the dough after you shape it (instead of put in fridge). Place on pan, let freeze then wrap airtight in plastic wrap and toss in a bag. Right from freezer, boiling it about 2 min each side was about right. It is not as “fluffy” but it definitely still tastes pretzel-y and is great to have in hand! I did this with buns. Not sure how actual pretzel shape would hold up.

  142. Drew

    The flavor of these came out wonderfully, though they did stick to the parchment quite badly after baking. Should they have been baked directly on the sheet? Perhaps oil the parchment next time?
    Thanks so much!!

  143. Annika

    Delicious! We made these together with the broccoli cheddar soup, and the family loved them. Lye was available via Amazon; the pretzels came together very easily (dough was super easy to work with) – in total, this was maybe 30min of hands-on time. I will be making these again. One note – for the powdered lye, I used a ratio of four cups water to 40 grams lye. Next time, I would only mix half that amount, as I ended up having to dispose most of it when I was done with the pretzels … would prefer not to have that waste.

  144. Danielle

    An amusing story about a well-meaning husband:
    Stuck waiting to pick up a prescription, I asked him to bake the baking soda for the concentrated bath. Got home, boiled the water, and when we dumped in the baking soda, it clumped up like gravy. I was befuddled. Checked the measurements again — “You only used a cup, right?” He assured me he had. We poached and rinsed and baked. The buns were good but not the least bit pretzely. It wasn’t until the next night that I said, “So do I need to put baking soda on the grocery list? I assume we’re low now,” and he facepalmed and said, “Well, that explains it. I read your text and then just auto-piloted to flour.”

  145. Ian

    These came out really good! No reason to be afraid of lye, it’s less dangerous than boiling water.

    One suggestion I would give is to weigh out your lye on a coffee filter and mix a 3% solution rather than using volume. The first time I did this I measured 1/4C and the pretzels came out sour and soapy. My lye is pretty fine grained so I’m guessing it was a bit too much. The next time I took the net water weight X 0.03 to get the lye weight and they came out perfect.

    I also found that 1Q was enough solution to get the job done.

    Thanks for a great recipe!

  146. Mary

    I have been searching for rye brat buns like my Dad made in his bakery. Saw the option for using 1cup rye flour. What would happen if I didn’t do the lye or soda bath? I want more of a rye taste. Tried another recipe for buns and no rise 🙁-these look like they would fit the bill! Thanks very much!