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How to Shape and Dip Bavarian-Style Soft Pretzels

Learn master bread baker Peter Reinhart's technique for shaping and dipping soft, chewy pretzels.

Length: 5:06
Produced By: Sarah Breckenridge; videography by Gary Junken; editing by Cari Delahanty

By Peter Reinhart

Shaping the dough for my Bavarian-Style Pretzels is easy once you get the hang of it, and a dip in food-safe lye makes the crust an appealing dark mahogany-brown and deeply flavorful: 

After the first rise, roll the dough into long ropes and twist them into the traditional pretzel shape (watch the video and see the steps detailed below). Instead of using flour to prevent the dough from sticking, I use a little vegetable oil; adding more flour at this point only makes the pretzels tough.

To Shape the Pretzels
Line a large baking sheet with lightly oiled parchment or a silicone baking mat and set aside.

Lightly mist a work surface and, using your palms and fingers, roll each piece of dough on the work surface into a rope that’s about 30 inches long and 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. If the dough resists or shrinks back, let it rest for a few minutes while you work on other pieces; short rests will let the gluten relax enough to allow for the full rollout.

Working with 1 dough rope at a time, shape it into a large U that’s 5 to 7 inches across with the curve closest to you. Take the 2 ends of the rope in your fingers and cross one over the other so the ends overhang the cross by about 3 inches. Twist the ends of the rope shortening the overhang to about 2 inches.  Next, pull the twisted end section toward you and fold it down over the bottom curve of the U so the ends are a couple of inches apart and overhang the bottom by about 1/4 inch.

Carefully transfer the pretzels to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them evenly and reshaping as needed. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until hard, at least 2 hours and up to 3 weeks.

The next step—freezing the pretzels—is unusual, but it makes all the difference for two reasons: It slows down the fermentation process, which gives the pretzels better flavor, and it helps them hold their shape during the following step, a soak in a lye bath.

Dip for a dark, flavorful crust
The secret to a truly great pretzel is a dip in a weak solution of water and lye, an alkali that affects the surface starch so the pretzels can develop a deep, glossy-brown crust in the oven (see tips below for working with lye safely). The alkali is neutralized during baking, making the pretzel safe to eat.

If you’d rather not work with lye, you can use baking soda instead. But baking soda is a much milder alkali, and the crust it produces will not be nearly as dark or crusty as one made with lye. If using baking soda, you’ll also need to brush the pretzels with beaten egg or they may bake up streaky.

After dipping, the pretzels sit at room temperature to thaw and proof. Then they’re sprinkled with coarse salt—a little goes a long way—and baked to mahogany-brown perfection (or dark golden-brown perfection, if dipped in baking soda). Either way, they’re sure to wow your friends and family.

How to work safely with lye
Don’t let the idea of working with lye scare you—it’s really not a big deal if you take basic precautions and keep the following in mind:

• Use food-grade lye; it’s been used for centuries in Asian cuisines, to cure olives, make hominy from corn, and alkalize cocoa. You can find it in some Asian markets and online at modernistpantry.com.

• Lye is very alkaline, so if it splashes on your skin, it will sting; if it spills on your work surface, it may stain. Use caution, working slowly and deliberately. If splashes occur, immediately rinse with cool water.

• Wear protective gloves. If they are nondisposable, wash them in cool soapy water and rinse well after using.

• Use a stainless-steel bowl to hold the lye bath and stainless-steel tongs or slotted spoon to dip the pretzels. Never let the lye come in contact with aluminum, including foil; lye reacts to aluminum, releasing flammable hydrogen gas.

• Dispose of the lye bath by slowly pouring it down the sink drain and then flush the pipes with cold running water for a few seconds.

 

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