Retarded Rustic New York Style Soft Pretzels

A very simple recipe with insanely detailed instructions, because most people don't bake, or don't bake bread, or are intimidated. Don't be. This is fun!
If you are an experienced bread baker, you can skip most of this, down to the lye dip part. If you're new to pretzels, or baking, know that I'm giving you crazy amounts of details because I can't be there to show you and talk you through it so you get the feel of how it's done. Read through this, and know that the entire dough making part only takes 15 minutes, and that includes getting out the ingredients and the bowls, and doing the kneading by hand.

325gm King Arthur bread flour

100gm Bob's Mills whole grain spelt flour

7gm dry yeast (one packet)

250ml Pilsner beer, or any sharply hoppy lager or inexpensive IPA

1tbl malt syrup, up to 1 1/2tbl (because the stuff is like tar and is very hard to measure properly)

2tbl unsalted butter

6gm salt

coarse sea salt


makes 5 or 6 depending on how big you want them
Get out a big mixing bowl, a medium mixing bowl, a whisk, a table knife. A food thermometer and a kitchen scale are really helpful.
Later on you will need a decent size stainless steel pot (4qt) and a roll of parchment paper. Cooling racks and a large baking sheet too.

important note: depending on the weather you might have to add a little more flour or a little more liquid. A little! An extra teaspoon of liquid can make a huge difference. So can a tablespoon of flour. You want your mixed unkneaded dough to be just a little sticky, but not runny, gloppy, or like glue.


Using a 2 cup microwave safe measuring cup, pour in the beer and let the head evaporate.
Nuke the beer for 90 seconds until it's 150F. Pour hot beer into a large stainless steel mixing bowl.
Add malt syrup and butter, stir to dissolve. (stir with syrup's measuring spoon to get all the syrup). When liquid cools to 115F sprinkle on the yeast. (No thermometer? 115F is warm to the touch but not even close to really hot.) Wait 2 minutes and stir until dissolved.
Weigh out the flours and sift them into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk them together.
Weigh out the salt. 6gm is 2tsp of kosher salt.
The yeast should be foamy by now. Stir in the salt for a few seconds until dissolved.
Add flour and mix with a table knife until the classic "shaggy mess" is formed.
Complete mixing by repeatedly squeezing dough with your really clean bare hands, working in all the flour in the bowl.

Turn the dough out on your super clean work surface. Knead the dough 200 kneads. Rest your arms every 50 kneads and work the dough by hand squeezes for a minute. If dough seems too moist after a dozen kneads, sprinkle a pinch of flour (1/2 tsp) on it, work it in by hand, and continue kneading. You may have to do this a couple times, depending on the weather. You may not have to do it at all. That's just how dough is.
When dough seems ready (when it seems velvet smooth, ball it up and prod it with your finger. The dough should fill in most the dent in a couple seconds), knead it another 25 times.
Butter that medium mixing bowl and place dough ball inside.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8-48 hours. This is called a retarded rise.
Spelt flour is a primitive grain, thus the rustic part of the name.


After the rise, punch the dough down and flatten it on a clean large work surface.
Weigh the dough and divide that by the number of pretzels you want. A "mall size" NY style pretzel is about 160gm. Sure, you can cut it by eye. Just trying to be a bit professional. Add little bits until all chunks are nearly the same weight. A gram or three difference won't mean a thing.
Ball up each dough chunk and set aside. Cover them with a damp tea towel if it's really dry in your kitchen.

One chunk at a time, roll them into ropes:

Bavarian style pretzels use a tapered rope; fatter in the middle and pointy on the ends. This dough works for that style too.
A New York style pretzel rope is the same thickness all over. This is the standard American "mall" or "snack bar" pretzel shape.

Start by making a candy bar sized log with your hands, then use a rolling pin to flatten that into a long narrow rectangle.
Roll the rectangle up along the long axis, and pinch the seam with dampened fingers.
Roll ropes from the center outwards. Use your fingers and palms, and tilt your hands slightly so your index fingers are lower than your pinkies.
Roll the dough back and forth, pushing down firmly while you gradually pull your hands further apart to work the dough from the middle outwards/
Dough will get stubborn at about 20"; set that rope aside to rest and do another one. The ropes will shrink while resting.
It usually takes 3 rollings to get a rope that relaxes to 32"-36". On a dry day it helps to lightly rub the set aside rope with lightly dampened hands.

If you need extra rolling traction, tap one palm against the surface of a bowl of water, then rub your palms together, then resume rolling the rope.
Try for ropes thinner than your pinkie finger. Remember those fat red "beginner" pencils from 1st grade? That's the right diameter. 3/8"-ish.


Form the pretzel shape, using a 5 1/2" - 6" circle as a guide, until you gain expertise. The middle of rope is 6 o'clock on the circle, and the overlap is at 12.
Dampen your fingers and twist the overlap once or twice, squeezing gently, then fold it down and press the "hands" across the "belly" at 4 and 7 o'clock.
Set each pretzel on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Adjust them for prettiness. 5 or 6 will fill a sheet. Freeze them for about 2 hours.


When the pretzels have chilled/frozen, boil 8 or 9 cups of water in a large stainless steel pot.
Mix 15gm lye in 500ml cool water in a 8x8 or 9x9 glass baking dish; use a slotted spatula and mix very gently for several minutes.
Lye gives off unpleasant vapors, and the splashes can burn, so be cautious, turn the kitchen fan on high, wear long rubber gloves, and even eye protection if you feel the need. Oh, and ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS add the lye powder to the water, not the water to the lye powder. Be safe, be smart.
Once the lye has been mixed and the pot of water is nearly boiling, carefully place baking dish on a stove burner, and gently heat it until you just see steam. Turn off the burner.
Seriously, have the fan on high!! Open the window too. When lye water gets to about 150F, turn off the heat.
note: less risky method: you can do a cold lye water dip if you want, that follows the plain boiling water dip. Increase the lye dip time to 20 seconds per side.
Using a large slotted spatula or an Asian spider tool, lower frozen pretzels one at a time into the boiling water for 15-20 seconds, then transfer to the warm lye dip. 15 seconds per side, then onto a cooling rack to drain.
At this point the pretzels can either be salted and baked, or put back on the parchment paper baking sheet and into the freezer for up to a couple months.
Once frozen, transfer them to a big Ziploc freezer bag.
Lye water can be stored in a clearly labeled glass jar in the fridge (applesauce or pickle jar is perfect) or poured down the sink drain.


Pre-baking options: frozen pretzels can be thawed for 20-30 minutes on the counter, or thawed and proofed in a slightly warm moist oven (170 then allowed to cool a bit) with a pie pan of boiling water on a lower shelf.
They will get a bit bigger because the yeast is doing its second rise. This is OK.
They can be given a second lye dip while still partially frozen. This will really make the salt stick, but isn't at all necessary and I never do it.
Once thawed, or just before baking, you can give them a light egg yolk wash (1 yolk, 1 tsp milk, beaten) to give them a glossy shine when baked.
The salting is the last step before baking no matter what your method is. Don't salt unbaked pretzels if you're going to then refreeze them.
Arrange them on a fresh sheet of parchment paper (cut to fit your baking sheet) while you preheat the oven and the baking sheet to 500F.
Bakethe pretzels on the middle shelf. If you have a big baking stone or a large pizza stone, put that on the lowest shelf before heating the oven.
When everything is hot, pull out the sheet, slide on the paper with pretzels, then bake for 10 minutes.
They get really really brown because of the lye; this does not mean that they're done. 8 minutes is minimum, 12 is maximum.
Cool them for about 10 minutes then eat.
If you want really dark brown pretzels with a bit more chew, bake them at 450F for 12-18 minutes instead. Much more than that and you'll have hard pretzels instead of soft ones.



What if I don't have a scale, or lye, or spelt flour, or bread flour, or malt syrup, or beer???



Flour weighs 120gm per cup. 425gm is about 3 1/3 cups. 325gm is about 2 1/2 cups. 100gm spelt flour is 3/4 cup.
Always scoop the flour and then pour it into a measuring cup, then scrape off the overflow with the back of a table knife.
If you're not using a scale, use a bit less liquid at first, and add more in tiny amounts if dough seems too dry.
It should be firm but sticky when first mixed. Too moist is better than too dry; the dough will dry out a lot when kneaded and retarded.

No bread four, no spelt flour? Use regular unbleached flour instead. Heckers is better than Pillsbury.
7gm yeast is one packet.
250ml is 1 cup and a small splash. No real German beer? Yeungling IPL works fine and is cheap. Worst case, you can use plain water instead.
1 or 2 tbs brown sugar can be used in place of malt syrup.
6gm salt is 2 tsp kosher salt. Use 1 1/2tsp if you only have table salt.
you can salt the outside with kosher salt if you don't have sea salt. Don't over do it.


You can make washing soda from baking soda and use that in place of lye. It isn't as strong, but it works fairly well.
Put 1/2c - 1c baking soda in a glass baking dish, and cook it in a 425 oven for 1 hour. Every 20 minutes open the oven and give it a stir.
After 1 hour, turn off oven and let the stuff cool down inside. Store it in an airtight plastic container.

To use the "baked baking soda", stir in 1/4 cup to 8 cups of boiling water.
Dip frozen pretzels in this for about 40 seconds; they will float when done.
Drain, salt, and bake. Or freeze, as outlined above.

A boil made with plain baking soda is hardly worth it, but 1/2 cup in 8 cups water will do it.
Simmering, not boiling, because baking soda will foam a whole lot.



This takes FOREVER. Isn't there a faster way?



You can do a regular 1 hour rise; put a wet towel over the dough bowl and place it in a warmed oven that's cooled down to 100F.
You can do no rise at all and go straight from kneading to making the ropes and then baking.
But the whole point is the slow rise that lets the flavors develop completely.

You don't have to freeze them at any step. It's just a convenience to make them stiff so they handle the boiling water dip better.
If you are fortunate enough to have a powerful stand mixer, you can use it to do all the mixing and kneading. Maybe even use a food processer.
Hand kneading only takes 5 minutes or less, and really gives you a feel for the dough, when it's mixed, and when it's properly kneaded.

Pretzel rolls taste just as good as regular pretzels and take no skill to form. Just make golf ball sized lumps and press them down a bit.
Pretzel rods or nuggets work, if you don't want to shape the ropes.

If your ropes are a bit uneven, or your pretzels are ugly, don't worry. That's part of the charm of hand-made, and you'll get better with practice.


the dough after rising in the fridge for a day