Soft Pretzels with Beer Cheese

Photo by Emily Hilliard
Author Notes

Growing up, soft pretzels were one of the few junk foods my siblings and I were allowed to eat. This homemade variation is a variation of my mother's recipe, paired with the Kentuckian classic, beer cheese. I recommend letting the cheese warm to room temperature and spreading it over a hot pretzel, then enjoying the whole ensemble with a cold beer. —Nothing in the House // Emily Hilliard

  • Makes 8 to 10 pretzels
  • For the soft pretzels:
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • Vegetable oil, for coating the bowl
  • Baking soda, as needed
  • 1 tablespoon barley malt syrup, rice syrup, or dark brown sugar (I used the latter)
  • Coarse kosher salt or pretzel salt, to taste
  • Cornmeal, for dusting
  • For the beer cheese:
  • 6 ounces beer (brown ale is best)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 tablespoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (I used homemade jalapeño hot sauce, but Tabasco will also work fine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
In This Recipe
  1. For the soft pretzels:
  2. In the bowl of standing mixer, add the warm water then sprinkle the yeast over top. Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk the mixture by hand until the yeast dissolves. Fit the bowl into the stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and add the flour, sugar, and sea salt. On low, use the dough hook to knead together the ingredients until they are well combined and the dough begins to come together.
  3. Knead the dough on medium-low for an additional 5 minutes. If the dough remains sticky, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time until dough is smooth and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.
  4. Coat a medium bowl with oil and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with a dishcloth and set the bowl in a warm place to allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately 1 hour.
  5. Once the dough has risen, turn it out on a clean, floured surface, and divide it into 8 to 10 equal pieces, each just larger than a golf ball. To shape the pretzels, roll each piece of dough into a long, skinny rope, about the circumference of your index finger. Make a U-shape and cross the two ends at the top. Twist them once more, then bring the ends over the bottom of the U to make a pretzel shape.
  6. Place each shaped pretzel onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. When all the pretzels are formed cover them loosely with a dishcloth and let them rise until slightly puffier (as shown in the photo below), about 30 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, place the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 425° F. While the pretzels rise, prepare a water bath. Measuring and keeping track of how many cups you add, fill a large Dutch oven or other wide pot with 4 inches of water (make sure the pot is tall, as the water will bubble once you add baking soda). For each cup of water in the pot, add 1 tablespoon of baking soda. Bring water to a low boil, then add the barley malt, rice syrup, or brown sugar. Gently whisk the water then reduce the heat to medium until the water is at a low simmer. Prepare an baking sheet, lined with parchment paper and dusted with cornmeal.
  8. Once the pretzels have risen, lower them into the water bath (depending on the size of your pot, you can do a few at a time—I could fit 4 at a time into my Dutch oven). They will float to the top. Simmer for about 30 seconds (my mom’s recipe says to “count slowly to 30”), then flip them using a slotted spoon or metal spatula. Simmer for 30 additional seconds, then transfer them to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all of the pretzels have simmered in the water bath. They should be considerably puffed and somewhat shaggy.
  9. Sprinkle all of the pretzels generously with coarse kosher or pretzel salt. Bake until they are a deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
  10. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool until they are cool enough to touch. Serve them fresh 'n' hot alongside beer cheese (recipe below). Pretzels will keep up to 1 day if covered in a sealed container, but your best bet is to eat them fresh—and why wouldn’t you?
  1. For the beer cheese:
  2. Pour the beer into a glass measuring cup and set aside. This helps it lose its carbonation.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the garlic cloves until minced. Add the shredded sharp cheddar, cayenne, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard until the cheese mixture becomes smooth and creamy.
  4. Scrape down sides of food processor bowl and slowly pour in the beer. Pulse until well incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste (different cheddars have different salt content, so the amount may vary).
  5. Once seasoned, transfer beer cheese to a serving dish. You can serve it immediately with soft pretzels or keep it in a tupperware in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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Emily Hilliard is the West Virginia state folklorist at the West Virginia Humanities Council. Her work has been published by NPR, Food52, The Southern Foodways Alliance, Design* Sponge, Lucky Peach, and others. She writes about pie at nothinginthehouse.com.