Soft Pretzels with Beer Cheese

April 26, 2021
9 Ratings
Photo by Emily Hilliard
  • Makes 8 to 10 pretzels
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

What You'll Need
  • 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
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • jacky143
  • Sharyn Guthrie
    Sharyn Guthrie
  • Suzanna Hoang
    Suzanna Hoang
  • Nothing in the House // Emily Hilliard
    Nothing in the House // Emily Hilliard
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.

11 Reviews

jacky143 December 31, 2023
We made this for a New Year's Eve hostess gift. I doubled the recipe and substituted 1 cup all-purpose with Buckwheat flour. When we blanched them in the water bath, I used half the amount of baking soda. I added a bit of honey to the egg wash. Used Everything seasoning as the base topping, adding caraway and celery seed. Wish I could share a picture, they came out perfectly.
JenV March 31, 2021
As a Winchester, Ky native, (only THE home of Beer Cheese, and as legend has it, my BFF in high school's grandpa is THE original creator of beer cheese, lost the recipe in yep, you guessed it, a poker tournament) I'm really looking forward to trying your recipe. The one I have used for the last ten or so years calls for bucket cheese, and I want to try something different. HOWEVER, you'll drag the Budweiser out of my cold dead hands. It's the only acceptable beer for Winchester Beer Cheese.
David S. February 28, 2021
Me and my daughter (7) cooked these on a VERY rainy Saturday afternoon. A great activity and we had a blast making the "snakes". Very easy and delicious. We used "All Purpose" instead of "Bread" flour. When we make this again, we will try the bread flour. Didn't make the beer cheese, but served with spicy brown mustard. Cooked for about 12 minutes in a convection oven. I liked using baking soda instead of lye in the bath. This really made the recipe accessible.

Thank you for sharing.
Gert D. May 4, 2020
The most delicious pretzels ~ so wonderful to have this recipe. Texture and flavor are spot on ... beer cheese is next level (As are all of Emily’s recipes)
Danny September 24, 2016
Only made the beer cheese dip but am so happy with the result. Spicy, smoky, hoppy and perfect with a bag of store-bought pretzels if you don't have time to make them from scratch.
Sharyn G. February 8, 2016
I loved the texture of the finished pretzel, and this is a good recipe. 2 things I will do differently next time: put less salt in the dough and I will not bake on parchment because even with the cornmeal the pretzels stuck to the paper. Ugh. Next time I will bake on silpat or directly on the pan. I think it is because you put the wet dough from the boil onto the paper.
Suzanna H. December 27, 2015
Made these earlier tonight and they were awesome! Rosemary and parm added to the dough. ??
Nothing I. December 29, 2015
That sounds delicious, Suzanna!
Bill K. July 15, 2015
Haha, I hear you about not being able to eat "junk food" like soft pretzels growing up. My mom would make healthier snacks like Carrots and snap peas. I'm grateful for those eating habits, but dang it if whenever I went to the mall with my grandma, she didnt spoil me and my sister with Aunt Millie's pretzels! Anyways, great recipe-I did not cook it, my wife did and we loved it. Keep up the good work! For those beer lovers who want more info on pairing beer with food and brewing beer check out http://glassand growlers.com
Bill K. July 15, 2015
Sadly I have fat finger, http://glassandgrowlers.com
Nothing I. July 18, 2015
Thanks, Bill! Glad you enjoyed it.