October 5, 2015

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: These pretzels are made in the traditional method, using a solution made of water and food grade lye. Lye is tricky, but the results are worth it. For more information, see the column under my username on the same topic. Erin McDowell

Makes: 12 pretzels
Prep time: 3 hrs
Cook time: 15 min


For the dough

  • 5 1/2 cups (22.80 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon (9 grams) yeast
  • 23 grams (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (11 grams) kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon (12.30 ounces) warm (95 to 100° F) water
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter

For finishing

  • 1.25 ounces lye
  • 2 3/4 cups (22 ounces) boiling water
  • 1 1/2 cups (2 ounces) cold water
  • 1 pinch coarse salt, for finishing
In This Recipe


  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, mix the flour, sugar, salt and yeast to combine.
  2. Add the water and butter and mix on low speed until the dough comes together, 3 minutes
  3. Raise the speed to medium-high and continue to mix until the dough is very smooth, 4 minutes more.
  4. Transfer the dough to a large bowl lightly greased with nonstick spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until double in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into even pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each)—you should get 12. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap on your work surface and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. To shape the pretzels, work one at a time. Press the dough into a slightly oblong in shape, just by pushing it flat with your fingers. Starting at the top of the dough (the edge farthest away from you), fold one third of the piece of dough over onto itself. Press firmly with your fingertips or with the heel of your hand to "seal." Continue to fold the dough over and press to seal until it has formed a log shape.
  7. Starting with very light pressure in the center of the dough, roll the dough between your hands and the work surface, elongating the log. Roll until the dough is about 22 inches long, or the log is evenly about 1/3 inch in circumference.
  8. To shape the pretzel, hold the two ends in your hands. Twist the strands around each other once (still holding the ends), then again, to make two twists in the dough. At this point, lift the rounded part of the dough at the top and bring it down below the two twists. Bring the ends through the round and press down with your fingers to seal.
  9. Cover the pretzels on your work surface loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise 45 minutes to 1 hour more.
  10. Make the lye solution. Wear gloves and eye protection. Place the lye in a large, non-reactive, heat safe bowl. Pour the boiling water over the lye, taking care not to inhale the steam that emits from the lye. Wait 1 minute, then add the cold water to the mixture, and cool to room temperature.
  11. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  12. Dip each proofed pretzel into the lye solution (still wearing gloves and eye protection) for about 20 seconds. Transfer each pretzel to the prepared baking sheet. Top with coarse salt. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
  13. Bake until the pretzels are deeply golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

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Reviews (9) Questions (1)

9 Reviews

Loraine M. January 29, 2019
Hi - do you know why in this recipe the water mixed with the lye is boiling? I have seen other recipes that dont mention this step, they just put cold water. Also, shouldnt I let the formed pretzels set in the fridge for a bit before cooking?
jperson October 29, 2017
You can also use baking soda (2/3 of a cup to 10 cups of water) in place of lye. It also has a high PH (basic) and may not be quite the same as using lye but is a little easier and safer to work with.
Madeleine July 1, 2016
Yum! These turned out great in the end, but my dough didn't rise as much as the recipe said it would which threw me off a bit! I let the dough rise for 3 hours, and it still didn't double in size. The end result was still delicious though :)
cory C. June 5, 2016
they turned out fantastic, great recipe...thank you! Now to make some mustard & beer cheese to dip in!
Cynthia G. January 29, 2016
Any substitute for the lye? Not readily available in my area.
Tom January 29, 2016
Try baking soda ~2/3C to ~8C water
Patricia January 29, 2016
I just googled this issue and came up with a baker that bakes bake soda to raise alkalinity. The recommendation was to keep away from lye unless experienced using it. Any other thoughts or suggestion?
Cynthia G. January 29, 2016
Great. Good to know! Thanks.
Valerie D. November 29, 2015
Could just use the boiling water without adding the lye. And where can I purchase the lye. Why use lye the lye ?