German Soft Sourdough Pretzels

Recipe by Tom as adapted from Maurizio Leo, The Perfect Loaf

Except for the levain, these pretzels can be prepared and baked in one day, that is without overnight fermentation.


  • Levain
  • 10g Starter, 100% hydro with bread flour

  • 102g Bread Flour

  • 102g Water

  • Main Dough
  • 584g Bread Flour

  • 120g AP Flour

  • 51g Whole Wheat Flour

  • 369g Water

  • 17g Sea Salt, fine

  • 60g Butter, unsalted and softened to room temperature

  • 3g Diastatic Malt Powder

  • 214 g Levain, 100% hydro with bread flour (from above)

  • Lye Bath
  • 940g Water, cool

  • 38g Lye, food-grade

  • Topping
  • Coarse Pretzel Salt


  • Levain (9:00 p.m.)
  • Mix the Levain ingredients in a small bowl or jar. Cover the jar and keep it warm for 12 hours.
  • Mix (9:00 a.m. the next day; or even as late as 4 p.m. with the overnight option)
  • Add the flour, water, salt, softened butter, diastatic malt powder, and levain to the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on speed 1 for 2 to 3 minutes until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Continue to mix on speed 2 for 4-6 additional minutes until the dough becomes smooth and cohesive—an improved mix.
  • Bulk fermentation (9:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., about 3.5 hours at ~78° F)
  • After the first hour of bulk fermentation, give the dough one set of stretches and folds. Return the dough to the bulk container and let it rest until it is time to divide.
  • Divide and preshape (12:45 p.m.)
  • Because the dough is low hydration, keep it covered at all times. Divide the dough into twelve 115-gram rectangular pieces. Preshape each rectangle into a tapered cigar shape. Let the pieces rest for 15 minutes or longer until they are extensible enough. Cover with plastic.
  • Shape (1:00 p.m.)
  • Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper. Starting with the piece preshaped first, place the cigar in front of you so the tips are at your sides. Begin with your hands slightly overlapping in the middle, press down, and roll the dough back and forth away from and then toward your body. As you are rolling, start to move your hands outward to encourage the tube to spread out and become increasingly thin as you move from the center out to the tips. Roll the dough out to a thin, long rope of about 24 inches.

    You want to keep an exaggerated bulge in the very center of this rope, this will be the part you later score to open in the oven. Grab the two tips and arrange the dough so it loops away from you. Take one tip and fold it over the other side. Switch your hands so your right hand is holding the new right tip and your left is holding the new left tip. Fold the same side over the other as previously. Grab the two tips, fold them up over the knot in the middle, and place each tip on its corresponding side inside the loop. It looks nice to have a little overlap with each tip — gently press it down into the side to seal.
  • Proof (1:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.)
  • Let the dough proof on the counter at room temperature for 30 minutes, covered with a plastic sheet.

    OVERNIGHT OPTION: at this point, you could also retard the shaped pretzels in the fridge overnight to make them the next day. Instead of leaving them out for 30 minutes covered to proof, leave them for only 15 minutes covered with plastic, and then place them in the fridge. The next day, remove sheet pans from the fridge to uncover and return them to the fridge to chill uncovered for 20 minutes (to develop a skin, as mentioned previously). Then, continue with the rest of the process.

    Otherwise, uncover and transfer the baking sheets holding your pretzels to the fridge for 45 minutes to 1 hour to develop dry skin and help them keep their shape.
  • Lye bath (2:45 p.m.)
  • Place two racks in your oven, one at the bottom and one in the top third. Preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C) convection (475°F (245°C) without convection).

    While wearing long latex or rubber gloves, add 940g of cool water to a stainless steel bowl. To the water, add 38g of food-grade lye while quickly mixing with a stainless steel whisk or large spoon. The mixture will initially be cloudy, keep stirring until all the powder/pellets are dissolved.

    With gloves, pick up one shaped pretzel, transfer it to the lye bath, and let it bathe for 15-20 seconds. Transfer the pretzel to a drip or cooling rack on top of parchment paper inside the baking sheet.

    Repeat with remaining dough pieces. Once all the pretzels have been dipped, carefully flush the remaining lye solution or save it for future use.
  • Bake (3:00 p.m.)
  • Score each pretzel with the razor blade and sprinkle on pretzel salt. Remove the drip racks from underneath the unbaked pretzels. Bake at 450°F (230°C) for 10 minutes. Rotate the pans back to front and top to bottom, turn the oven down to 425°C (220°C), and bake for 6 minutes longer or until a deep brown color. Remove baking sheets from the oven and let pretzels cool a bit to enjoy them warm.


  • You will need a stainless steel bowl, stainless steel cooling rack, and rubber gloves for the lye bath.

Key points to making good pretzels

See Mauritzio Leo’s detailed post about pretzels on his phenomenal site. He advises the following:

  • Degas heavily when dividing.
  • Don’t cover your baking trays when chilling the shaped pretzel in the fridge (this helps to develop skin on the pretzel).
  • Bake in a very hot oven, 450°F (230°C).
  • Using lye for the pre-bake bath imparts that classic pretzel color, flavor, and texture.
  • Mix in a metal or plastic bowl, not glass. Alkali will attack glass, eventually making it cloudy and weakening the structure. Have some diluted vinegar on hand to quickly rinse your hands should they get lye solution on them.
  • If you plan to eat them later, don’t add the salt before baking (which tends to go bad quickly). They’ll keep in a bread box or a bag with a few paper towels underneath (to absorb moisture).
  • They do freeze well! Thaw them in the fridge, then reheat them under the broiler until warm.

Best of wishes…


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