Move aside popcorn, movie nights at home just got more fun with your choice of Soft Pretzels or Pretzel Bites, served up savory or sweet. They also make wonderful game day appetizers or afterschool snacks.
Pretzels remind me of trips to the malls and fun nights at the movie theater. I don’t know about you but I haven’t been to the malls or theaters lately, and do we even need to since online shopping and streaming took over? But that doesn’t mean we can’t have our pretzels and eat it too!
Whether you prefer the heft of a whole pretzel or the convenience of pretzel bites, you just need one easy recipe to please everyone in the family. I made these with my go-to milk bread dough, which makes the inside super soft and fluffy while the outside is golden brown and chewy.
What is it?
Lye water is used in cooking to promote browning and to create crisp and crunch. This is what gives traditional pretzels their characteristic chewy pretzel crust.
However, lye is a strong alkali that can be dangerous if not handled properly. Plus it isn’t something most homecooks keep in their pantry.
What can I substitute for lye water?
In this recipe, I used baking soda and water instead of lye water. It is an easy substitute and will yield similar results.
Step by Step Instructions
Please don’t let the length of this recipe intimidate you. Making any kind of bread is usually labor intensive but actually fairly easy and achievable. You just need patience.
Bloom the yeast
Make sure the cream and milk mixture is warm and not hot when you add the yeast, something below 110°F is ideal. If the temperature is too hot you can kill the yeast.
Usually, active dry yeast will take around 10 minutes to activate.
You don’t need to activate instant yeast but I like to rehydrate them anyways in warm liquid, it takes them just a few minutes to puff up as compared to active dry yeast.
Make the dough
You can use a stand mixer with the dough hook to knead this dough or mix it in a mixing bowl and simply knead by hand. I prefer the stand mixer obviously… but I’ve tried making it by hand as well, and it certainly works.
This dough should be quite easy to handle, add just enough flour if kneading by hand to prevent it from sticking but try not to add too much extra flour as it can make the pretzel dry.
Proof the dough
Once you are done with the kneading, shape the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled glass bowl and allow it to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size.
This process can take 1 to 2 hours, but it can also take longer if you’re baking on a very cold day. So be patient.
Shaping the pretzel or pretzel bites
- Divide the dough into 4 equal portions.
- Roll it out flat. You’ll want something elongated like an oval or a rectangle, but the shape and size doesn’t matter too much.
- Then roll it up into a long log: 10” to 12” for pretzel bites and 2 ½ to 3 feet for regular pretzels. Yes, that is “feet”, as in 30” to 36”, you’ll need the length to twist it into a pretzel shape.
- For pretzel bites, simply cut the log into 1” pieces.
- For regular pretzels, twist the longer thinner log into the shape of the pretzel. Make a sort of heart shape and twist the ends together twice or thrice, making sure you have enough of a tail to prop them on top at the bottom.
Boiling in baking soda water
Prepare a pot of boiling water and baking soda. Keep the water boiling gently as you boil your pretzels.
- Transfer several pretzel bites to the pot using a slotted spoon or any kitchen tool that will allow you to lower them into the boiling water without dropping them and splattering.
- Boil the pretzel bites for 10 seconds.
- Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place them on an oiled wire rack to allow excess water to drip off.
- Similarly, transfer a regular pretzel to the pot, one at a time, since there won’t be enough room, and boil for 30 seconds this time.
- Remove the pretzel and let excess water drip off on an oiled wire rack.
Baking the pretzels
- Brush on egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt before baking. Skip the salt if you are planning to coat the pretzels in a sweet topping, like cinnamon sugar, later.
- Bake at 425°F until deep golden brown. This takes 10-12 minutes for both the pretzel bites and the regular pretzels.
It’s typical to add just coarse salt directly to the pretzels before baking. But if you want to spice things up, try:
- Everything bagel seasoning
- Shredded cheese
- Shredded cheese and pepperoni
- Shredded cheese and jalapeno
- Garlic and parmesan: you can use garlic powder, minced fresh garlic or roasted garlic, mixed with grated parmesan.
With a sweet topping like cinnamon sugar, you don’t want to add it before baking because the sugar may burn. So you would toss the still warm pretzel bites in melted butter or brush melted butter on the regular size pretzels and roll in cinnamon sugar immediately.
I made a very simple sweet cream cheese sauce for my pretzel bites. I soften the cream cheese quickly in the microwave and stir in powdered sugar. It was the perfect dip for the cinnamon sugar pretzel bites. You can also try:
- Homemade Dulce de Leche
- Honey Peanut Butter
- Guacamole (think avocado toast!)
- Marinara sauce (for the cheesy pizza-esque pretzels)
As with all baked goods, especially bread, these pretzels and pretzel bites taste best fresh out of the oven on the day they are made. But you can store leftovers in an airtight container for 3 days at room temperature.
Leftover cream cheese dip should be stored in the fridge. Warm it up to soften before serving.
More recipes made with milk bread dough
- Anpan (Japanese Red Bean Bun)
- Mini Pigs in a Blankets
- Pani Popo (Samoan Coconut Buns)
- Cinnamon Rolls
- Tropical Cinnamon Buns
Soft Pretzels or Pretzel Bites
- ½ cup heavy cream (114 g)
- ½ cup whole milk (114 g)
- 2 tablespoon granulated sugar (26 g)
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (or instant yeast)
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cup all-purpose flour (270 g)
- Extra flour for rolling
- Oil for greasing
Baking soda water for boiling
- 4 cup water
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- Coarse salt for topping (skip if using sweet toppings later)
Optional cinnamon sugar topping
- 4 oz unsalted butter (melted, 113 g)
- ½ cup granulated sugar (100 g)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Optional cream cheese sauce
- 4 oz cream cheese (113 g)
- ½ cup powdered sugar (50 g)
- Add cream, milk and sugar to a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool down to below 110°F.
- Sprinkle active dry yeast over the liquid surface and let it bloom for 10 – 15 minutes, the mixture should puff up. For instant yeast, you could just stir it straight into the flour but I like to rehydrate it in this step. It will puff up much quicker.
- Add the flour and salt to a stand mixer bowl and stir to distribute. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and knead with the dough hook on speed 2 for about 10 minutes until the dough starts to pull away from the side of the bowl.
- Scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl onto a floured countertop and shape into a ball.
- Place the dough ball into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 1 – 2 hours until at least double in size.
- Dump the risen dough out onto a lightly floured countertop, divide into 4 equal portions and roll each portion out flat. You’ll want something elongated like an oval or a rectangle, but the shape and size doesn’t matter too much. Then roll it up into a long log.
- TO MAKE PRETZEL BITES: Roll each log out to about 10” to 12” long. Cut each log into 10 to 12 pieces about 1” each. You can keep the dough on a floured countertop or a lined baking sheet, keep them apart so they don’t stick together.
- TO MAKE PRETZELS: Roll each log out to about 2 ½ – 3 feet, you’ll need some counter space for this step. Then twist it into a pretzel shape. Place the formed pretzel on a lined baking sheet, and proceed to shape the rest of the dough.
- Let the pretzels rest for 10 – 15 minutes while you prepare the baking soda water. However, don’t let them rest and rise for too long because they will become too soft and difficult to transfer to the boiling water.
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan, turn the heat down and add baking soda to the boiling water a little at a time, it will bubble vigorously, allow the bubbles to subside before adding more so it doesn’t boil over. Once all the baking soda is added, give it a stir and bring the baking soda water back to a simmer.
- Grease a wire rack with oil and set it over a large baking sheet.
- Transfer dough using a slotted spoon to the simmering baking soda water. Boil pretzel bite dough for 10 seconds and whole pretzels for 30 seconds. Remove the dough and set on the oiled wire rack to drain the excess water. Continue to boil the rest of the pretzel and set them on the wire rack. With pretzel bites, you may run out of space on the wire rack, wait to boil the second batch when the first batch goes into the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Beat one egg with a tablespoon of whole milk to make egg wash.
- Use a tong, carefully with a light hand, to transfer the boiled pretzel bites from the wire rack onto a lined baking sheet. You may need to bake in two batches. Brush egg wash over the top and sides of the dough. Sprinkle some coarse salt on top if using, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes until golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes before serving.
Optional cinnamon sugar topping
- Stir together cinnamon and sugar in a shallow dish and set aside.
- Dip warm pretzels in melted butter to cover completely or you can brush it on if the whole pretzels are too big to be dipped. Immediately toss the buttered pretzels in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
Optional sweet cream cheese dip
- Microwave cream cheese for about 20 – 30 seconds just until soft enough to stir. Whisk in the powdered sugar and serve warm as a dip. Store leftovers in the refrigerator and microwave to soften before serving.
- Both the pretzels and pretzel bites bake up pretty quickly and the timing is similar, so the 10 – 12 minutes in the recipe card is for both.
- This recipe makes either 4 regular size pretzels or about 4 dozen pretzel bites.
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