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Pennsylvania Dutch Hard Pretzels

A happy culinary accident, hard pretzels are one of America’s first salty, crunchy snack foods. Traditional recipes for hard pretzels are fat-free, but I find that a few pats of butter added to the dough lend the pretzels an extra-special crispiness and a savory flavor. If you prefer the drier crunch of the traditional style, omit the butter. For pretzel rods, see the variation at the end of the recipe.

Ingredients

One 1/4-ounce/7-gram package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

1 cup/240 mL warm water (between 100 and 115 degrees F/38 and 45 degrees C)

1 tablespoon barley malt syrup or 1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar

3 1/2 cups/440 grams unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the bowl

2 teaspoons fine sea salt, such as fleur de sel or sel gris

2 tablespoons food-grade lye, or 1/4 cup/60 grams baked baking soda (see separate notes)

Coarse salt for topping

Directions

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl. Add the barley malt syrup, stirring until it is dissolved. Allow the yeast to bloom until it is foamy, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the flour, butter, and fine sea salt and stir to form a shaggy mass. Attach the bowl and the dough hook to the stand mixer and begin kneading on medium-low speed. After about 1 minute the dough will form a smooth ball. The dough should be quite firm and may be slightly tacky, but not sticky. (If it is sticky, add a little more flour, about 1 tbsp at a time, and knead it in until the dough is smooth. If the dough is too dry to come together, add more water, 1 tsp at a time.) Continue kneading the dough on medium-low speed until it is elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. Alternatively, turn the shaggy dough out onto an unfloured work surface and knead it by hand.

Choose a bowl that will be large enough to contain the dough after it has doubled in size, and lightly grease it with butter. Transfer the dough to the greased bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Put the dough in the refrigerator to rise for at least 8 hours, and up to 24 hours, for optimal flavor.

Line two 12-by-17-in/30.5-by-43-cm rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and press it down to deflate. Cut it into four equal portions, and divide each portion into six small chunks of dough. Work with one piece of dough at a time and keep the rest covered with a damp, clean kitchen towel. Pat a piece of dough down with your fingertips to form a rough rectangle. Roll it up tightly, beginning with a long side, into a cylinder. Shape the dough into a rope 18 in/46 cm long by rolling it against the work surface, using your palms and working from the center of the rope out to the ends. Apply a little more pressure as you get closer to the ends to taper them slightly. If you need more friction, spray the counter with a little water from a squirt bottle or drizzle a few drops of water and spread it with your hand. It is important that the dough be rolled out to the correct length, or it will be too thick to harden during baking.

Position the dough rope into a U shape, with the ends pointing away from you. Holding an end in each hand, cross the ends and then cross them again. Fold the ends down and press them into the U at about 4 and 8 o’clock, allowing about 1⁄8 in/3 mm of the ends to overhang. Place the pretzel on one of the prepared baking sheets and cover it with a damp towel. Repeat this process with the remaining dough, arranging the pretzels at least 1 in/2.5 cm apart and covering them with a damp towel.

When the first baking sheet is filled with twelve pretzels, transfer it to the refrigerator while you shape the rest of the pretzels to prevent the first batch from overproofing. When all the pretzels are shaped, leave both trays, covered, at warm room temperature to rise until the pretzels have doubled in size, 30 to 40 minutes. (The pretzels can be refrigerated at this point, covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to 8 hours before dipping and baking them.)

At least 20 minutes before baking, position one rack in the upper third and another rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 325°F/165°C/gas 3.

Using the lye or baked baking soda solution, dip the pretzels following the instructions for (see separate notes), working in batches of four to six pretzels at a time, depending on the size of your pot. After dipping, sprinkle the pretzels with coarse salt. Bake them immediately.

Bake the pretzels for 25 minutes, and then rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the pretzels are mahogany in color and completely hard throughout. This could take anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes more, but rely on the visual and textural cues rather than the time. To test a pretzel for doneness, remove one from the oven and break it in half. If the center is still a little chewy, continue baking. If the color is deep brown but the pretzels are not done inside, remove the trays from the oven and allow them to cool to room temperature while you reduce the oven temperature to 300°F/150°C/gas 2. Return the pretzels to the oven to finish hardening to a crisp. Test a pretzel after about 10 minutes, and in 5-minute increments after that. When they are hard, transfer the pretzels to a cooling rack. Once they are completely cooled, store them in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Hard Pretzel Rods

Divide the dough into forty-eight pieces. Roll the dough ropes out to 8-in/20-cm sticks without tapering the ends, and proceed as directed in the recipe. The total baking time will be reduced to 45 to 55 minutes, or until they are deep brown and hard throughout.

Makes 24 classic pretzels

From Pretzel Making At Home by Andrea Slonecker, Chronicle Books 2013. Photo credit Alex Farnum.

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