Freshness is key if you’re after soft pretzels and the freshest pretzels are simply the ones you bake at home. This easy-to-follow recipe for soft German pretzels without lye is a firm staple in our house. Served with a generous lashing of butter, Butterbrezeln make delicious breakfast, quick snack, or filling side for traditional German fares.
Why you’ll love this recipe
- No lye required
- Easy-to-follow recipe
- Meal-prep friendly
Traditional German pretzels
In Germany, pretzels are called Brezeln (pronounced “BREH-tseln”). They can be found at every corner, especially in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg – much like baguette in France. German enjoy buttered pretzels (Butterbrezeln) for breakfast or as a snack throughout the day. You’ll find them in bakeries, cafés, restaurant, beer gardens, and at events including the world-famous Oktoberfest.
Traditional Brezeln or Brezen are characterized by their unique twisted knot shape and soft, chewy texture. They are typically sprinkled with coarse salt before baking, giving them a savory and slightly salty flavor.
Authentic lye bath
Authentic German pretzels are also known as Laugenbrezeln. Lauge refers to a diluted lye mixture the shaped pretzels are boiled in briefly before being baked which creates the authentic dark brown color and soft, chewy texture.
This recipe uses a baking soda water bath instead as a safer, widely available alternative without compromising on color, taste, or texture.
- Flour – All-purpose flour or plain flour works well for this recipe. You can also use white spelt flour which has a mild, slightly nutty flavor.
- Milk – Milk gives the pretzels extra richness. You can use leftover whey instead which will give you even chewier pretzels.
- Butter – I recommend using unsalted butter for this recipe but you choose salted as well and simply reduce the additional salt in the dough by 1/2 a teaspoon.
- Yeast – Active dried yeast or a cube of fresh yeast work best for this recipe.
- Sugar – The sugar is required to help activate the yeast. You can use alternative sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup instead.
- Salt – I recommend using fine sea salt for the dough and a coarse grind as a topping for half of the pretzels.
- Baking soda – Boiling the pretzels in a baking soda and water mix gives the pretzels not only their unique color but it also helps with the soft and chewy texture.
- Sesame seeds – I love adding white sesame seeds to pretzels because they add great flavor and make them less salty.
- Make sure your yeast is fully activated before adding it to the dry ingredients. Don’t skip this step or the dough won’t rise and will be dense, rather than soft.
- Check out this video by German Pretzel Maker Ludwig Neulinger on how to create the traditional pretzel shape.
- This recipe makes 4 large pretzels, 8 medium-sized ones, or 16 snack-size pretzels. The images show snack-size pretzels which make a great side, lunchbox addition, and fit perfectly into little hands.
- Pretzels are best enjoyed warm and I recommend eating them within a day as they easily get stale. Head to the FAQ section for some storage tips.
While coarse salt is the traditional topping of pretzels, sesame seeds, grated cheese, ham and cheese, diced bacon, and even sweet additions such as cinnamon sugar are also popular choices.
Popular pretzel dips
Obazda, also known as Obatzda or Obatzter, is a traditional Bavarian cheese spread or dip that is popular particularly in Bavaria. It is typically made from camembert or brie cheese, butter, wheat beer, red onions, paprika powder, salt, and pepper.
You can also make a simple cream cheese dip with chives for pretzels or enjoy them with whipped salted butter.
Pretzels are known for their distinctive twisted knot shape. However, there are also various other shapes you can find in Germany:
Pretzel Stick / Laugenstange
Instead of a knot, pretzel dough can also be rolled into thin sticks or rods. These are often served as a convenient snack or accompaniment.
Pretzel Roll / Laugenbrötchen
This is a flattened, round shape that resembles a small roll. The dough is shaped into a ball and then flattened slightly.
Pretzel Bites / Brezelhappen
Pretzel dough can be rolled into small bite-sized balls or pieces. These are often served as finger food and can be great for parties.
Pretzel Braids / Brezelzopf
Instead of the traditional knot, the dough can be divided into strands and braided together to form a pretzel braid.
Soft pretzels are best enjoyed straight from the oven with a generous spread of butter. Obatzda is a traditional German cheese dip that’s served with pretzels alongside Weißwurst and a Maß (large 1 liter jug) of beer. Prost!
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While baked pretzels are not suitable for freezing, unbaked ones freeze exceptionally well. Simply prepare the dough, shape them into your preferred shape, and freeze them in a freezer-proof container. Defrost them on a baking tray and give them their second rise before baking.
Pretzels dry out easily due to their soft texture and unique shape. You can store them in an airtight container for up to 2 days at room temperature but you’ll need to toast them briefly. They won’t be as soft but still very tasty.
Soft German Pretzels (Brezeln)
- 7 g active dried yeast
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 cup butter unsalted, softened
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 cups water filtered
- 3 tbsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds white
- 1 tsp salt coarse
- Heat 1 1/4 cups milk on the stove or in the microwave until it is lukewarm (98F/37C). To activate 7 g active dried yeast, add it to the milk alongside 1 tsp sugar. Stir gently until the yeast starts to foam lightly.7 g active dried yeast, 1 1/4 cups milk, 1 tsp sugar
- Combine 4 cups all-purpose flour and 1 tsp salt in a large bowl and make a well with the back of your hand.4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp salt
- Add the activated yeast to the well alongside the softened 1/4 cup butter. Combine everything by slowly stirring in the flour from the edges of the well. Create a lump-free dough. Be careful to not over-knead the dough.1/4 cup butter
- Add the dough back into the bowl and cover it with a tea towel. Let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. It will significantly increase in size.
- Preheat the oven to 180C/356F and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Form 4 large pretzels, 8 medium-sized ones, or 16 snack-size pretzels. Add them to 1-2 baking tray(s) and rest them for another 15 minutes.
- To make the baking soda water, bring 4 cups water to a boil in a large pot. Add 3 tbsp baking soda and bring it to a boil again. Reduce to a simmer and add the pretzels to a ladle one by one. Boil them in the baking soda water for 20 seconds each. Transfer them back to a lined baking tray.3 tbsp baking soda, 4 cups water
- Add your topping of choice. I add 1 tbsp sesame seeds to one half and coarse 1 tsp salt to the other. Score the pretzels with a sharp knife on the thickest side.1 tbsp sesame seeds, 1 tsp salt
- Bake the pretzels for 20-25 minutes until they've reached the typical dark brown pretzel coloring. Remove them from the oven and transfer them to a cooling rack if you have one. Serve with a generous x of butter while warm!