These homemade soft pretzels have a light, chewy texture with a deliciously crunchy exterior. And don’t forget the wonderfully creamy beer cheese dip made with smoked gouda and your favorite lager!
Although I’ve never been to Oktoberfest, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in quite a few festivals in southern Germany over the years. And whether I’m lost in the crowds at the huge autumn Volksfest in Stuttgart or celebrating the arrival of spring in a small Bavarian town, you can be sure that I’m going to find my way to the fresh pretzels. The recipe that follows is most similar to the pretzels I learned how to make while living in Swabia — not quite traditional, but incredibly delicious and simple enough to make at home!
For the pretzel dough, you’ll start by sprinkling a bit of sugar and active dry yeast into ¾ cup (180 ml) of warm milk. The milk should be heated until just warm (about 110 F or 43 C — not at all hot or you risk killing the yeast). Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes or until it becomes foamy.
For the dry ingredients, we have just flour and salt. If you’re not using a kitchen scale for this recipe, I highly recommend using the spoon and level method for measuring the flour. Scooping your measuring cup into a flour container tends to result in much (MUCH!) more flour than intended, which will alter the texture of your pretzels. To get a more accurate measurement, use a spoon to lightly scoop flour into the measuring cup until it’s completely full. Then run the back of a knife over the cup to gently scrape off any excess.
Once your yeast mixture is foamy add it to the flour and salt along with ½ cup (120 ml) of water and a few tablespoons of melted butter. As soon as the dough begins to form, turn it out onto your counter and knead it until smooth and elastic. This step usually takes me about 10 minutes by hand, but you could also use a stand mixer with a dough attachment if you prefer.
Then just shape your dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover it and set aside in a warm space for about 45 minutes. The dough is ready when it has just about doubled in size.
forming the pretzels + baking soda bath
Once your dough is ready, punch it down a few times and then knead it for another minute or so. Separate it into 10 equal portions and get ready to start forming your pretzels!
A few tips for forming your pretzels:
- Make sure to keep the dough covered when you’re not working with it to keep it from drying out.
- To give your pretzels a more classic German look, make the ends of the dough rope thin and leave a thicker section in the middle.
- But also feel free to experiment with different shapes, such as smaller pretzel bites or pretzel sticks!
- Don’t start boiling your water for the baking soda bath until you’ve finished forming all of your pretzels in order to give them a bit of extra resting time.
Pretzels get their unique flavor and texture by being first dipped into an alkaline water bath and then baked until crispy. The alkaline water bath for Bavarian style laugenbrezel (literally lye pretzels) is traditionally made using lye (sodium hydroxide). It gives the pretzels their distinct flavor, characteristic texture and a beautiful sheen. Food grade lye isn’t something I have in my kitchen so this recipes takes an easier route by boiling each pretzel for 30 seconds in a small pot of water mixed with ⅓ cup (90 g) of baking soda. But if you would be interested in trying out the lye solution, I found this post to have a lot of useful information!
the finishing touches + baking
Before sending my pretzels off to the oven, I like to sprinkle them with coarse salt and score (cut a slash in) the bottom section with a sharp knife or blade. The amount of salt you use is completely up to you — I like to add just a little salt to some and use a heavier hand with others so there’s something for everyone. To get the salt to adhere better, make sure to add it immediately after each pretzel comes out of the water bath. As for scoring the dough, it just helps control where any ruptures during baking occur so the dough rises in a consistent manner. Plus it makes the pretzels look extra nice!
And the final step is to bake the pretzels for about 15 minutes at 400 F (200 C). Baking time can vary a bit, so keep an eye on your pretzels and take them out when they have a deep golden brown color. And one last note: pretzels don’t keep extremely well so make sure to eat these on the day of baking!
smoked gouda beer cheese dip
While in Germany I would eat my pretzels with a bit of butter and maybe some chopped chives (and definitely recommend giving it a try), but here I’ve included a recipe for a dip if that’s more your thing. This smoked gouda beer cheese dip is so good that you’ll want to put it on everything!
To make the dip, start by mixing together butter and flour in a small saucepan — this will help to thicken the sauce. To get the best flavor, make sure to whisk the mixture for a good minute or two until the color deepens. Then add in ½ cup (120 ml) of beer and ¼ cup (60 ml) of heavy cream. Cook the mixture, stirring often, until it begins to thicken (generally about 3 minutes). And then add in your shredded smoked gouda. Keep stirring until the gouda has fully melted and the sauce is silky smooth. Now just season with salt and smoked paprika and it’s ready for dipping!
A few tips and substitution ideas:
- For the beer, I recommend choosing something that’s not very bitter. But really any beer that you enjoy drinking is probably something you would enjoy in this dip!
- I love the flavor of smoked gouda in this dip, but some excellent substitutes would be gruyere or edam.
- A little bit of a good smoked paprika adds a ton of flavor to this sauce so definitely make sure to add it if you can!
Looking for more pub-style snacks that would go great with a cold glass of beer? Check these out!
- beer battered fried sage
- chebureki | fried beef pockets
- walnut and caramelized onion yogurt dip
- mashed potato croquettes with crab, prosciutto and gruyere + cilantro aioli
soft pretzel dough
- warm milk ¾ c (180 ml)
- sugar ½ tbsp (6 g)
- active dry yeast 1 tbsp (9 g)
- flour 3.5 c (420 g)
- (spooned and leveled*)
- salt 1.5 tsp (8 g)
- lukewarm water ½ c (120 ml)
- melted butter 2 tbsp (30 g)
baking soda bath + assembly
- water 8 c (2 l)
- baking soda ⅓ c (90 g)
- coarse salt for sprinkling
smoked gouda beer cheese dip
- butter 1 tbsp (15 g)
- flour 1 tbsp
- beer ½ c (120 ml)
- heavy cream ¼ c (60 ml)
- shredded smoked gouda 1 c (90 g)
- smoked paprika ¼ tsp
- Heat the milk until it's just warm (not at all hot). Add the active dry yeast and sugar and let stand for 10 minutes or until foamy.
- Mix together the flour and salt in a separate bowl.
- Add the foamy yeast mixture to the flour and pour in the water and melted butter. Mix the dough until it begins to form and then turn out onto your working surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).
- Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover and set aside in a warm space for about 45 minutes or until the dough almost doubles in size.
- Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Knead the dough again for several minutes and then divide into 10 equal portions. Make sure to keep the dough covered when you're not working with it so it doesn't dry out.
- Roll out each portion of dough into a rope approximately 20 inches (50 cm) long. The middle of the rope should be a bit thicker than the ends. Twist into a pretzel shape and set aside on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover the baking sheet with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
- While the dough is resting, add 8 cups (2 l) of water and the baking soda to a small pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Place each pretzel in the boiling water for 30 seconds and then return to the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt and score the bottom of the pretzel with a sharp knife.
- Once all of the pretzels have been boiled, bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden brown. Pretzels are best served warm on the day of baking.
smoked gouda beer cheese dip
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
- Add the flour and continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Slowly add the beer and heavy cream.
- Bring to a simmer and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the mixture slightly thickens.
- Add the shredded gouda and reduce heat to low.
- Whisk the mixture until smooth. Stir in smoked paprika and salt to taste.
- Spooned and leveled: Scooping a measuring cup into a flour container can result in much more flour than intended, which can affect the success of your pretzels. To get a more accurate measurement, use a spoon to lightly scoop flour into the measuring cup until it's completely full. Then run the back of a knife over the cup to gently scrape off any excess.
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