If buttery, mall-style soft pretzels are your ultimate snack, look no further than this recipe. You’ll find all the secrets to the perfect golden-brown, butter-brushed, homemade soft pretzels right here! It’s easier than you think, and there’s even a how-to video to help you along.
There must come a time in every food blogger’s career when she realizes she’s overlooked posting a recipe that is so obviously meant to be shared, it hurts.
For most, I imagine, it’s a recipe passed down for generations, or the first meal they ever cooked to impress their now-spouse, or their laboriously perfected Christmas cookie, or something equally emotional. For me, it’s Homemade Mall-Style Soft Pretzels.
I’ve spent roughly six years here pretzelfying recipes at every opportunity, whether it be making Pretzel Rolls or a Pull-Apart Pretzel Skillet or Pretzel-Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers — just to list a few examples. I’ve been rambling on about my years at Auntie Anne’s like they were my glory days (okay, they really might have been). I’ve proclaimed to anyone who’ll listen that pretzels are, without a doubt, my favorite food. But I’ve never shared my actual go-to pretzel recipe until now.
IS THIS THE AUNTIE ANNE’S SOFT PRETZEL RECIPE?
I could write a book about my 7 years spent working at Auntie Anne’s, but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be a best-seller. So I’ll spare you the snooze-fest and cut to the chase: I made a lot of pretzels. I ate a lot of pretzels. And I definitely learned a lot about making pretzels.
What I did not learn is the exact recipe for Auntie Anne’s pretzels. The flour mixture used to make the dough is pre-mixed, so while I made literal thousands of batches of fresh dough, I never made it entirely from scratch.
So no, this is not the recipe. However, after lots of tweaking in the years since working there, I think I’ve figured out a pretty spot-on copycat version. These Homemade Mall-Style Soft Pretzels are really as close as it gets.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DOUGH.
A lot of people are weirded out about working with dough– and for some reason, about working with yeast specifically. But I’m here to tell you that if 15-year-old Morgan could manage it at Auntie Anne’s, you can do it too. I promise.
Dough is very, very easy to make. Here’s all you need to do:
- Activate your yeast. To do this, we use warm (not too hot!) water. Specifically, it should be between 105 and 110°F. We then add sugar, which serves as food for the yeast and increases it’s activity. Then, we pour the yeast in and stir gently (if necessary) to help it dissolve. After about 5 minutes, it should be foamy. This means the yeast is alive, working, and ready to go. If it does not foam up, odds are your yeast is expired or otherwise “not good”, and you should try again before moving on.
- Add the salt and melted butter. These things make your dough taste good and help with consistency. Mix them in with the yeasted water before you continue.
- Mix in flour, a bit at a time. You want to add the flour bit by bit so that it doesn’t clump up or explode out in a cloud of white powder as you stir. Eventually, you’ll notice that you’ve got a dough forming.
- Knead the dough until smooth. Once the dough starts to form, you won’t be able to mix it with a spoon much longer. Get that dough out and work it together with your hands until it’s not shaggy anymore. Alternatively, you can do this all in a stand mixer, if you have one!
- Let it rise. Place the dough back into an oiled bowl, lightly cover it, and let it rise in a warm place until it’s doubled in size. That should take about an hour.
And yup, that’s all you have to do to make your dough. I told you it was easy!
CAN I MAKE MY DOUGH AHEAD OF TIME?
A lot of people ask me if they can make their dough ahead, and the answer is yes. You can prepare the dough and then place it in the refrigerator to rise overnight instead of letting it rise in a warm place for an hour. The cold of the refrigerator will slow down the reaction of the yeast, so it won’t over-rise while you sleep!
That being said, it’s best to make this dough as written (and let it rise for an hour) for best possible results.
WOULD I LYE TO YOU?
Most pretzels in the world are made with lye, which gives pretzels their chewy, brown crust. However, mall-style pretzels are not. The main reason for this is that lye can be a bit dangerous for people who aren’t careful to handle. 15-year-old Morgan would have definitely fallen into the “not careful” category back when she worked at Auntie Anne’s.
Remember the chemical burn scene from Fight Club? The one where Tyler Durden burns the narrator’s hand with lye? Yeah, lye doesn’t really work like that– at least not food grade lye– but it’s still not something to mess around with. But luckily, there is a solution. Literally, a solution made of baking soda and water!
Like lye, baking soda is very basic. As in alkaline, not “that’s what the kids are saying these days” basic. The alkalinity of the baking soda solution allows the exterior of the pretzel to brown at a significantly faster rate, giving it that signature crust and flavor. It’s integral to a good pretzel.
However, I’ve found that baking soda, which maxes out at about 9.5 on the pH scale, is still far less effective in browning than lye, which can reach the highest rating of 14. In order to bridge that gap a little, I first bake my baking soda, which makes it stronger and closer to lye (but still safer and more accessible)!
You can skip that step and just use regular baking soda, but I recommend going the one step further to bake it first. You can bake it while your dough rises, so you’re not making the process longer, just using your time as efficiently as possible!
BY THE WAY– THERE’S NO BOILING NECESSARY
While you want to use hot water here, you don’t have to drop your pretzels into a pot of boiling water to get that golden brown crust. All you have to do is dissolve your baked baking soda in warm water and then quickly dip your pretzels into the water before transferring them to a tray.
This version of the baking soda bath prevents them from disintegrating or falling apart in the pot, and keeps things moving along much more quickly!
HOW TO SHAPE PRETZELS
I mastered the pretzel twirl when I worked at Auntie Anne’s, but you can still shape yours without all the experience. If you can’t do the twirl, instead start off by making a U-shape, then crossing the ends, and finally twisting them as you bring them back down to the bottom of the “U”. I know, that’s a little hard to follow. But not to worry, there’s a video right above the recipe below that will help make it clear!
And if you want to skip the whole pretzel-shaping business, feel free to simply make pretzel sticks or pretzel bites. They’ll taste just as delicious.
WORTH THE WAIT
This is not an ultra-quick soft pretzel recipe. Making the dough from scratch, letting it rise, baking the baking soda, creating the solution, cutting into equal pieces, shaping and dipping the pretzels, sprinkling with pretzel salt, baking… it all takes time, I won’t sugarcoat it.*
That being said, despite the time commitment, each step is actually surprisingly simple. In the end these Homemade Mall-Style Soft Pretzels are so tasty and such a crowd-pleaser that you’ll find they’re well worth it.
And I’m pretty sure you’ll be willing to forgive me for me holding out on you so long with this recipe. I think it’ll just take a few more homemade pretzels for me to forgive myself!
*Speaking of sugarcoating, you can make these pretzels into cinnamon-sugar soft pretzels, too. I will include a note at the end of the recipe in case dessert-style pretzels are your thing!
WATCH THE HOW-TO VIDEO!
- 2/3 cup baking soda
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, divided
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- Vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl
- 1 tablespoon coarse pretzel salt, for sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Evenly sprinkle the baking soda over the prepared baking sheet and bake for 1 hour. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter.
- Meanwhile, pour one cup of warm water into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar until dissolved. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let sit until the yeast becomes frothy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the salt and the 2 tablespoons of melted better.
- Add the flour, stirring in a bit at a time, until a dough forms and loses most of its stickiness. Knead the dough until smooth, then lift from the bowl and oil the bowl with vegetable oil. Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Remove the baked baking soda from the oven and set aside. (Make sure not to breathe it in or handle it with your bare hands as it can be irritating.) Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- Spray nonstick spray on your counter or large cutting board, or use parchment paper to cover. Pour out the risen dough.
- Cut the dough into strips approximately 1-1/2” wide and 8” long. Then, stretch and roll the dough strips until they are long, thin ropes, about 36″ each.Shape the ropes into the classic pretzel shape (as demonstrated in the video above).
- Pour 3 cups of hot tap water into a large, non-reactive bowl. Whisk the baked baking soda into the hot water until dissolved. Briefly dip each pretzel, one at a time, into the baking solution and then place on the prepared baking sheet. You should be able to fit 6, barely touching pretzels on the sheet. Sprinkle the pretzels with pretzel salt.
- Bake for 8 minutes, turning the tray 180° half-way through. Melt the remainder of the butter.
- Brush the freshly baked pretzels with melted butter and serve warm.
These pretzels are best served fresh from the oven, but store well in the fridge for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month in a plastic bag with the excess air pushed out. To reheat, wrap each pretzels in a slightly damp paper towel and microwave in 15 second intervals until warmed through.
If you’d like to make cinnamon-sugar pretzels, don’t add pretzel salt to the pretzels before baking. As they bake, combine granulated sugar and ground cinnamon in a large pan or tray. Approximately 2 tablespoons of cinnamon per cup of granulated sugar is ideal. Once the pretzels are fully baked, brush them all over with butter. While they’re still warm, place them one at a time in the tray of cinnamon and sugar and shake back and forth to coat.