Inspired by the iconic cookies from Philly’s Lost Bread Co., these Pretzel Shortbread Cookies are a melt-in-your-mouth mashup that’s half pretzel, half shortbread, and 100% unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.
Whatever you think Pretzel Shortbread is going to taste like, you can’t really prepare yourself for your first bite. Or at least that’s what almost every person who has reviewed Lost Bread Co.’s famous cookie has apparently thought. The first time you sink your teeth into one, you can’t help but wonder, “Wait, do I like this?”
But by the second bite, your doubts are replaced by a resounding, “I LOVE IT.”
It also just so happens to be what people told me when they first tried my copycat version of the award-winning recipe, before immediately– impulsively– reaching for another.
So what does Pretzel Shortbread taste like? Imagine an ultra-buttery, snappy shortbread square that also boasts the salty, slightly bitter bite of a hard pretzel. It’s crisp on the outside but surprisingly rich, dense, and tender at the center.
And as addictive as the Pretzel Shortbread Cookies might be, watching someone’s face when they taste one for the first time is pretty decent incentive to share at least a few.
It’s unabashedly different, a bit surprising, and undeniably, ridiculously, compellingly delicious.
DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT!
It wasn’t until I’d already tried my first Pretzel Shortbread Cookie that I learned all about the hype, but there sure is a lot of it. Food & Wine called Lost Bread Co’s Pretzel Shortbread “The Cookie Of The Future“. New York Mag named them 2019’s Best Cookie Of New York (despite the fact that they’re from Philadelphia). And I’m paraphrasing just slightly here, but Yelp reviewers say things like “they’re the best thing I’ve ever tasted” and “Lost Bread Co. should win a Nobel Prize for them.”
So naturally, when I realized that my I wasn’t alone in my excitement, I decided that this pretzel-fanatic* needed to give them a go at home.
HOW TO MAKE PRETZEL SHORTBREAD COOKIES
At Lost Bread Co., Pretzel Shortbread was invented as a way to reduce waste and use up old, unsold soft pretzels in a creative way. The leftover pretzels are cut up, toasted, blitzed into breadcrumbs, and incorporated into a shortbread cookie dough.
However, because I don’t tend to have leftover soft pretzels laying around, I instead use “pretzel flour” made from hard pretzels, which I do usually have on-hand.
In order to make the pretzel flour, I simply pulse my food processor until the pretzels reach a sandy consistency. Then, I add my shortbread ingredients to the food processor right along with the pretzel flour, conveniently reducing the amount of bowls and tools needed while simultaneously ensuring that the butter is properly cut into the dough.
I quickly found that using too much pretzel flour results in a shortbread that is overly bitter and distracting, but just one heaping handful of thin pretzels does plenty to incorporate pretzely flavor throughout the shortbread base, bridging the gap between the salty crust and sweet cookie interior.
Next, I shape the dough into a brick and refrigerate it until the dough firms up. Then it’s ready to be sliced into squares and transferred to the freezer (atop a wax-paper-lined baking sheet). Freezing the shortbread first ensures that it doesn’t spread too much while baking. Don’t try to cut any corners there!
Finally, I dip the pretzel cookies in food-grade lye*, sprinkle with pretzel salt, and bake them until they’re beautifully browned and ready to eat.
*More on this in a second, I promise.
THESE PRETZEL COOKIES USE ONLY 6 INGREDIENTS
You might be thinking, Morgan, this sounds pretty involved. But believe it or not, the Pretzel Shortbread only require SIX ingredients!
- Hard Pretzels. As I mentioned, Lost Bread Co. uses leftover soft pretzels, but I use hard pretzels instead. I’ve found that thinner pretzels tend to give the best results, as they break up easier in the food processor.
- Powdered Sugar. It’s not just for sweetness. Any baker worth their *salt* knows that powdered sugar mixes more easily into dough, giving your shortbread that delicate, melty texture you’re looking for.
- Butter. Arguably the best thing about this cookie is the overload of buttery flavor, so don’t go with generic store brand butter here. Higher quality butter (like most European butters) will give your cookies a much better flavor.
- Flour. This one’s simple enough. All-purpose flour will do the trick here!
- Pretzel Salt. Besides the size of the grains, there’s one key difference between pretzel salt and regular table salt — it doesn’t melt in the oven. You might have a hard time finding it at the store, but you can buy a bunch at a reasonable price on Amazon.
- Food-Grade Lye. When diluted, dipped, drained and baked, lye (safely) helps facilitate the Maillard reaction and gives you the signature brown crust pretzels are known for.
SOME TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- Don’t Overwork the Dough. The more you knead and mix your dough, the tougher it becomes. You want to work your dough together so that the ingredients are evenly incorporated and the bake doesn’t wind up crumbly, but don’t do it so long that there’s excess gluten formation and you wind up with a chewy shortbread.
- Create a Brick. You can roll out your dough and cut from there if you’d prefer, but I love how easy it is to store and slice the shortbread dough after it’s been formed into a brick-like shape instead.
- Use Lye Safely. People tend to get nervous when they think about using lye, and I won’t lie to you, I was one of those people up until recently. Although it won’t hurt you after being cooked on your baked goods, it can cause burns if it gets on your skin or is ingested raw, so it pays to take the proper precautions. Work carefully, wear gloves, set up in a well-ventilated area, and always keep your lye stored far away from anywhere pets or children can find it. You can find food-grade lye on Amazon.
- Drain the Liquid. After dipping your shortbread, don’t forget to let the excess liquid drain off before placing the cookies on the baking sheet. If you do, your cookies will wind up tasting like bitter chemicals instead of sweetly salted butter.
- Use an Ungreased Baking Sheet. But isn’t more butter a good thing? Not in this case. Placing your shortbread on a greased pan will encourage spreading and leave you with thin, sloppy cookies.
- Chill First. It’s important, so I’m saying it again: Don’t rush this step! The colder your shortbread is before you dip it and bake it, the more it will hold its shape during baking.
WATCH THE PRETZEL SHORTBREAD COOKIE VIDEO:
This is one of those recipes that’s so much easier to make once you’ve seen it done yourself. Check it out and follow along with the recipe!
MORE COOKIE RECIPES TO LOVE
- Soft and Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies
- The Best Chewy Café-Style Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Marbled Dark Chocolate Peppermint Spritz Cookies
- The Best Chewy Café-Style Peanut Butter Cookies
- 1 large handful (about 12) thin hard pretzels
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, softened and cut into chunks
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling
- 1/4 cup food-grade lye (see note)
- Pretzel salt, to top
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the pretzels to make pretzel flour until the pretzels are sandy in texture. Add the butter and powdered sugar to the food processor and process again until creamy and smooth. Add the all purpose flour. Process again, stopping to scrape down the sides occasionally, if necessary, until a smooth dough forms.
- Sprinkle a flat counter top with additional flour to prevent sticking. Shape the dough into a ball, then drop against the counter on alternating sides to flatten and use your hands to create a brick-like shape. Try to make sure that there are not many cracks in the dough but be careful not to overwork. Wrap and refrigerate the dough until firm, about 1 hour.
- Cut the uneven sides off of the dough and slice into 1/2″ thick squares. (If the dough crumbles, leave at room temperature 5 to 10 minutes). Place the slices on a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet and freeze until firm, at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- While wearing gloves, carefully combine 5 cups cold water and 4 tablespoons food-grade lye in a nonreactive bowl in a well-ventilated area. Whisk until lye fully disintegrates. Dip the shortbread, one at a time, in the lye mixture for 15 seconds, then transfer briefly to a rack set over a baking sheet to drip off excess liquid.
- Place the shortbread on an ungreased baking sheet (not nonstick!) and gently pierce with a fork. Sprinkle generously with pretzel salt. Make sure to work quickly so that the shortbread stays cold.
- Bake until golden brown and still slightly soft to the touch, about 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through.
- Allow to cool and harden on the baking sheet, then remove with a spatula before serving or wrapping.
Make sure your lye says “food grade”. Always use lye with caution, while wearing gloves in a well-ventilated space, and follow directions on packaging.