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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Wilkinson

Cheddar Sourdough Soft Pretzels

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Happy fall! While I mourn the loss of the pool and bare feet, I'm excited for all of the snuggling and warm meals in my near future. With September comes Oktoberfest -- and I've tinkered with this soft pretzel recipe since my family's first Oktoberfest party in 2012. I've served dark brown croutons masquerading as pretzel bites, soggy and under-salted pretzel sticks, and have thrown some complete failures away in favor of store-bought. But not everything that comes out of 2020 is bad, as the bread Gods have conceded, and these pretzels are bangin'.

If you're new to bread making, this is a great recipe to try on a chilly Saturday with nothing to do. It's also a fantastic way to use sourdough starter, which we all went on a rampage with beginning in March, and now don't know what else to do with.

There is an ingredient hiding in this recipe that you may be unfamiliar with. Food-grade Lye. The use of lye is the difference between an authentic pretzel flavor and a twisted piece of bread that looks like a pretzel, but doesn't have that unique color or bite to the crust. You can use baking soda - because all you really need is an alkaline solution - but trust me. Once I switched from baking soda to lye, I saw the huge difference it makes in the crust. Safety precautions must be taken when working with lye, as it is a very caustic solution and can burn your skin. Don't let this scare you - all you need are some rubber gloves and safety glasses in case of any splashes. If you do splash on your skin, don't panic! Simply rinse your skin under a running faucet for a few minutes.

So pick a day when you're looking for a project - and also missing the mall. Because your house is about to smell like Auntie Anne's.

Cheddar Sourdough Soft Pretzels


-2 T salted butter, melted

-1 T brown sugar

-1 tsp Kosher salt

-1 cup whole milk, 110 degrees

-1 cup active sourdough starter

-3 cups King Arthur bread flour*

-1.5 cups shredded sharp cheddar, divided**

-2 T of salted butter, melted, for brushing

-Coarse Kosher or sea salt


-1.5 oz food grade lye***

-6 cups water

-Rubber gloves

-Safety glasses


In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a dough hook, add melted butter, brown sugar, salt, warmed milk, and sourdough starter. Mix on low until just combined. Pour in 1 cup of shredded cheddar. Slowly add in bread flour, a half a cup at a time, and mix for about 8 minutes - until the dough is combined and elastic.

Form dough into a soft round ball. Place the dough ball in a large, buttered bowl to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. While dough is rising, spray a cookie sheet (you may need more than one) with nonstick spray.

Prepare your lye bath. Please wear long sleeves, gloves, and safety glasses. Add 6 cups of water to a deep pot or plastic container. Always start with the water, and then add the lye. Gently stir in lye and mix until it is dissolved. If you have a lid, cover and set aside.

Once doubled in size, punch down the dough and turn onto a clean work surface. Cut into equal pieces and shape. Using a food scale is very helpful here - I made eight 4oz pieces (give or take an ounce). For shaping, here is a great 1 minute tutorial by King Arthur Flour. Roll your dough into a thinner rope than you think -these will puff up in the oven. Place formed pretzels on your baking sheet(s). Let rest for 30 minutes. You can preheat your oven to 400 degrees while you wait.

Working two at a time, use a wide spatula to carefully dip each pretzel into the lye mixture, and let sit for 1 minute. Return to the baking sheet and brush with melted butter.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and brush with more melted butter. Then sprinkle each with a little of the remaining shredded cheddar and Kosher salt. Return to the oven for an additional 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown.

These can be enjoyed immediately, stored in an airtight container for 1-2 days, or frozen for up to a month. Serve with your favorite spicy brown mustard (<This one’s mine!)



*Any bread flour will work here, but the King Arthur brand has a little more protein than others. More protein = more gluten and more structure. Your pretzels should be delightfully chewy! Additionally, all-purpose can be used in a pinch, your pretzels will just be a little more fluffy and bready.

**Shred your own cheddar. Pre-shredded cheese is coated in cellulose, which keeps it from clumping, but also keeps it from melting - and in my opinion - it keeps it from tasting great. Also, if you shred your own, you can control the size of the shreds. I recommend using the large holes of a box grater.

***Food grade lye can be found on online (try Amazon or Walmart), and might be available at a local specialty food store. This is what I use. If you don’t want to use lye, for whatever reason, you can use baking soda. However, lye is the best way to achieve the darkest color and sheen of an authentic Bavarian style pretzel. Baking soda is an 8 on the pH scale, while Lye is a 13-14, which is about like the strongest alkaline you can find. If using baking soda, mix 1 oz (2 tablespoons) with 6 cups of water. I would also suggest letting the pretzels soak for an additional 30 seconds or so.

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