From the pre-publication notes of my Mom’s Bread Book (the book editor took out the part about the Super Bowl parties). This version captures the conversational tone of my Mom’s writing voice:

Pretzels are believed to date as far back as 1500 years ago. The legend is that a Monk fashioned bread dough to resemble the crossed arms of children praying to give as a treat to children who learned their prayers and scriptures. They’re also used in various marriage ceremonies to symbolize the binding love knot. The bride and groom each link a finger through a loop of the pretzel, make a wish and pull the pretzel apart. The broken pieces are eaten to symbolize eternal unity.

In Germany pretzels are dipped in lauge before baking. This gives a slightly bitter coating that goes nicely with beer. Americans love these pretzels, especially since they don’t know the translation of lauge. Lauge is lye.

Quick note about lye
This recipe is written to use baking soda instead of lye. The only risk you face with baking soda is accidentally setting off a science project Playdough volcano.

Lye, on the otherhand… will most likely burn your other hand. From ye olde Wikipedia: “The majority of safety concerns with lye are also common with most corrosives, such as their potentially destructive effects on living tissues; examples are the skin, flesh, and the cornea. Solutions containing lyes can cause chemical burns, permanent injuries, scarring and blindness, immediately upon contact. Lyes may be harmful or even fatal if swallowed; ingestion can cause esophageal stricture. Moreover, the solvation of dry solid lyes is highly exothermic; the resulting heat may cause additional burns or ignite flammables.”

End of public service announcement. Be safe out there kids.

There is a very small amount of lye involved. The pretzels are quickly dipped into this solution so very little adheres to the pretzel. I assume no responsibility for those who try this recipe using lye. In Germany, pretzels are smeared with sharp mustard.

We used to have Super Bowl pretzel parties. We would take a door down, clean it, and place it on cement blocks. I would make the dough ahead of time and divide it in the proper portions. While we sat and watched the game, we all shaped pretzels on the door then let them rise. During half time we dipped and baked the pretzels, then ate them during the last half of the game. It was great fun. This is also a fun project to do with kids on a rainy day.


Easy. Yummy. A guaranteed good time. I love a bread that's as fun to make as it is to eat.

Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Author Betsy Oppenneer


  • 2 scant tablespoons (or 2 ¼-ounce packages) active dry yeast
  • ½ cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 2 cups warm milk (about 110 degrees)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 6½-7½ cups unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 quarts boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • Coarse Salt or sesame seeds (optional)


  1. In a large bowl, stir the yeast into water to soften.
  2. Add milk, sugar, vegetable shortening, and 2 cups flour to the yeast. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Cover loosely with plastic wrap then a tightly woven towel. Let rise for 30 minutes. This sponge will have the consistency of a cake batter. It should be light and full of bubbles.

  3. Whisk together the baking powder, salt and 1 cup of flour. Add to the sponge and mix well. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes.

  4. Gradually add flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.
  5. Knead, adding flour a little at a t ime, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.
  6. Put the dough into an oiled bowl. Turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
  7. Turn dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide into 24 or 36 equal pieces. With your hands, roll each piece into an 24-inch long rope (figure 1). Lay the rope in a "U" shape (figure 2). About 2 inches from each end, cross the dough (figure 3). Cross a second time (figure 4). Picturing the dough as the face of a clock, bring the ends down and press them into the rounded portion of dough at the bottom of the “U” at 5 and 7 o’clock (figure 5). Cover with a towel and let rest for 20 minutes on the work surface. 8. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  8. Combine baking soda with boiling water. Drop the pretzels into boiling mixture for 10 seconds then remove them with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets upside down. If the edges that were pressed into the bottom are on top, the pretzel might come unwrapped. Sprinkle with coarse salt or sesame seeds.

  9. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden.

  10. Immediately remove from baking sheets and place on a rack to prevent the crust from becoming soggy.

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