Hi hi hi. It's my first post from my new apartment which means these pretzel bagels are the first thing I baked in my new kitchen. I'm so excited to be sharing this recipe with you, because getting this pretzel bagel recipe just right was not easy!
The recipe itself is extremely easy, don't worry. But figuring out how to adapt my favorite 3-hour plain bagel recipe to produce excellent pretzel bagels... a challenge! But we're here. Which means I succeeded. So let's get right to it!
What is a pretzel bagel?
Pretzels and bagels are similar in that both go through a bathing process before they get baked. Bagels usually get boiled in water or a mixture of water and barley malt syrup (though if you've made any of my bagel recipes, you know that plain water works just fine). A pretzel bagel combines ingredients and techniques from both pretzel and bagel making to create a finished product that's somewhere in the middle.
Pretzels traditionally take a dip in a bath of food grade lye (it's a hard nope from me on that), or, in home kitchens, a mixture of water and baking soda. Where bagels are always boiled, pretzel baths can vary by temperature and the strength of and duration of time spent in the pretzel-ing solution.
Many proficient home pretzel makers advise using baked baking soda — a process which intensifies the alkaline in the baking soda and gives you a darker crust and that slightly more bitter, classic pretzel taste. It's not quite as good as the results you'll get from food grade lye, but it's pretty darn close.
How you apply the baking soda bath for pretzel making can also vary. Some recipes use a cool water bath. Others add it to a boiling mixture. Some dip and rinse, others don't rinse at all.
In developing this recipe, I tested both pretzel dough and bagel dough, putting them through several different tests — "bageling" the pretzel dough, then "pretzeling" the bagel dough. Rinsing, not rinsing. Boiling and dipping. Not boiling, just dipping. Boiling with baking soda and without baking soda. Baked baking soda and unbaked baking soda.
It took a while, but I finally narrowed down the options until I found a process that works really well. First you'll boil the pretzel bagels in plain water, then give them a quick rinse (10-15 seconds per side) in a mixture of baked baking soda and water.
You will need to bake your baking soda for this recipe, but you can easily do that while your pretzel bagel dough rises.
The dough itself is a riff on my standard 3-hour plain bagel recipe only I've swapped in brown sugar and added softened butter, which is more common in pretzel dough.
I also futzed with the ratio of flour to water, reducing the amount of water to account for the water in the butter. It's a crucial adjustment that helps the pretzel bagels retain their characteristic density and tight crumb.
Because of the softened butter, which makes the dough stretchier and more elastic, you absolutely must stick your shaped pretzel bagels in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before you boil them. This adds about 30 minutes to my normal bagel recipe, but still keeps it under the 3 hour mark. Hooray!
The cold temperature of this rest in the fridge helps the butter firm up so that your bagels survive the baking soda bath. If you skip this step, your pretzel bagels will turn out flimsy and prone to collapsing, so I really, really recommend making sure you take the time to do this.
To finish the pretzel bagels, I tried them with and without a egg wash and honestly couldn't notice a difference. They're gorgeously shiny and deeply browned even without the egg wash.
So don't waste an egg here. Just sprinkle pretzel salt right on top of the bagels after the baking soda bath. The damp, gelatinized exterior is more than enough to hold the salt in place.
how to shape pretzel bagels
The butter in the pretzel bagel dough makes it stretchier than the plain bagel dough you see in these gifs, so make sure your dough rounds feel really tight and smooth on top before you poke the holes through. Otherwise you'll end up with lots of air bubbles in your pretzel bagels and you don't want that!
Divide the dough into equal portions. If you're combining a few pieces together to make a portion, stack the smaller pieces on top of the bigger pieces. Tuck the edges up so the dough is smooth against the counter with a seam pinched together on top. Repeat until the dough ball feels fairly tight. Don't tear the dough, just stretch it.
Then, flip the dough over so the seam side is down against the counter. Cup your hand around the dough and slide it toward you. The dough will take on an oval shape. Rotate it 90 degrees and repeat to turn the oval into a round circle.
(Or, cup your hand around the dough with your pinkie-side flush against an unfloured counter and your thumb and forefinger making an O- or C-like shape above the dough. Move your hand in quick circles without picking your pinkie off the counter, and the dough will quickly shape itself into a nice smooth ball of dough.)
Once the dough has been shaped into balls, coat your hands in flour and stick a thumb through the bottom seam of the dough. Slide your other thumb in and gently squeeze and stretch, rotating the dough through your hands until the bagel hole is at least the same width as the sides of the bagel if not bigger.
You may want to repeat the stretching process again before boiling to keep the hole from closing up in the oven.
a few quick notes
- To quickly soften your 2 tablespoon of butter, slice it into half-inch cubes and smoosh it with the tines of a fork against a clean cutting board until it's smooth and soft. It might still be slightly chilled, but as long as its soft and malleable it's good to add to your dough.
- Start baking your baking soda right after you cover the dough to let it rise. The baking soda needs to bake for an hour and the dough needs to rise for an hour, so use the same hour to get both things done.
- Baked baking soda loses up to 30% of its weight in the baking process. The amount of baking soda listed in the recipe is for the amount you need before it's baked. If you want to, you can bake the baking soda in advance and store it in an airtight container until you're ready to make your pretzel bagels.
- I used King Arthur Baking's pretzel salt here, but any pretzel or flaky salt you like is fine. No need to egg wash, just sprinkle it right on top of the bagels before they go in the oven.
- Really make sure the baking soda is fully dissolved in the water bath before you dip the boiled bagels in it. If there are lots of clumps or the baking soda hasn't dissolved, your bagels might end up tasting soapy.
- The ratio of water to baking soda for the baking soda bath is important! Too much water and the pretzel flavor won't be prominent enough. Too little water and you might end up with soapy, metallic tasting pretzel bagels.
other bagel recipes you might like
- sourdough beer pretzels
- rosemary and olive oil bagels
- pumpkin spice bagels
- egg bagels
- plain bagels in less than 3 hours
Pretzel bagel dough
- 500 grams all-purpose flour (4 cups)
- 7 grams instant yeast (2¼ tsp, or one packet)
- 28 grams unsalted butter, room temperature (2 TBSP)
- 28 grams brown sugar (2 TBSP)
- 275 grams water (warm)
- 10 grams fine sea salt (1¾ tsp)
- pretzel salt (for finishing)
Water bath and baking soda rinse
- 8 cups water (for boiling the bagels)
- 5 cups water (for the baking soda bath)
- 150 grams baking soda (a heaping ½ cup)
- Preheat oven to 300°F. Spread the baking soda on a foil-lined sheet pan and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine flour, yeast, brown sugar, and butter.In a separate bowl or measuring cup, whisk the salt into the water until dissolved.
- With the mixer running on low, pour the salt water into the mixer bowl. Increase the speed slightly to give the dough time to come together in a shaggy mass, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.If the dough seems really dry (lots of dried clumps of flour in the bottom of the bowl that aren't being picked up by the dough hook) you may need to add water ½ tablespoon at a time, giving it time to incorporate before adding more. Resist adding more water unless it seems absolutely necessary.
- Once the dough has just about come together, increase the speed of your mixer and knead the dough for 2-4 minutes until it's smooth, supple, and just slightly tacky (but not sticky) to the touch. If the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, dust in more flour 1 TSBP at a time until the dough fully pulls away from the sides. Shape the dough into a ball, place into a lightly greased container, cover, and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- Place the sheet pan of baking soda in the oven for 1 hour while the dough rises.
- When the dough has doubled in size punch it down to deflate it slightly, cover it, and let it rest for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the baking soda from the oven and set aside to cool.
- Divide the dough into 8 equal sized pieces, using a kitchen scale if you want to be precise.
- To shape the dough into rounds, gently flatten a piece of dough on a clean, unfloured surface. If you're combining multiple pieces of dough, stack the smaller pieces on top of the biggest piece so you can tuck them inside. Fold the top of the dough down over the middle, rotate the dough 45° and repeat. Keep going all the way around the dough, folding the top edge down over the middle until you have a smooth surface against your counter and the "seam" side facing up.Flip the dough over so the smooth side faces up. Cup your hand gently around it with your pinkie against the counter. Slide your hand toward your body to push the dough ball closer to you without rolling it. This will increase the surface tension on top of the dough and shape it into an oval. Rotate the dough 90° and repeat the sliding motion to turn the oval into a circle.Repeat with the rest of the dough. Cover with a damp paper towel and let rest 10 minutes.
- Dust your hands with flour and use your thumb to poke a hole up through the bottom seam of each dough round and out the other side. Rotate the dough through your hands as you squeeze it to stretch the bagels out. You want the dough to stretch, not tear. The holes should be fairly large — twice the width of the bagel sides.
- Arrange the shaped bagels on a silicone mat or parchment lined sheet pan and cover with a damp paper towel. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 420°F with an oven rack in the middle position.
- Just before the bagels finish proofing in the fridge, fill a large, high-sided skillet about halfway with water (about 8 cups, depending on the size of your skillet). Bring it to a low boil on the stove. In a separate bowl, combine 5 cups cool water with all of the baked baking soda. Whisk well to make sure all the baking soda has dissolved.
- Working in batches of 2 or 4, boil the bagels 1 minute per side. Use a wire spider to transfer the boiled bagels directly into the baking soda bath, 10-15 seconds per side. Remove the bagels from the baking soda bath and plae them back onto the sheet pan. Sprinkle them generously with pretzel salt while they're still wet on top.
- Bake for 20 minutes until deeply browned and shiny.Let bagels rest 5-10 minutes on the sheet pan, then transfer to a wire cooling rack to finish cooling completely.
- To quickly soften your 2 tablespoon of butter, slice it into half-inch cubes and smoosh it with the tines of a fork against a clean cutting board until it's smooth and soft.
- Measure your baking soda by weight before you bake it. It loses 30% of its weight when you bake it so if you weigh it after it bakes you'll have way too much baking soda in your water bath.
- Make sure the baking soda is fully dissolved in the water bath before you dip the boiled bagels in it. If there are lots of clumps or the baking soda hasn't dissolved, your bagels might end up tasting soapy.
- If you don't have a mixer with a dough hook, follow the same instructions, just start mixing the dough in a bowl with a wooden spoon and then knead it on a lightly floured surface by hand for 8-10 minutes once the dough comes together.