Elizabeth Cecil

This recipe is adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman’s cookbook Bread. He was Joe Keenan's co-worker at the Susanne Naegele Bakery and his tutor throughout his apprenticeship there. In the summer he would often come to the Island and work a bit at the Black Dog Bakery. Today, he’s the bakery director at the King Arthur Flour Company.

These pretzels take two days to make, as the Pâte Fermentée – a fancy way of saying old dough – should be made at least one day in advance. The recipe calls for food-grade lye (yes, lye – it can be purchased online), a strong alkali that gives the pretzels their crispy brown exterior while preserving a soft, chewy center.Lye’s harmful effects are neutralized in the baking process, but it must be handled with care when cold as it can burn your eyes and skin. Some people recommend replacing the lye with baking soda, but that is just plain wrong. Also, don’t skip the lard!

Makes 8 pretzels

Pâte Fermentée

  • 1 cup (4.2 ounces) bread flour
  • 3/8 cup (2.7 ounces) water, room temperature
  • ¾ teaspoon (0.08 ounce) salt
  • Pinch of instant yeast

Final Dough

  • 3 7/8 cups (1 pound, 1 ounce) bread flour
  • 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) water
  • 1/2 tablespoon (0.3 ounce) salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon (0.08 ounce) instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons (1.1 ounce) lard
  • 2 teaspoons (0.02 ounce) diastatic malt powder
  • Pâte Fermentée

Dipping Water

  • 4 ounces food-grade lye (or ¼ cup baking soda)
  • 1 gallon water


  • Coarse sea or kosher salt

1. Prepare the Pâte Fermentée: Stir the yeast into the water, mix in flour and salt until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk. Punch down the dough, then let rise again. Do this two or three times to get a real tang.

2. Prepare the Final Dough: In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, add all the Final Dough ingredients, except the Pâte Fermentée. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes. When the dough begins to come together, add the Pâte Fermentée in pieces. The dough will be a bit stiff. Increase speed to medium and mix for 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer dough to a container, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour.

3. Transfer the dough to the kitchen counter, flatten slightly into a rectangle and fold one-third over to the left and the other third over to the right like a letter. Turn dough 90 degrees and fold again from right to left then left to right, then flip over and return to the container seams side down. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for another hour.

4. Shape the dough: Divide the dough into 3-ounce pieces. Roll each piece into a 16-inch log with the center thicker than the ends. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for a few minutes. Make into a pretzel: shape the log into an upside-down U, cross the ends over each other twice, then fold the top loop down so that it sits on top of the crossed ends. Gently press the ends into the bottom of the pretzel and flip to the good side. Arrange 3 inches apart on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.

5. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove the plastic and let stand at room temperature for another 10 minutes.

6. Make the Dipping Water: Wearing gloves and safety goggles, mix four ounces of lye with a gallon of cold water in a stainless steel or plastic container. (This is best done one day in advance.) If using baking soda instead of lye, heat the water to boiling and add baking soda, then reduce heat to medium. Poach pretzels in the dipping water, two at a time, 30 seconds on each side. Remove with a skimmer and return to a sheet pan, good side up. Cut the middle section of the pretzels and apply salt.

7. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until pretzels are dark brown, rotating pans halfway during baking. Enjoy warm with butter.

This recipe was originally published with the article, Pretzel Logic.