The best Philly style soft pretzel recipe

Growing up in Maryland and living near Philadelphia when I was first married, I was lucky enough to have easy access to soft pretzels. The perfect snack food. Now I live far from anything like that. I have 2 options. Frozen versions or a chain store version. The frozen versions are thin and generally tasteless. The chain store version is commonly found in airports and malls, Auntie Anne’s for instance. They aren’t that bad and will do in a pinch but I find them to be both too sweet and too oily. The Philly version never feels oily. Over the years I’ve tried several homemade recipes without any luck. Nothing has been even close.

Till now. This recipe from The Washington Post is sooo close. Almost exactly right. The only difference is that these pretzels have a slightly hard underside. The real ones have no discernible difference when chewing. It could be my oven or technique. I’m making my second attempt now to see if I can eliminate that one difference. Even if I can’t, these are near perfect.

Except. This recipe takes forever and is not easy. There are three separate times the dough has to rise. If a recipe is too difficult I won’t generally make it a second time unless it is really worth it. Too me, this is really worth the trouble.

I grew up in New Jersey and long for authentic tasting Philly soft pretzels.

I’m always disappointed with all the boutique and frozen soft pretzels available where I now live, so I make my own. It’s easy.

I make it even easier by using a good quality pre-made pizza dough (I use Publix pizza dough—it’s da bomb!) instead of making from scratch. I roll out the dough and cut into strips, then twist the strips into pretzel shapes. Then I boil and bake them exactly as specified in your linked recipe.

The end product is pretty darned close to real-deal Philly pretzels. The barley malt syrup (as per your recipe) would probably make them even better, but I’m too lazy to make scratch dough. Maybe I’ll try rolling the syrup into the Publix dough before boiling.

First, I completely concur with your opinion of frozen pretzels & chain pretzels. Ok for the unlettered, but when you’ve grown up with Philadelphia pretzels, they just don’t cut the mustard.

I used to make Alton Brown’s recipe, which was pretty good. One thing I did though that really improved things was bake the baking soda ahead of time, which converts the sodium bicarbonate to sodium carbonate, with a higher pH. Really added to the color and tang of the pretzels.

You could of course go whole hog and use lye, but I’ve always tried to avoid recipes requiring safety glasses.

I lived in Philadelphia for four years; the cheesesteaks in Upper Darby and the pretzels from street corner vendors were the only great things about the entire experience.

I’ve never had a pretzel as good as a Philadelphia street vendor pretzel.

I bake my own pretzels very often and have been doing this for about 10 years. Everyone seems to love them, often begging me to make them during overnight visits, so i think Im doing it right. The recipes on the web vary, though they are all very similar.
2 tips I can suggest. First, an air-bake cookie sheet to bake them on. I hear you can use a pizza stone with good results, but I’ve only used this air-bake sheet because…
I use real NaOH (~4%) as my base dipping solution. I’ve had similar results with the baking-soda bath, too. So, I don’t think the NaOH is as critical as the cookie sheet.
Oh… 3 tips; Bread Flour.

Also, I’m not sure of how much yeast baking experience you have, but there’s a goldiloks point to your moisture level as well as your amount/time of kneading. I can give more info on this, but I know there are better bakers on this board.

BTW… that WaPo recipe looks incredibly complicated. FWIW, my dough is just yeast, bread flour, brown sugar, and water. I’ll sometimes add a pinch of salt, but not always. IM me if anyone wants my (simple) typed-up recipe.

Yeah, I use the baked baking soda for a couple of things: pretzels, alkaline noodles, and sometimes for bagels. The technique works great for getting that deep pretzel brown crust and flavor.

OK, I made the Washington Post pretzel recipe today. They turned out alright, however the OP was right, this was an all day project. I started the sponge at 9:30 this morning, and the finished pretzels came out of the oven around 4:30. (That includes an unexpected 30-40 minute errand two pretzels into the “roll into a rope and twist into a pretzel” step.)