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Stay Sane(ish) with Soft Pretzels

This past weekend, my friend and fellow food pro Lorraine shared an Instagram photo of a comforting bowl of braised greens, black-eyed peas, and roasted tomatoes.

It was one of those off-the-cuff shots commemorating a dinner with friends, a snapshot of one of those small moments that mean a lot.

And yet her caption read, “It feels wrong to be posting a picture of food when there are many terrible things happening around the country right now.”

homemade soft pretzels
Photo: Casey Barber

It’s not just you, Lorraine. The pressure, both internal and external, to take a stand and make our voices heard above this chilling political climate has reached a fever pitch in the span of a few weeks.

We’re bombarded with exhortations to commit ourselves and join the cause in word and deed.

But we’re also reminded in many of these conversations that this is a long road ahead, and though we can take action immediately, the change we need to effect won’t happen in a day.

We need stamina and strength for a years-long fight. And that’s what I see happening on my Instagram feed.

homemade soft pretzels
Photo: Casey Barber

Photos of friends from all corners of the globe speaking out and making themselves present, but also preserving lemons, making homemade pasta, and simmering soup—all to keep their sanity, to restore equilibrium, clear their minds, recharge, and reboot.

I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. Self-care has been a big buzzword in this ongoing discussion as our to-do lists and to-call lists grow ever longer and more urgent.

And to care for ourselves properly, we most definitely need to eat. As I responded to Lorraine, food grounds us and keeps us sane. (Sane-ish, in my case.)

For me, one of the things that consistently calms me down is making something with dough, and top on the list of doughy things that make me happy are soft pretzels.

homemade soft pretzels
Photo: Casey Barber

While I’ve shared recipes for pretzel bread and pretzel crackers, there’s really nothing like the O.G. soft pretzel recipe that gets me through the good and bad times.

This is a revision of the larger-portioned recipe in Classic Snacks Made from Scratch, because what Dan and I discovered is that—even with the best of intentions—the half of the larger-quantity recipe we intend to stash away in the freezer never ever makes it there.

So this recipe makes six soft pretzels, which is the exact amount in a SuperPretzel box, and which is more than enough for two people to devour with a side of cheese sauce and still not feel all Macy’s Parade float-ish after the fact.

After all, these pretzels are supposed to be restorative, not depressive.

soft pretzels and cheese sauce

And even though it’s a smaller quantity, there’s still enough dough involved to work your aggressions out through kneading.

I know, making soft pretzels will not overturn Cabinet nominations or stop the sale of public lands or any of the other tangible fears we’re facing right now.

But if it can help refocus your thoughts from those of helplessness to fiery motivation, it’s doing its job.

(If a side of homemade Cheez Whiz adds fuel to your fire, then by all means, do that too. Whatever we need to keep our strength up.)

Pillowy soft pretzels baked in the oven are a surefire way to comfort and relax.

Soft Pretzels

Yield: 6 pretzels
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Dough Rising Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours

Pillowy soft pretzels baked in the oven are a surefire way to comfort and relax. Serve them with cheese sauce or on their own.



  • 2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces; 301 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 packed tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Poaching Liquid

  • 1 quart (4 cups) water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda or baked soda
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar

Pretzel Toppings

  • Additional oil for brushing
  • Pretzel salt, coarse sea salt, or seasoned salt


  1. Whisk the flour, sugar, yeast, and kosher salt together in a bowl.
  2. Pour in the water and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. 
  3. Stir until a shaggy dough forms, then press the dough together with your hands to form a ball and transfer to a clean, lightly floured surface. 
  4. Knead for 2-3 minutes, until the dough is smooth.
  5. Cover the dough with the overturned bowl and let rise for 1 hour.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner. 
  7. Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope approximately 18 inches long. 
  8. Bring the ends of the rope up into a U shape, then twist them around each other twice, almost as if you were tying a ribbon, to get the signature twirl of the pretzel center. 
  9. Fold the ends back down over the bottom part of the U to finish the pretzel and place on the baking sheet. (Work quickly and deliberately—it might take you a few tries to get the hang of it, but even a misshapen pretzel tastes fantastic!)
  10. Make the poaching liquid by bringing the water, baking soda, and brown sugar to a simmer in a medium (2 quart) saucepan over medium heat. 
  11. Add the pretzels one at a time to the liquid. Poach for 10 seconds, then gently flip the pretzel and poach for 10 seconds more.
  12. Scoop the pretzel out of the poaching liquid with a metal spider or strainer and let excess liquid drip off before returning to the baking sheet. 
  13. Repeat with the remaining pretzels.
  14. Brush the pretzels lightly with vegetable oil and sprinkle with pretzel salt, coarse sea salt, or seasoned salt. 
  15. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the pretzels are deeply browned and starting to crack on the surface. 
  16. Transfer to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before serving, unless you have asbestos hands like me and can eat them immediately.

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