Swabian Pretzels
Baked, Basics, Bread, Swabian, Vegetarian

Swabian Pretzels (‘Schwäbische Laugenbrezeln’)

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Last Updated on 3 years by Tim

The pretzel is a national sanctuary of Swabia. There is no other type of bread that better resembles Southern German baking culture. Baking Swabian pretzels is a labor of love. They’re a bit more challenging to make than Bavarian pretzels. However, you will be rewarded with a much better product.

It’s a shame that Swabian pretzels are so hard to find outside of Swabia. The Bavarian-style is easier to automatize with a machine which is why it was popularized all around the world. What you get served under the name of pretzel in foreign countries is often not even slightly close in appearance, taste, and texture to a pretzel that would be deemed worthy to eat in Germany.

Even in Germany, if you want to eat a good pretzel, it’s best to bake it at home. There are not many artisanal bakeries left in Germany that twist their pretzels by hand. Often they use frozen pre-made pretzels from a factory that they just bake in the oven. What a shame!

Bakery logo

The first time my mother baked pretzels for our family everyone was in awe. Even though they were not perfect in shape and she used baking soda instead of lye to soak them they tasted at least a thousand times better than the pretzels from the local bakery close to our home. I often make the same observations for just about any bakery product. You don’t need to be a baking expert to bake better bread than all the local bakery chains.

The Building Blocks of German Cusine Series

This article is part of my basics series, which will introduce you to key ingredients and preparation methods. You can find all these articles in the ‘Basics’ category of this blog. Listed below are the articles that have yet been published in this series:

What’s the difference between a Swabian and Bavarian pretzel?

You might’ve noticed by now that it is very important to me to distinguish the Swabian from the Bavarian pretzel. There are several differences that will result in a very different end product:

  • Swabian pretzels have a higher fat content (3-10 %) than Bavarian pretzels (3 %).
  • Swabian pretzels are made from a drier dough than Bavarian pretzels.
  • Swabian pretzels are not even in thickness and texture. They have a fluffy big belly and thin crispy arms.
  • Swabian pretzels are scored before baking to prevent them from bursting open anywhere (Bavarian pretzels look like a monstrosity).
  • Swabian pretzels have fewer salt on them than Bavarian ones.

Just for documentation purposes, on the picture below you can see a Bavarian pretzel. Do you notice the differences?

Bavarian Pretzel

How to bake the perfect Swabian pretzel

As with most of my recipes, the preparation for this recipe starts the day before you intend to bake the pretzels. The pre-ferment is kneaded together in less than five minutes. However, it’s no problem if you forget about the pre-ferment. These pretzels can also be baked without one. Simply add the flour and water from the pre-ferment to the final dough.

In Swabia, it is traditional to use lard in baked goods. If you’re a vegan you can substitute lard with shortening. In the past, it was unheard of in Swabia that people wouldn’t eat a bread roll or pretzel because of some lard in it. However, times have changed. Nowadays most bakeries use shortening because of vegans – which is why a lot of bakery pretzels don’t taste as good anymore.

Dry ingredients for the Swabian pretzel dough
Individual dough portions à 65 g

It’s important that you chill your water and milk before adding it to the dough. Pretzel dough should never reach a temperature above 77 °F (25 °C).

How to shape Swabian pretzels

Pretzels are easier to shape than it might look like. I give you a written description in the recipe instructions. Below are some pictures for visual reference.

Flattening the dough
Folding the dough inwards
Rolling the dough into a sausage
Pretzel before shaping
Twisted Swabian pretzel

If the dough is resisting your attempts to stretch it out then leave it to rest for a few minutes. This will relax the gluten and make the dough easier to elongate.

How to soak and score your pretzels

Before you can soak your proofed pretzels, you need to dry out the surface for at least 45 minutes in the fridge. Don’t skip this step. It’s called ‘Absteifen’ in German. If you don’t let the surface form a protective skin your pretzel will soak up the lye like a sponge.

Swabian pretzels after proofing

It is essential to use lye to get a proper browning on your pretzels. You can buy it online. It’s very inexpensive. It’s usually sold as NaOH-pearls which can be dissolved in water to produce the lye solution. The concentration of your solution should be 4 %. So, to one liter of water, you add 40 grams of lye pearls. Easy.

You must always wear plastic gloves when working with lye. It is corrosive but you don’t need to be overprotective. If you spill some on your skin then wash it off with running water. The pretzel should be soaked for no more than 3-4 seconds in the lye solution. It’s best to use a spider to transfer the soaked pretzels to your baking sheet. That way, any excess lye solution can drip off.

The baking sheet should be pre-heated in the oven so that you get a proper browning and crust on the bottom of the pretzel. It’s even better to use a pizza stone if you have one. Before baking, you need to score the pretzels with one long diagonal cut. The pretzels will look the most beautiful when you hold the knife at a horizontal angle. After that, you sprinkle the pretzels with the coarse salt and bake them immediately.

Scored Swabian Pretzel
Swabian Pretzel sprinkled with salt

Pretzels don’t need to be baked for a long time. After about 12-15 minutes they are ready to be taken out of the oven. You will see if they are done by their color development. Once the crust has browned to your liking, take the pretzels out of the oven.

The best way to serve Swabian pretzels

Once you’ve taken the pretzels out of the oven you need to immediately spray them with water. That way they will get a shiny crust. Otherwise, they will look dull. But don’t even dare to bake them in a steam oven. The oven needs to be dry. Don’t follow the method of my breakfast bread roll recipe and place a bowl of water on the bottom of the oven. There’s a high risk that the steam prevents your crust from darkening properly.

The best way to enjoy fresh pretzels is to top them with butter. When I baked this batch, I happened to have some bone marrow in my fridge from cooking beef spaetzle soup (‘Gaisburger Marsch’). I just rendered the leftover marrow from the bones and poured it over some chives before cooling it down to a spreadable consistency. It tasted delightful.

If you have any stale leftover pretzels, you can use them up by preparing a batch of bread dumplings. However, they don’t need to go stale. Pretzels freeze beautifully so you can always take them out of the freezer when you crave one.


  1. Emily Beckman

    Wow thank you so much for this! I have been searching the internet high and low for a recipe exactly like this. It’s one of a kind.

    I sent an email with some questions on how to make this recipe in large batches—hoping to hear back from you if you have the time!

    • Hi Emily, I’m glad you like the recipe. I’ve replied to your questions in my email. I’m always happy to help – Tim

  2. Hi! I live in New Zealand and m finding it very difficult to find food grade lye- and I know it’s just not worth making pretzels without it! Do you have any tips/links on where to find it?
    Thank you 🙂

    • Hi Antonia, in Germany you can buy food-grade lye solutions at pharmacies but it’s usually quite expensive ($10 for 1 liter). If you ask them, the pharmacy staff will prepare the lye solution and you can usually pick it up the next day.

      I always purchase food-grade lye pearls online. They store well, last forever, and you can mix them with water to make the lye solution. Maybe you can find them somewhere on Amazon or ebay (I found this offer on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0875LR274/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?keywords=food+grade+lye&qid=1644140131&sr=8-3). I hope this helps and that you will be able to make pretzels in New Zealand – Tim

  3. Hi Tim! Thanks for the recipe. I had a real hard time with the dough. It was super sticky, very difficult to roll out into thin arms, and never really firmed up so it was impossible to transfer my pretzels to the baking sheet without destroying the shape. Any thoughts on what I could have done wrong? Thanks!

    • Hi Max,
      that sounds like you used too much liquid. For pretzels, the dough should be dry and barely sticky. I think you need to add less milk/ water to the dough. It’s better to add less water at first and adjust as you go if the dough is too firm. For me, the amount of water needed depends very much on the brand of flour that I use. Some flours can simply hold more water than others. Pretzel dough shouldn’t be sticky at all but smooth and firm, just not too firm to roll it out.

      Shaping the pretzels is not an easy task even if the dough is perfect. It takes some practice and the dough can tear easily if you make the pretzels with lard instead of vegetable oil. – Tim

  4. I can not get fresh yeast.
    What is the amount of active dry yeast i should use or instant yeast?

    • Around 1/3 the amount of fresh yeast with active dry yeast. I have no experience with instant yeast so I can’t say which one is better. I think both types should work fine. I usually use only fresh yeast because it is easier to eyeball the weight. But active dry yeast or instant yeast should work just as well.

  5. Hi Tim,
    I tried out your recipe today and was pretty pleased with the outcome. I don’t have access to fresh yeast (curse you, USA), so for anyone with the same problem:
    I used 1/8 tsp active dry yeast for the pre-ferment, and 1+1/8 tsp for the dough.
    I had a couple of problems. For one, in one of the pictures it shows the lard in the mixing bowl with all the other ingredients not yet incorporated. But in the instructions, you say to first knead the dough, then add the lard. In my case, I used butter, but found it pretty hard to incorporate in this step. Is there a reason for not mixing it in before?
    Some of my pretzels and Laugenknoten unfortunately fused to the parchment paper. Next batch I put on the pizza stone without parchment, fused to the pizza stone. I then tried to put the next batch onto paper towels first to soak up the excess lye, but lost 2 pretzels that way. Did you have any issues like that? What kind of pizza stone do you use?
    Many thanks,

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