Soft Sourdough Pretzels

soft pretzels

My daughter Charlotte makes soft pretzels often. After I posted her recipe here, I decided I had to come up with a sourdough version to use up some of my extra starter. Sourdough deliciousness and food waste aversion all wrapped in one! Win-win!

My starter Eleanor turned 3 years old on February 10th this year

To feed my sourdough starter, I remove most of it from its jar and stir in fresh flour and water. I store the stuff I remove—the discarded starter—in my refrigerator to use later. Because I don’t bake every day but I do feed my starter every day (usually), I can sometimes accumulate quite a bit of discard and I can’t bear to throw it out. So I use it to bake pancakes, crackers, waffles, tortillas… (You can read more about the feeding and caring of a starter here and here.)

My sourdough starter consists of 50 percent flour and 50 percent water (100 percent hydration in sourdough lingo). I wanted to use 1 cup of this excess starter in Charlotte’s recipe. Because 1 cup of starter contains 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour, I reduced the amount of water and flour each by 1/2 cup in Charlotte’s recipe.

Sounds reasonable right? Well, four attempts later, it worked.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Discarded starter will work for this recipe but the pretzels will turn out best if the starter has been fed within the last couple of days.
  • Sourdough doesn’t like simple math. Substituting 1 part sourdough starter for 1/2 part water plus 1/2 part flour didn’t work as well as I had hoped. I had to play around with the amounts of flour and water in the recipe and adjust for other factors (see bullets below).
  • I used too much flour in my first three attempts, which resulted in stiff dough and dense pretzels. Err on the side of too sticky. You can always add more flour as you knead the dough.
  • Dough conditioners (dried ginger, citric acid) are your friends when you work with older starter. They help soften the dough. I added less than 1/16th of a teaspoon of each.
  • Cheat and add some commercial yeast. Perhaps if I had just fed my starter, I wouldn’t have needed store-bought yeast. But the point of this exercise was to develop another recipe that would use up my discard.
  • Baked goodies made with discarded starter tend to be on the dry side. Add some oil.
  • These taste delicious! They have a nice crust and a delicious tang. I can’t stop eating them…


Soft Sourdough Pretzels

Soft Sourdough Pretzels


  • 1 cup sourdough starter, unfed and and room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (100° to 105° F)
  • 2 cups to 2 1/2 cups white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons course salt plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • large pinch citric acid (optional)
  • large pinch ginger (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda


  1. Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water and set aside for about 10 minutes, until yeast becomes foamy.
  2. Combine 2 cups white flour, whole wheat flour, salt and, if using, citric acid and ginger.
  3. When the yeast is ready, stir it and the sourdough starter into the flour mixture. Add more flour as needed to make a stiff dough.
  4. Turn dough out onto a generously floured work surface and knead by hand for about 7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  5. Form a ball. Grease the bowl with olive oil. Place dough ball in the bowl and turn ride side up to coat the entire ball in oil. Place a bowl over the bowl and set bowl aside, preferably in a warm spot in the kitchen. Let the dough rise for about an hour and a half, or until nearly doubled in size.
  6. Preheat oven to 475°F and grease two cookie sheets.
  7. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a rope, about 18 inches long and then twist into a pretzel shape. Lightly press the ends of the rope into the pretzel.
  8. Bring water to a boil in a pot and dissolve the baking soda. Drop in pretzels one or two at a time and boil for about a minute. Drain and transfer to a baking sheet.
  9. Sprinkle pretzels with salt. (You can also sprinkle them for cinnamon and sugar in lieu of salt.) Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
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29 Replies to “Soft Sourdough Pretzels”

  1. So looking forward to trying this recipe! Thanks Anne Marie. Thinking of you these days xxxx

    PS A few summers ago in Upstate NY I had pretzel buns???? They were so good. They must be a thing. Would love to find a good recipe for them too. Maybe they are just pretzel dough made into rolls?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      I hope you like them Annie. Thanks 🙂 xxx

  2. They look yummy! Did the crusts simply burst open so evenly like that or did you slash them?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you 🙂 They burst when you plop them in the boiling water with baking soda. No slashing necessary.

  3. Susan L Krueger says: Reply

    Thanks for sharing your recipe! Do you add the starter in step 1, with the yeast?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Susan, oops, yes, I add the starter and the yeast to the flour at the same time. I seem to have missed a step in my directions. Thanks for asking. I’ll go and edit that right now 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  4. James A Willett says: Reply

    Tried this recipe today. I think the amount of salt called out in the ingredients is off. Maybe it should be teaspoons? Pretzels turned out way too salty.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi James, I’m so sorry!!! It should be teaspoons! I’ve changed it. I don’t know how that happened. I need an editor! ~ Anne Marie

  5. Mine burned on the bottom at such a high temperature. At 9 min. they had already burned on bottom

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that. I haven’t had this problem. Maybe you could move them to a higher rack and/or turn down the heat if you feel like trying them again.

  6. If you’re going for sweet and sprinkling with sugar and cinnamon, do you adjust the 2tbsps of salt at the beginning or does this not matter? Looking forward to giving these a go 🙂

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Mel, Gah! That should say two teaspoons, not tablespoons! I’ve adjusted that. I’m sorry if you made them with all that salt. As for the two teaspoons (which the recipe should have instructed!) I haven’t adjusted the salt for the sugar/cinnamon topping but it should be fine if you do. You need salt in there to help condition the dough though. ~ Anne Marie

  7. I made these in to buns for sausages. They were YUM!

  8. If I feed my starter (affectionately known as Mr. Stinky) the day before, I should be able to omit any dough developing agents?

  9. Hello, thanks so much for the recipe. I’m just wondering if anyone has tried it without the yeast/with recently fed starter? Did it work? My brand new sourdough starter, named Peanut, is happily bubbling away (thank you for your post on this as well!), but I haven’t managed to find yeast in the supermarket yet, as I’ve just moved to China and I’m still getting used to the new products in the shops.

  10. How long will these last after baking? Do they turn hard within a day?

  11. I made these today, they turned out amazing! Thank you for sharing the recipe!

  12. Why the ginger and why the citric acid. Leaning always learning. My sourdough pet is 8 and although her mom has a name, mine does not. But bake us delectable bread always!

  13. Just to say: Thank you for this recipe! I have made these sourdough pretzels in the past (using wholemeal spelt flour) and will again soon, now that I have kindly been given a sourdough starter.

  14. These turned out awesome and not too labor intensive. I’ll definitely be making them again 🙂

  15. I don’t see in the recipe how much sugar to put in with the yeast in step 1

    1. 1 tablespoon, it’s in the ingredients.

  16. Can I use rapid rise yeast in this recipe. It’s the only kind of yeast I can get my hands on these days.

    1. Yes. It’s also called instant yeast. If you use it, you don’t have to do step 1. That’s more for active dry yeast.

  17. So I know this is an older post and you probably already know this, but the reason your starter “doesn’t like simple math” is that 1/2 and 1/2 or 100% hydration is based on weight, not volume. One cup flour to about 1/2 cup water will be more reasonable, but not a guarantee, depending on how packed your flour is and other factors.

  18. […] For those interested in more nitty-gritty sourdough science, Zero Waste Chef breaks down how to convert a pretzel recipe to one using sourdough starter here, and offers some great tips for baking with starter, including using a pinch of dried ginger or […]

  19. I’m using discard for these and using all purpose flour with Wheat bran do to no wheat flour any suggestions

    1. Hi Dayna,
      All-purpose flour will work. If the dough is too sticky to work with when you form the pretzels, add more flour.
      ~ Anne-Marie

      1. So we had miss hap put baking soda in the dough!

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