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In the early 2000s, pretzel buns were having a real moment—accompanying the gastropub/craft burger trend that took the restaurant scene by storm. So, for the longest time, I poo-pooed pretzel buns as an overpriced and unnecessary gimmick. But, after tweaking this recipe for weeks, I fully understand the hype. The shiny pretzel crust can withstand some of the messier burger condiments (looking at you runny egg!), while the soft buttery interior gives you the perfect bite. Whether you are like me and late to the party, or have known for years that these puppies are perfection, this homemade pretzel bun recipe makes for a delicious weekend baking project to help you level up your burger or breakfast sandwich game.
How to Make the Pretzel Bun Dough
While this recipe isn’t particularly difficult, there is some specialty equipment needed to ensure success. First, a stand mixer with a dough hook. Technically it is possible to do this by hand, but you will be kneading your dough for 20+ minutes without it, and I don’t know about you, but I do not have that kind of endurance. Once everything is mixed and passes the windowpane test (more on that below), you just need to plop it in a large bowl covered with some plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and let the dough rise in a warm place until it is doubled in size.
Now, the fun begins. It’s shaping time bay-bee! Instead of going for classic soft pretzels, like in this recipe, we need to create dough balls. On a very lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into equal pieces, and working one at a time, pull the corners into the center to create a dumpling shape. From there, make your hand into a ‘C’ shape and seam side down, begin circling the ball on the counter, applying gentle pressure to seal the seam shut. I know that I personally learn best by watching, so if that’s you too, Erin McDowell’s Bake it Up a Notch episode has an awesome breakdown. (If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, start at 13:09 and watch until about 14:50.)
Putting the Pretzel in Pretzel Buns
All of that is fairly standard for a bread roll/bun recipe, but what truly makes a pretzel a pretzel is the alkali bath. While lye is used in most professional bakeries, it can be hard to come by, and quite frankly, a little intimidating. So we are combining water with some baking soda in a large pot to create an environment that enhances the Maillard reaction. This causes that beautiful, shiny top and chewy texture that we all know and love.
Once each piece of dough has had a dunk, we score them, cover them in coarse sea salt, and bake ’em up. Finally, we slather them in melted butter and even more salt before slicing them in half and gobbling them down. Not only do they make for stellar hamburger buns, but I am obsessed with them for breakfast sandwiches—eggs, bacon, and cheese, with some sriracha mayo on a pretzel bun is truly unbeatable.
Looking for some different bread recipes? Check out some of my favorites below:
Chewy and salty, these homemade pretzel buns are the perfect pairing for your next summer BBQ or brunch.
1C light beer, room temperature (I’ve used Modelo and Stella, both with great results)
1/2C half and half, warm (whole milk will also work)
1 packet of instant yeast
4C bread flour
2T unsalted butter, melted and cooled + 2T more (also melted) for brushing the finished product
1 1/2t kosher salt
2/3C baking soda
1 egg beaten for the egg wash
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a dough hook, combine the beer, half and half, honey, and yeast.
Add 2C of bread flour and the 2T of the melted butter to the yeast mixture. Mix on low until just combined.
Add the rest of the bread flour and salt. Starting on low, slowly build the speed up to medium-high and mix for about 10 minutes. The dough will come together around the 5-minute mark, so the rest of the time is building up gluten.
Dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for an additional 3-5 minutes. Work the dough until it passes the windowpane test. To do this, pinch off a small piece and gently stretch it until it is thin enough to see light through. If it rips before you get to that thin membrane, you need to do some more kneading.
Using vegetable oil (or other neutral oil), oil a large bowl and plop your dough inside, coating all sides of the dough in oil. Cover with a clean dishtowel or plastic wrap and allow to double in size. This takes around an hour.
Dump the dough onto a very lightly floured work surface and divide it into 8 equal-sized pieces (mine work out to 118g each).
To shape the dough, gently bring the edges into the middle and pinch together to form a dumpling-esque shape. Place it, pinched side down, on your surface, and with your hand in a ‘C’ shape around the dough, gently circle your hand to better seal the bottom and create a tighter top. Allow the dough balls to rest, covered with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap, for about 40 minutes.
When there is about 10 minutes left in your rest time, preheat your oven to 450F and line two baking sheets with silicone mats or greased parchment paper.
Bring 10C of water and 2/3C baking soda to a boil. Add one or two pretzels to the solution at a time, depending on the size of your pot, and boil for about 30 seconds (15 seconds on each side).
Remove your pretzels using a large slotted spoon or spider and place them onto a baking sheet. It will be 4 pretzels per baking sheet. Cut an ‘X’ into the center of each and liberally brush the pretzels with egg wash and top with coarse salt.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes. Brush with butter and sprinkle with a little more coarse salt. Allow to cool for a full 10 minutes before slicing and enjoying with a cheeseburger.