The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How do I roll the Philadelphia pretzel shape?

JAtlanta's picture

How do I roll the Philadelphia pretzel shape?

This is my first post to The Fresh Loaf, but I've been getting some great advice from the group.  I went to Germany early this year, and after coming back from Munich I've been thinking about those Bavarian pretzels a lot, so I'm trying to make my own.  I'm getting close to my ideal pretzel recipe and I'll write more about my experiences below, but first I have a question for everyone:

How do I make the Philadelphia soft pretzel shape?  It's very different from the iconic German pretzel shape.  Please check out this page on google images to see what I mean.  Philadelphia pretzels are oval shaped with a loop in the middle and come stuck together as a chain of 12 or so.  When you buy them from street carts, you break off how many you want from the chain.  I tried a few different shapes today, but none came out anything like the Philly pretzel.  I would love to make these at home - I lived in Philadelphia for a while, but I'm in Atlanta now, so I can't even see a real one up close.

Here's some of what I learned from making pretzels, which I hope will help everyone else out: 

So far I've tried three different recipes, all very different.

#1 Baking Illustrated Soft Pretzels - All the recipes in this book have turned out to be delicious. This recipe tasted the best of those I've tried so far.  The inside of the pretzel is pleasantly chewy thanks to the use of bread flour. However, this recipe uses 1/4 cup of honey, and the pretzels taste strongly of honey.  Next time I'll use sugar and cut back the amount.  These pretzels were the least attractive when baked, they could use an egg wash like in...

#2 Alton Brown's recipe - This recipe was very good, but not as chewy or tasty as #1.  The great take-away from this recipe is that brushing the pretzels with 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water before baking makes the finished product shiny and very attractive.  This recipe also calls for boiling in 10 cups water with 2/3 cup baking soda, which is a lot, but it worked well.

#3 Laugabrezla II recipe - The recipe was recommended in another post on this site. I liked this one because it's super fast to make - no waiting for the dough to rise!  The flavor was not as complex as the other two recipes, though.  To be fair I boiled the pretzels in baking soda and water instead of dipping them into a lye solution, as the recipe calls for.  I haven't worked up the courage to use the lye dip yet, but maybe soon.  The pretzels in Munich had a special crunchiness on the outside that I'm now convinced can only be attained by using the lye dip.  Reheating pretezels in the oven after they've cooled gets them close, though.  I've included a picture of the pretzels I made from this recipe.
 Pretzels made using the Laugabrezla II recipe (boiled in water and baking soda, though).

Pretzel salt - At first I tried using regular Diamond Crystal kosher salt, but that was too fine and just dissolved into the pretzel top.  After looking in the spice aisle of every grocery store in Antlanta and not finding anything, I finally ordered a 2lb bag of pretzel salt from Barry Farm.  I was hoping that this salt would be the opaque chalky white stuff that comes on Superpretzels, but it's actually coarse clear salt, sort of like sea salt, but in smaller chunks.  It works well enough though, which is good since I have 2lbs of it.  You can see it in the picture above.

Thanks for reading - I hope someone can tell me the secret of rolling the Philly Pretzel shape.

PaddyL's picture

Then place them side by side, touching each other and sort of squished together, you might get the shape you're looking for.

alconnell's picture

Nice looking Pretzels!  I can tell you from my experience that lye DOES make a difference.  I've been down a similar path to yours and found the lye was the best way.  I agree with you on flavor - I think retarding the dough helps.  I've even made a sourdough version, just using a starter and winging it.  Good luck finding the Philly style.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

if you click on the big "box of 50" at the images link you posted.  

Mini O

JAtlanta's picture

Thanks everyone, I did see that site for the Philly Pretzel Factory, and it helps, but the pictures are a little too small to know exactly what's going on.  It looks like maybe they just twist the ends twice and tuck them under the big loop.  I'll keep trying.  I didn't notice before that the Philly Pretzel Factory will be opening two stores in the Atlanta area, so maybe my quest will be over soon.

Windischgirl's picture

Hey, JAtlanta:

I live in Philly, so I know what you mean about the shape/texture.

I think for the texture, try AP flour.  The crumb is more crumbly than chewy, which suggests less gluten in the flour.  Adding honey to the dough just doesn't seem right--the pretzels aren't really sweet!?  In terms of shaping and getting them to stick together, I wonder what would happen if you wet the edges of each pretzel where it contacts the next one and placed them touching each other on the baking sheet.

Shape: did you try making a ring shape and then giving it a twist (or two) in the middle to make a figure-8?  I'm thinking there was a PBS show on PA pretzel making a bunch of years ago and am wondering if a video of the shaping process might be available online.  My husband, the wiseguy, suggested the pretzels are extruded like pasta ;-) but he's an engineer..

Simultaneous to your pretzel experiments, my son and I made the Bavarian pretzel recipe from Leader's Local Breads...we had been inspired by Alton Brown's video the night before.   They too called for a baking soda dip (1/3 c soda to 4 qts water) and we decided to add in Alton's egg wash for extra shine and color.

The nice thing about this recipe is a retard stage for the shaped product (2 to 12 hours), which permitted us to time the baking around our other activities.  Altho it was a straight yeast dough, I think the retard helped enhance the flavors. My kid made some salted, using coarse sea salt, and some cinnamon sugar, using demerara sugar because of it's larger crystal.

The recipe called for a lot of salt in the dough--2 1/2 tsp per 17.6 oz flour--which we reduced by half and they were still plenty salty.  The other glitch was in the 18-inch length was just too short if shaped according to Leader, with an extra twist in the middle; with oven spring, the holes vanished!  Next time I think I will go for 24 inch lengths and try to iimitate the Laugabretzla shape.

They were tasty, but no match for the Bretzelkoenig stands in Zurich!  But then again, the flavor might be enhanced by the mountains.  I wonder if for true Philly flavor, you have to smoke them with a combo of automotive and public transit exhaust...;-)


Philadelphia PA

JAtlanta's picture

I made another batch on Sunday and I think I'm getting closer to the shape, but I also think that Windischgirl is right, the Philly Pretzel recipe is different.  The pretzels are definitely a lot heavier in Philadelphia.  I got this shape by doing a double twist right at the ends of the rope of dough, smooshing down the twisted part, and putting the remaining ring of dough over that.  Unfortunaltely, I rolled out the dough ropes so many times trying to get them thinner and longer, that they were pretty tough and almost inedible.  Oh well, live and learn. 

Philly Style PretzelsPhilly Style Pretzels

JAtlanta's picture

Whoa, here it was on YouTube all along.  I guess that the pros have a machine that rolls the rope of dough to the exact right length and width: