I’ve got lots of areas of total ignorance: more than some, less than others. I know how to bake a decent loaf; I know how to grow an overwhelming glut of courgettes. Pretzels though, I know almost nothing about. All I really know is that I have tried the hard type and did not much care for and that the US has evolved a much softer version that if done well are really tasty. I am not sure which type George W choked on. That sums it up really. Vanessa tells me that properly made soft ones are a delight, so I have challenged her to show me the way.
One of the most romantic stories about the origin story of pretzels is that they were created by a monk around 610 in Italy. According to the story a monk baked strips of dough that he then folded into a shape to look like a child crossing its arms in prayer. He would give these treats, which he called “pretiolas” or “little rewards,” to children who had memorized the words to the prayers – unsurprisingly there’s no written evidence from the 7th century to confirm this, but I love the story all the same.

I often find myself admiring the American-style pretzel, and recently spotted some interesting ones. They were dark and sweet and chewy, with bags and bags of flavour. They were quite expensive and as usual I wanted to make them myself, so Irecreated the recipe by using date syrup and buttermilk for sweetness and flavour, sesame seeds and red malt flour for colour, and it is a really straightforward recipe.

The original recipe used sugar, but I wanted to add some rich flavour so I substituted the sugar for date syrup. Adding fresh dates adds to the sweetness but I have made these optional because they can be expensive and because dried dates will further reduce the hydration. They are not absolutely essential but they do sweeten the pretzels and they are not far off being in season...so if you can find some then do include them. You could, if you want to, soak some dried ones in water overnight instead but I am not terribly keen on them.

The secret to the texture of your pretzel, just how chewy it is, is controlled by the length of time it is in water before baking. I’ve made these just chewy enough for my taste at 10 seconds but they can be made even chewier if left for up to 40 seconds. The addition of bicarbonate of soda to the boiling water increases the Maillard reaction (a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars while baking that gives roasted and baked foods their wonderful flavour) which gives a greater depth of flavour. It increases the surface gelatinisation by breaking down some starch in turn increasing the sweetness to give the classic “pretzely” taste.

Red malt flour is a really useful ingredient for any baker to keep in the cupboard – it is produced from carefully roasted wholegrain barley malt to give these pretzels a rich red/brown colour and a bittersweet flavour, which compliments the sweetness from the dates and the tang of the buttermilk.

My top tip is to use a stone to bake these on. It really makes the difference to the texture and increases the chewiness.

Vanessa Kimbell runs the Sourdough School, Northampton


Simply put all these into your basket: La Cloche, Gilchesters Organic White Flour 1.5kg, Dough Scraper, Scoring Knife and a sachet of Lev. Then in the checkout use coupon code JULYCLOCHE. We will do the rest, apart from making your first loaf that is.

Recipe: Date & Buttermilk Pretzels


1. Place the milk, buttermilk, yeast into a bowl and mix well together.

2. It is best to use a stand mixer to mix this dough so place the yeast mixture and the rest of the ingredients into the bowl and bring together on slow speed. Mix to a firm dough using a dough hook for about 10 minutes on a low speed.

3. Next leave covered with a damp tea towel for 1 - 1/2 hours to proof. Test by pressing your finger into the dough gently, it should spring back.

4. Turn the dough onto the table and gently press down and divide into 12 equal pieces with your scraper by eye. If you want to be really precise then divide the dough weight by 12 and use a scale to get them all perfectly equal, about 140g each.

5. Roll each piece of dough into a baton 3 cm thick then elongate them to 40 cm long leaving the middle 3cm thick but tapering out to the ends at 0.75 cm thick.

6. Bring the two ends together and about 5cm in over lap them and twist and fold upwards to join the main part of the pretzel, turn over and place onto a lightly flour dusted baking tray leaving about 3cm space between them.

7. Leave uncovered for 30 minutes to rise again - this allows the gluten to relax.

8. Preheat your oven with baking stone to 200°C. (You could use a baking tray or silicone mat but I prefer the texture when stone baked).

9. While the dough is proving bring 1.5 litres of water to the boil and add 4 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda.

10. The pretzels should have a slight skin, if not then leave uncovered for a little while to allow one to form.

11. Drop each pretzel into the baking soda liquid one at a time and allow it to float to the surface which should take around 10 seconds.

12. Place each one back onto the baking stone leaving a 3 cm space between them

13. Sprinkle with sesame seeds to garnish

14. Bake at 200°C on the middle and upper area of the oven oven for 16 - 18 minutes.

15. To test if they are baked pick one up and tap the base, you are looking for a hollow sound.

16. Remove from the oven and allow to cool placing them individually onto a wire rack.

12 large pretzels

42g cube fresh organic yeast
1kg Mulino Marino Type “00” Soffiata Flour
250g milk 30°C
250g buttermilk
80g unsalted butter (melted but cool)
50g date syrup
20g red malt flour
2 tsp fine salt
150g fresh chopped dates (optional)
Sesame seeds to garnish


1.5L water
4tbsp bicarbonate of soda

Featured Products

Rectangular Superstone | £24.00

A large oblong pizza stone (13" by 15" or 33cm by 38cm and 1cm thick) with its own removable rack, made from the same Superstone as all of our Sassafras products, this stone is excellent for pizzas.

Red Malt Flour | £2.97

Muntons Red Malt Flour is produced from carefully roasted wholegrain barley malt to give a rich red/brown colour and a bittersweet flavour which compliments many breads.

Mulino Marino Type “00” Soffiata Flour | £2.75

Type "00" flour from strong organic wheat suitable for ciabatta, baguettes, brioches, croissants and as a general bread flour.

Natural Date Syrup | £2.49

Date syrup is a richly flavoured concentrate containing no additives or preservatives. Use as a direct replacement for sugar in your home bakes.

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