Most people drawing breath in North America have had a slice of pizza at least once in their lives and eaten a soft pretzel. The end products are pretty different, so it may come as a surprise as to how similar the two doughs are to each other.
One difference is the presence of malted syrup in pretzel dough. The rest of the ingredients are flour, water, a leavening agent, and whatever extra stuff you or the recipes you’re following want— olive oil, perhaps some spices, those sorts of things. The malted syrup imparts the “pretzel” flavor, but you can still get a pretzel out of your dough even without that syrup.
The real difference between pizza dough vs. pretzel dough has nothing to do with ingredients but with what you do with the dough before you bake it. You’ll need to boil your pretzel dough before you bake it.
Let’s talk about these two doughs and the two very different foods they become.
Basic Dough Recipes
You’ll find that most dough recipes call for one part water and three parts flour, which forms the dough’s base. We can quibble over this (some bakers insist the ratio should be three to five, which is a big difference, percentage-wise), but if you follow this, you won’t run the risk of having dough that’s too wet.
Then we add a leavening agent— something to make the dough rise. Without this, your dough will be dense, heavy, and brick-like. While the most popular (and arguably effective) agent is yeast, we can use steam, baking powder, or baking soda as alternatives.
What the Yeast Does
Yeast is a fungus that feeds on sugars. When it breaks down the sugar on which it’s feasting, the by-products it produces are carbon dioxide and ethanol. Ethanol is an alcohol and what yeast creates in our beers. Without yeast, we wouldn’t have beer.
But that doesn’t figure in the dough whether it’s pizza or pretzel dough. What we care about here is the carbon dioxide the yeast produces. Provided the yeast is active, it will feed on the complex sugar molecules, breaking them down into simpler components. The carbon dioxide then spreads through the dough, making it rise and acquire its fluffy characteristics.
The yeast being active means that it’s alive and awake. Yeast can expire, at which point it will do nothing. But it can also be dormant. It’s alive, but it won’t break anything down. You can find an expiration date on your jar of yeast, making it easy to track its viability.
But many bakers make the mistake of getting their yeast too hot or not warming it up enough. Remember that yeast is a living thing, so you’ll kill it if it gets too hot, and nothing will happen in your dough.
It does need to be warmed up, though. Its optimal temperature is between 86˚ and 100˚ F (30˚ to 37˚ C).
At these temperatures, the yeast can thrive and do its thing. Of course, it will eventually die in the oven, but if it doesn’t, it will ultimately gobble up all your dough. The need for elevated temperature for the yeast explains why many dough recipes call for adding the yeast to warm water. If you drop your yeast in cold tap water, it won’t wake up.
How to Know If Your Yeast Is Active
Combine your yeast with warm water and a little sugar, stir it together, and wait about ten minutes. If the yeast has begun to bubble and rise to the top of the water, it’s alive and kicking. If it hasn’t, your yeast has expired, or your water was either too hot or too cool.
Yeast Substitute Number One
We mentioned baking powder earlier as an alternative leavening agent. It contains sodium bicarbonate and an acid, which is usually cream of tartar. The sodium bicarbonate interacts with the acid in the cream of tartar when it meets the water and sugar of your dough recipe.
If your yeast is dead, you can substitute the same amount of baking powder that the recipe asked for yeast.
Yeast Substitute Number Two
With no baking powder at hand, baking soda will work, but you’ll need to add an acid. Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate. If you have baking soda and cream of tartar, you can make your own baking powder.
The baking soda needs an acid. You can add half the amount called for in the recipe, then add half the amount called for in acid— lemon juice, buttermilk, or something similarly acidic. If the recipe calls for one teaspoon of yeast, you can replace that with a half-teaspoon of baking soda and a half-teaspoon of lemon juice.
Pizza Dough vs. Pretzel Dough: Differences in Preparation
Now that you have some background on the differences between pizza dough vs. pretzel dough, let’s look at how the two doughs differ when it comes to cooking them into the delicious food you all know and love.
Pretzels came to us from Germany, although the original pretzel makers was a 7th-century Italian man. They spread across Europe, and German immigrants eventually brought them to the US in the 18th century. Today, 80 percent of US pretzels get baked in Pennsylvania.
With such a long history, it’s no surprise that there may be as many variations on a pretzel dough recipe as there are pretzel makers in the world, but here’s a basic one:
- Combine 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast, 1/2 cup warm water, and 1 tablespoon barley malt syrup. Stir it all together, and wait for about five minutes for the mixture to foam.
- Stir in 3 1/4 cups flour plus more as needed, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, and 2 teaspoons of salt.
- Knead the dough until it firms up and becomes tacky to the touch (as long as ten minutes).
- Allow the dough to rise for an hour or so.
- Flatten the risen dough as if you’re making a pizza crust, then cut it into eighths.
- Roll each pizza-slice-shaped piece of dough into a cylindrical shape that’s long and thin.
- Tie the resulting dough “rope” into a pretzel.
- Boil each one for 30 seconds in a baking soda bath— boiling water and some baking soda. This step gives the finished pretzel its hard-ish crust and chewy insides.
- Bake at 450˚ for about ten minutes. Once they’re golden brown, they’re ready to go.
Pizza is more than 1,000 years older than pretzels, so there are many takes on the dough. Pizza Hut’s crust tastes different from Domino’s because, as with pretzels, there’s no one recipe. But as with pretzels, there are basic recipes that get the job done. Unlike pretzels, there’s no barley malt syrup, and you don’t boil anything.
- Combine 1 cup warm water, 1 tablespoon honey, one tablespoon olive oil, one teaspoon salt, and one tablespoon active dry yeast. Let the mixture sit for about five minutes, waiting for the tell-tale foaming of the yeast.
- Gradually add 2 1/2 cups flour to the mixture, stirring constantly.
- Add spices of your choice. We recommend adding 1 tablespoon each of oregano and basil and a teaspoon of garlic salt.
- Knead the resulting dough for about five minutes, You may need to add up to a 1/2 cup of additional flour to keep it from getting too sticky.
- Cover the bowl with plastic and let it sit for 10 minutes. You’re not baking bread, so you only need it to rise a little instead of doubling in size as you would with bread dough.
- Roll the dough out on a flour-dusted pizza stone or baking sheet, shape, top, and bake for about 15 minutes at 450˚.
As you can see, pizza dough has fewer steps, but it’s very similar to pretzel dough. They’re not the same, but the similarity may raise a question.
Can I Make Pretzels With Pizza Dough?
While the pizza dough vs. pretzel dough comparison shows differences, you can, in fact, use pizza dough to make pretzels. Without the malt syrup, you may find a little something missing, but by no means will you be making a disgusting pretzel.
Either whip up a batch of pizza dough or (and this may appeal to the less patient pretzel makers) buy some premade pizza dough at the grocery store.
Follow the steps for making pretzels listed above, starting at step five. Cut the dough, make your dough ropes, tie them into pretzels, boil them, bake them, and eat them.
Pizza dough has a bit more sugar, so the resulting pretzels may taste a little sweeter, but the difference probably won’t be off-putting to anyone but a pretzel purist.
You might not even miss the barley malt syrup if you salt the finished pretzels and dip them in a warm cheese sauce.
Comparing pizza dough vs. pretzel dough reveals minor differences in the ingredients— so slight that you can make pretzels from pizza dough, as we’ve seen— but it’s the prep process where the two diverge.
Making sure to boil the pretzels in a baking soda bath before popping them in the oven ensures that they’ll have the distinctive chewy texture you find in warm, soft pretzels— chewier than your average pizza crust.