Don’t Eat Worms, Eat Sourdough Pretzel Rolls

posted in: Cooking, Savory | 27

As humans, we put a lot of things into our mouths. Stop and think for a moment: what has passed by your pearly whites on its way to your esophageal heaven today? I’ve had tea, several tiny French lavender mints, chicken, lettuce, aioli, San Pellegrino, focaccia, and some jelly-like candies that practically begged me to let them make out with my tonsils. It’s only 2:00 pm. Multiply that by the additional hours in the day by the days in a year by the years in my life, and that is a lot of food.

Does this make me an expert? Yes, yes it does. When it comes to eating, I take double black diamonds. When it comes to snowboarding, I stick to singles. I’m sure you’re realizing about right now that this makes you an expert too. We have this in common. We are expert eaters. With discerning palates. We could be celebrity judges if there were a show called Dancing with the Food.

All this knowledge and refinement is regularly put to the test trying new things. Many of these new things are delicious, and some of them are foul. Like worms. No matter what, worms just are not good. I should know- about every five years I revisit them to ascertain whether the nuances of my taste receptors have evolved enough to appreciate worms.

I really do this. I eat a worm. Well, a few bites of one, anyway. I think this is commonplace enough behavior in a place like Seattle that is full of good soil, abundant rain, and a Portlandia-esque foraging mentality. Here in Seattle, people forage for just about everything. Last week some kids tried to forage into my car for the wallet I accidentally left on the seat, but they were unsuccessful. Novice foragers *rolls eyes*. Anyway, the rain, soil and sticky fingers make Seattle ideal for worm-rearing. Here the earthworms are fat, juicy and really dupe you into believing they’re going to taste like beefsteak. This is not the case.

Some time within the last week that I will not specify in case we should meet on the street and you refuse to air kiss me because you’re worried about getting worm goo on your air lips, I cooked a worm again. This time I sous vided (that’s a verb, right?) it with some Hoisin sauce and Sriracha. The worm may or may not have been alive when I sealed it into the vacuum bag and dropped it into the Polyscience Pro water bath. Ok, ok, it was alive. I suppose this makes me a worm torturer. Once again, I took a small bite of the flaccid, translucent worm. Once again, it tasted minimally of the sauces I’d slathered it in, and maximally of dirt, slime, and the unmistakable sulphuric tang of the frozen flagpole I licked in grammar school. The verdict: worms will never find a welcome place in my diet.

But sourdough pretzel rolls will. In contrast to worms, sourdough pretzel rolls taste the way my ass looks in my dreams. That would be: really fucking good. There are several reasons why sourdough pretzel rolls taste so good. One of those reasons is nostalgia. I don’t care if you’re Antarctican, a fine pretzel will not fail to transport you to your youth. This is because in past lives, we have all been small, blonde, Bavarian kinder. We’ve also all worn leiderhosen, and had our boobs spill out the top of ruffly white corset tops, too, which is why you have that weird sexual fantasy, so don’t worry, you’re normal.

Another reason is alcohol. These here pretzel rolls are made with beer. As you undoubtedly already know, alcohol makes everything better. Homely girls seem prettier, pretty girls escalate to supermodels, and supermodels become real-life goddesses when under the influence of alcohol.

Sourdough also makes these pretzel rolls worth doing something really embarrassing just so you can have a bite. Like I bet if you wanted a bite bad enough, you’d reveal on national television your “number”. By “number” I don’t mean ten-digit code by which you can be reached, either. I mean the actual, literal, true amount of people with whom you’ve done the Snoopy. In this instance, Snoopy means Sexytime. Yep, you’d tell the whole world what a big ol’ whore you are just for a bite of these pretzels, in part because the sourdough made you do it.

Sourdough is fascinating. The other day I fed my sourdough starter too much and sealed the lid too tight. It grew and grew and the lid fused to the container because the starter acted as glue. The gas inside the starter bloated the hard melamine lid out like a mushroom, and when I discovered what had happened, I immediately tried to pry the lid off to free the starter. The lid shot ten feet up in the air and broke the sound barrier while doing so. If that doesn’t prove the magical powers of sourdough, I don’t know what does.

Finally, these pretzels are spectacular because they are made with lye. There is a vicious, ongoing debate about whether you must dip pretzels in lye prior to baking or if a baking soda bath will do, and the answer, equivocally, is that you need the lye. Without it, the pretzels will be anemic versions of themselves, like Tom Green’s post-op testicles.  The reason for the lye is that its alkaline nature causes the maillard reaction to occur on the crust of the pretzel. In other words, it makes it brown and caramelize. Baking soda is alkaline, but not nearly enough. If lye were Superman, baking soda would be Clark Kent. To put it another way, let’s say you wanted to become wildly intoxicated. You wouldn’t waste your time with wine coolers when a bottle of bourbon was in reach.

Some people think lye is dangerous. Maybe it is. I’ve cooked extensively with it without incident, and I’m not even that careful. I do recommend gloves, obviously. Don’t splash around in it. If it gets on your skin, wash it off. You can wear goggles and a mask if you want to get really hardcore, but just know that’s more for your own benefit so people can think you’re a kitchen badass than out of any real need. I pour it down the drain when I’m done. It’s drain cleaner, after all. Even though I don’t always practice what I preach, you might not want to use lye after you’ve been drinking. Unsteady hands and a pot of lye could result in a catastrophe as big as George Bush’s presidency. Oh, and if you’re really worried, do remember that once lye is baked, the alkaline is neutralized and it’s completely safe to eat. You haven’t heard of any deaths by pretzel, have you?

This recipe is the result of extensive trial and error. I forced pretzels down the throats of my friends and family for more than a month in order to arrive at the ultimate alchemical perfect formula. The beer and the malt syrup add depth and dimension to something that might otherwise just be bread. The sourdough punches them up and really gets the party started in your mouth. The mix of flours begets a yielding texture on the inside, but browns and hardens sufficiently on the exterior to proudly bear the name pretzel. If you plan to make them, make them as is. If you disregard this and believe yourself to be superior at pretzel-making, whatever you do, don’t ditch the lye. If you do, I WILL find out about it and I WILL come to your house and wash your mouth out with pure, caustic lye. You definitely don’t want that.

Sourdough Pretzel Rolls


  • 1.5 c Sourdough starter (at 100% hydration)
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 c Stella Artois beer (you can play with beer variety by taste preference, it’s fairly apparent that it’s in there, so choose something that won’t overpower the rolls)
  • ¼ c Barley malt syrup
  • ¼ cup Hot water
  • ¾ c Bread flour
  • ¾ c Tipo 00 (Italian) flour

Mix all ingredients together in bowl of stand mixer. Cover and leave at room temperature overnight.


  • 1 c Bread flour
  • 1 c Tipo 00 (Italian) flour
  • Cooking spray to grease bowl
  • ½ gallon Purified water
  • 2 tbsp Food grade lye (available here)
  • Large-crystal finishing salt for dusting the pretzels pre-bake. (Maldon is good)
  1. Uncover sponge and begin to mix with dough hook attachment on stand mixer. Incorporate the bread flour and tipo 00 flour a little bit at a time until dough is firm and smooth. This process takes approximately seven minutes on medium speed. It’s important not to under-knead as you really want to work the gluten in this step. The dough should become smooth to the point that you would not need to add any additional flour when forming the pretzel rolls.
  2. Turn into a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 3 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 425°F and move oven rack to upper-medium position.
  4. Working with gloves on, dissolve lye into purified water in a ceramic or glass mixing bowl (non-reactive bowl is key).
  5. Meanwhile (gloveless), divide the dough into 12 balls. To form the balls into rolls, make a circle with your thumb and forefinger. With the other hand, push the dough upward through the circle, smoothing and forming the exterior of the ball as you push upward. Next, roll the ball between your palms until it is smooth and round. Repeat with remaining rolls.
  6. Chill rolls in refrigerator for 20 minutes (up to one hour).
  7. Working a few at a time, dip rolls in lye bath for a total of 90 seconds. You may have to flip them to coat them completely in lye. Slotted spoons or gentle tongs work well for this step. Allow them to drain on a cooling rack and repeat with remaining rolls. Dispose of lye down sink and wash all instruments carefully.
  8. Once dipped, allow to air dry on a silpat-lined baking sheet for 10-20 minutes.
  9. Using a very sharp knife (or serrated) slash a cross hatch pattern into the top of the roll. Dust with finishing salt.
  10. Bake for 12-16 minutes, or until well-browned. Serve soon-pretzels are always better fresh and hot from the oven.
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27 Responses

  1. You are preparing them all wrong! By them I mean the worms. Of course right? I tried these rolls and they were amazing. But the worms:

    First you need to purge them in water to get rid of the dirt. Some people put them on a rice flour diet, but I am pretty sure when they eat they make waste (which I am pretty sure is where that dirt taste comes from)

    The object is to pass their digestive track without feeding them. worms can not survive underwater for more than a few minutes, the object is not to kill them but to clean them and allow them to ingest water which will aid in flushing their digestive system. worms need oxygen and moisture, and dont like light. A happy worm makes a tasty worm.

    Frying them in clarified butter infused with your choice of herbs is obviously the best way to have them, but you can toss them in dry rub or marinade them in teryaki. You can breed them using your kitchen scraps and other organic waste. They aren’t quite at rabbit capacity, but they double in population every three months, they also consume half of their weight in waste every day. What trash? Everything else recycles. Eat your worms, or fish with them, either way. I really enjoyed these rolls, thank you for sharing them.

    Hakuna Matata,

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  4. I’ve desired to write something similar to this on my webpage and this has given me a concept. Cheers.

  5. Nice Posting done by you. i always find you your blog intresting.keep on posting such nice things

  6. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post

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  8. Linda, with regard to the lye, I see there are microbeads and flakes. Do you have a preference? Thanks!

  9. 100% behind you regarding the essential nature of lye in pretzels. I ordered my lye from the same place you link to. They were quick and easy to work with. After a day of searching the local feed and hardware stores, I learned Lye was not available locally due to it’s roll in the manufacturing of Meth, another check in the badass column. New reader to your site, I’m sure this will become a regular work avoidance destination. Thank you.

  10. I love ur toasted buns :)

  11. I’ll stick to the rolls thank you very much!

  12. Your opening question could get you in trouble… Of course trouble may be exactly what you are looking for. an’t wait to see you at IFBC! GREG

  13. Great recipe by I don’t see a baking time! Did I miss it? I am excited to try these out.

    Linda Reply:

    @Alison, Oops, copy and paste fail! Forgot to grab the last step out of my word doc- just added it, sorry.

    Alison Reply:


    Not a problem! Thanks!

  14. so here is a science nerd fact that is both equally gross and somewhat useless. Worms have a giant intestinal tract that runs the length of their body which stores all the dirt that they consume soooo that would explain the dirt taste. I may be a food blogger but I was a bio and environmental health major so it’s nice to share these gross facts every now and then. Great post as usual!!

    Linda Reply:

    @Stefanie, Wow, what a gross but interesting tidbit of knowledge. I’m thinking commenter Carol is on to something when she says to grain-feed the worm for a few days before eating- clean out all that dirt. Maybe pregnant women like worms, since they say dirt is one common craving.

  15. This post had me laughing out loud. Love it! I’m jealous you live in Seattle. It’s my favorite place…ever. Plus, your pretzels look incredible.

  16. I think you need to try finishing the worms on a grain diet before sealing their fate.

    Matt Reply:

    @Carroll Peterman/TableFare, I agree. I am thinking that having it eat corn meal for a few days might got a long way towards making them just slimy, as opposed to slimy and tasting like dirt.

    Pam Reply:

    Here is an idea for your worms. Feed them basil and they might taste so good you can market the basil-infused worms! Let me know how they taste…I will NEVER try them….

  17. I hadn’t planned on eating worms today, but you pretty much assured that I won’t, even accidentally.

    Pretzel rolls made with beer, and paired with my homemade beer, sound pretty damn tasty. I don’t have any though, and tonight is not a baking night for me so I’ll just have to roll that shit down the block a bit. But I’ll get there, because next to cheese, bread is like crack for me. So bring it on!


  18. My pretzels did not turn out as toasty as yours.. I know, it is probably that I did not use lye. So now I have it, thanks to your wonderful post. Ha-only you could go from worms to pretzel rolls in one post!

  19. I only meant it in the nicest way possible. They look delicious! xo.

  20. All right, the worms freaked me out, but the rolls look exactly like the ones I fell in love with in Germany last year so now I’m trying to forget the worms and focus on that.

    P.S., if there ever actually is such a showing as Dancing with the Food, I am so there.

  21. You and those rolls can just suck it lady!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am dying for Rockenwagner and these pictures are INSANE for a pregnant lady to look at as if I can lye bath anything right now. I don’t think they have pretzel rolls east of the bay. Too complex. Retard Republicans.
    I hope you used them with your pork belly pumpkin.

  22. Okay, you’ve convinced me to play with lye. I almost tried it with bagels once, but wimped out and used baking soda instead. I’m so happy to finally see this formula – you started teasing us on twitter and instagram way too early.

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