All it takes is a few additional ingredients to transform ho-hum soft pretzels into something magical. A few pats of butter, barley malt syrup for earthy sweetness, and replacing some of the water with beer all lend depth for a more rustic, nuanced taste. An extended fermentation in the refrigerator overnight—rather than a quick rise—adds even more complexity, as does topping the pretzels with crunchy flaky sea salt. But the distinctive “pretzel” flavor comes from dipping the shaped dough in an alkaline solution before baking. (Food scientist Harold McGee discovered that heating baking soda in a low oven alters its pH, making it more similar to lye, and his baked baking soda is the secret ingredient for these exceptional homemade pretzels.) Forming these pretzels can seem tricky at first glance, but once you have the dough ropes in your hands, it flows like clockwork. Follow the instructions about handling the baking soda solution with care; while much safer than lye, it can burn your hands, as well as corrode aluminum pans. (No need to panic; just wear gloves, turn on your oven vent, and line your pans.) These pretzels are best the day they’re made, preferably hot out of the oven.