Saturday, November 19, 2011

German-style Pretzels

When I was flipping through my Food & Wine magazine last January, I came across a recipe for German-style pretzels.  I immediately tore it out and put it in my calendar for October.   I love fresh, soft German pretzels and can never find any that taste the same as they do in Germany.   So, when October came I found the recipe and decided to make them the night we carved pumpkins.   Admittidly, I’m not much of a baker but I decided to give the pretzels a try.  

 German-Style Pretzels
Total Time: 4 hours
Active: 45 minutes
Servings: 8

  • 3 3/4 cups bread flour (20 ounces), plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 10 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup food-grade lye micro beads (see Note)
  • Coarse salt or pretzel salt, for sprinkling (see Note)
  • In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the 3 3/4 cups of bread flour with the warm water, yeast, kosher salt and butter and knead at medium speed until the flour is evenly moistened, 2 minutes. Increase the speed to high and knead until a smooth, elastic dough forms around the hook, 8 minutes.
  • Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Cover loosely with a dry kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces and form each one into a ball. Cover the dough balls with the towel and let rest for another 5 minutes.
  • On an unfloured surface, roll each ball of dough into an 18-inch-long rope, tapering them slightly at both ends. To shape each pretzel, form the rope into a U shape. Cross the ends over each other twice to form the twist, then bring the ends to the bottom of the U and press the tips onto it. Arrange the pretzels on 2 large baking sheets lined with parchment paper and let stand uncovered in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until slightly risen. Refrigerate the pretzels uncovered for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  • Preheat the oven to 400°. While wearing latex gloves, long sleeves and safety goggles, fill a large, deep ceramic, plastic or glass bowl with the lukewarm water. Carefully add the lye (always be sure to add lye to water, never the other way around) and, taking care not to splash, stir the solution occasionally until all the beads have fully dissolved, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, gently lower a pretzel into the solution for 15 seconds. Carefully turn the pretzel over and soak it for another 15 seconds. With the spatula, remove the pretzel from the lye solution and return it to the baking sheets.
  • Sprinkle the pretzels with coarse salt and bake on the top and middle racks of the oven until shiny-brown and risen, about 17 minutes; shift the pans halfway through baking. Let the pretzels cool slightly on the baking sheets before serving.
Note: Make Ahead Pretzels baked without salt can be frozen for up to 1 month. Spray the frozen pretzels with water and sprinkle with salt before reheating in a 275° oven until warmed through, about 20 minutes. Notes Food-grade lye can be ordered from Coarse salt and pretzel salt can be found at specialty-food stores or online at

Lye Alternative: To make a lye alternative, dissolve 1/2 cup baking soda in 2 quarts of boiling water. Boil the pretzels for 30 seconds, then drain on wire racks before salting and baking.

My Take
I tried hard to find food-grade lye micro beads, but had no luck.   I stumped many food supply places with the request and I didn’t plan ahead to have enough time to order them online.   In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t have any luck as I had not read ahead in the recipe to see what using food-grade lye micro beads entails (it needs to be used wearing latex gloves, long sleeves, and safety goggles).  I think the baking soda worked just fine.

I was excited to put my Kitchen Aid mixer to use.  As it was something I had to have and unfortunately it hasn’t been used as much as it should.    Well, not only did I use it, I made it dance.   Kneading the dough with the dough hook on high for 8 minutes made it hop and dance across my counter as it spanked the dough with a loud slapping sound.   I ended up having to hold on to it the whole time.  It was hysterical.   

Due to my inexperience, I couldn’t really tell when “a smooth, elastic dough forms around the hook,” so I kind of guessed.  I’m not sure I guess right and think I should’ve given it more time.    It was hard to roll out the dough – it took forever for it to roll into long pieces.   This is why my pretzels ended up being a little fat.    The pretzels were a lot of work.  I started the process at 5 p.m. and bit into my first pretzel at 10 p.m.   After all the work, I was seriously debating whether I would make them again.   

The pretzels were definitely worth the effort; they were amazing.   A new tradition was born; I’m going to make these every year when we carve pumpkins in October.  I suggest you do the same.  

 PS - What else to chase down a fresh, salty German pretzel than German Beer.   Cheers!


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