I moved away from Germany 15 years ago. And for 15 years, together with my family, there was one other thing I missed a lot: Badische Brezen, or for you non-German speakers, "soft pretzels".
While visiting my parents, I had a pretzel every morning for breakfast, and now that I'm back in Canada, I miss them again. A lot. Sure, some stores sell some sort of Frankenstein pretzel, but they don't even come close to the real thing.
Today I went on the search for the all-important ingredient in German pretzel making: sodium hydroxide, aka lye. I found it at a local soap making supply store (Suds 'N Scents - thank you, Tanna!). So this evening I spent making pretzels. And I have to say, it isn't as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. You make the dough, you shape it, you bathe it in the lye solution, and you bake it. They turned out beautifully, and more importantly: they taste exactly like the ones my dad buys from the bakery in my home town. Maybe better. :)
I still miss Germany. I still miss my parents. But from now on, I won't miss pretzels any more.
Here now the recipe:
Original German Soft Pretzels
I make my yeast dough in a bread maker on "dough" settings. It's super easy and absolutely fool proof. You will want to invest into a digital scale, since some of the ingredients need to be weighed properly.
For the dough:
- 250 ml milk
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 50 g cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 500 g all purpose flour
- 7 g bread machine yeast
For the glaze:
- 965 g water
- 35 g sodium hydroxide (lye) granules (food grade)
- coarse salt
Add the ingredients for the dough in order into the bread maker. Set on "dough" and prepare dough. When finished, divide the dough into 9 equally weighed dough balls (about 85 g each). Roll out into long strands, keeping the middle a bit thicker than the ends. Form pretzels. Set them on greased or silpat lined baking sheets. Cover with a clean tea towel and let rest for 20 minutes or so. Then put them in the freezer for 15 minutes. While the pretzels are getting nice and firm, prepare the lye solution. In a glass salad bowl, add 965 grams (YES, GRAMS) of luke warm water. Then (while wearing an apron and rubber gloves) add 35 grams of lye granules and mix until dissolved. They may stick to the bottom of the bowl, so keep stirring. It takes quite some time. Now carefully place the partially frozen pretzels into the bowl, let them soak 15 seconds on one side and then flip, for another 15 seconds on the other side. Place back onto the baking sheets. Repeat with all the pretzels. With a very sharp knife, slice the thickest part of the pretzel (not too deep), and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 400 F for 18 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!