Pretzels clearly are the puffer fish of baking – not only can you get killed making them, thanks to the use of lye or caustic soda, but even eating them is not without hazards, as George W Bush’s near-death experience with a pretzel has shown. But don’t fear – these ones are not only completely harmless but also incredibly delicious and easy to make.
Having seen Ninive‘s delicious Brezeln a few months ago I decided to finally give them a go. Thanks for the encouragement, Ninive! For my Brezeln, as they are called in German, I didn’t use lye. I used bicarbonate of soda instead. My aim here was to come up with a recipe that only uses ingredients most people will have already in their larders: I want you to try this at home, just like that, because they’re really worth it. And trust me, having grown up on a diet of Brezeln and sausages, I would not have tasted a difference. Like bagels, before baking the ready-formed Brezeln are dunked in boiling water, where the added baking soda gives them their unique taste and colour. And these Brezeln don’t take long, either: a mere two hours from making the dough to biting into your first Brezel; two hours and ten minutes for my family to eat up the whole lot of them.
These type of Brezeln are by far the most popular type of bread in my part of Germany, and have been so for centuries. Whereas the Bavarian Brezn tend to be thinner and dry, the Swabian version is soft, especially around the thick middle. The shape itself is highly symbolic, probably dating back to Roman round breads, and they have been the emblem of bakers for centuries. They are easy enough to form, but do take a look at Ninive‘s post to watch the video she found of a professional Brezel baker forming them. And good luck trying to copy him! Our bakery at home had a Brezel machine, which cut and rolled the dough to even spindle-shaped rolls, ready to be swung into beautifully regular Brezeln by the experienced master baker. They had to be quick, though, because otherwise there would have been queues forming in the shop!
Brezeln – Soft Pretzels (makes 12)
- 500g strong bread flour
- 1 tsp dried yeast
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 200ml lukewarm water
- 150ml lukewarm milk
- 25g soft butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 60g bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tbs rock salt
Measure out the flour and dissolve the yeast and sugar in the liquid ingredients. Add the butter and salt and knead vigorously, either by hand or using a mixer or breadmaker, for around 10-15 minutes. You want a soft and slightly sticky dough – add more water if necessary. Once you have a completely soft and even ball, pop it back into your bowl, sprinkle a little flour over it, cover it with clingfilm and leave it to rest for around an hour or until doubled in size.
When the hour is up, cover two baking sheets with lightly oiled baking parchment or simply oil the sheets and sprinkle semolina over the surface. Like bagels, the boiling makes the breads stick to the sheets more so than other types of dough.
Place the Brezels on your parchment paper and place the latter in the fridge for 20-30 minutes, to firm up the surface.
While the Brezeln are in the fridge, preheat your oven to 240C / 460 F. Bring 2 llitres/ 4 pint of water to boil in a large casserole. Add the bicarbonate of soda and stir. Place 2-3 Brezeln into the boiling water and leave them for 1-2 minutes, dunking them if necessary. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on the parchment.
Once you have boiled the whole sheet, score the Brezeln along the thick middle, to give them a nice open smile, and sprinkle the rock salt all over them. You need to overdo this a little: part of the pleasure of eating a Brezel lies in the scraping off of the surplus salt and complaining about it. But then complaining is our national sport, so you might want to give that one a miss.
Place the sheet in the oven and bake the Brezeln for ca. 20 minutes or until they have the perfect brown colour.
I am entering these Brezeln in Brotzeitliebe‘s and Zorra’s Bread Baking Day event, which is dedicated to lye breads. Although the challenge was to come up with something new or unusual, my challenge was to make it straightforward and do-able – anything to get you guys into Brezelmaking!
Happy pretzel baking!