Even though they require some time and patience to prepare, pretzels are a great snack at any time. Why not serve some freshly baked ones for dipping or nibbling at your next celebration?
They are a good choice for day trips with your family or to bring with you to dinner parties, because you can easily wrap them up and take them with you.
Did you know that archaeologists found the oldest ever baked pretzel during excavations in Regensburg, Germany in March 2015?
Apparently, it seems someone must have forgotten to turn off the oven – the pretzel survived for 250 years because it was totally carbonized.
I’m absolutely positive that your own baked goods won’t outlast the next century, as the ten pieces you get out of this recipe will be gone long before then.
The type of pretzel described in this recipe is a typical widespread German variety – it is commonly known in Germany as the “lye pretzel.”
Traditionally, this kind is dunked into a lye solution before baking, and it is sprinkled with coarse sea or kosher salt, or caraway seeds.
Boiling in a lye (or sodium hydroxide) solution before baking improves the texture of the dough, and helps to create that brown crust. But lye is caustic, and this can be a dangerous process to take on in one’s home kitchen.
After all, it’s the main ingredient in drain cleaner.
Though it’s diluted significantly when this method is used, the baker should certainly be cautious, and protect her eyes and hands.
Instead of using lye, similar results can be achieved by boiling in a baking soda solution. That’s what I like to do, and the recipe that I share below uses this method.
And yes, all of this is food safe.
It may be a matter of taste, but sometimes I really enjoy that mix of salty and sweet!
Nevertheless, there are in fact particular types made especially to satisfy your sweet tooth. The “Martinsbrezel,” baked and sold on St. Martin’s Day, is a famous version here in Germany.
Although the Martinsbrezel is also made of yeast dough, it is covered with coarse sugar and it is bigger than the common salty variety.
Another relative is the “Puddingbrezel.” This type features vanilla custard within its holes, and the dough is covered with a sugar glaze. They are really popular, and make a perfect accompaniment to coffee or tea.
The recipe below can be adapted to make any of these variations.
In Germany, pretzels are an incredibly diverse treat that can be made to suit different tastes – from the salty soft pretzel with caraway seeds on top to the sweet Martinsbreze. Learn how to make your own lye German-style soft pretzels at home with this simple recipe.
- 1 lb flour
- 1/2 fresh yeast cube ((21 grams))
- 9 fl oz warm water
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 oz butter (at room temperature)
- 2/3 oz baking soda
- 1-2 tbsp coarse salt ((optional))
- 1-2 tbsp caraway seed ((optional))
- Place the flour in a large bowl, make a well in the middle, and crumble the yeast into it.
- Add 3 ½ fl oz water (7 tbsp) and the sugar to the well, and mix it with the yeast and just a bit of the flour, so most of the flour is still dry with the wet mixture in the middle. Cover with a clean dish towel and set the bowl aside in a warm place for approximately 15 minutes.
- Pour the rest of the water into the bowl and add the salt and the butter. Knead everything together, incorporating all of the flour now, until a smooth dough is formed.
- Divide the dough into ten equally sized portions and form each of them into a small ball. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 20 minutes.
- Dust your countertop with some flour and roll each ball into a long rope of approximately 8 inches. Cover and let rest for another ten minutes.
- Roll over the ropes until they are approximately 24 inches long. It is important that the ends are thinner than the middles – this is called the pretzel’s “tummy.”
- Now you have to wrap the dough into its pretzel shape. This is the most difficult part of the recipe, and your first batch of pretzels might not look the way you want them to. But that’s okay! Just remember to be careful that the dough doesn’t tear apart. Start by placing the rope in front of you horizontally, then take the ends and turn them into of each other once or twice. You can now place the remaining ends next to the pretzel’s tummy, the thicker part of the dough, and gently press down. Let your formed pretzels rest covered for another 30 minutes.
- Line two baking trays with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C (convection oven 360°F/180°C ).
- Bring 3 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a large pot, and stir in the baking soda. Dunk each pretzel carefully into the boiling water one at a time, and let it cook for approximately 20 seconds. Take it out with a skimmer, let it drain, and place it on the baking tray.
- Sprinkle some of the coarse salt and/or caraway seeds on each pretzel. This is optional, but for the full batch you should use about 2 tablespoons total of either salt, caraway seed, or a combination of the two. If you like, cut a shallow slice with a sharp knife into the tummy of each pretzel so it will split and burst open as it bakes.
- Fill a baking dish with some hot water and place it on the bottom of your oven. Slide in the baking tray and bake your pretzels for 25 minutes, until they have a light brown crust. Serve hot out of the oven with butter, mustard, or cheese dip.
Keywords: German, Lye, Soft Pretzel, Bavarian,
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Activate the Yeast
First, place your flour in a little pile in the middle of a large mixing bowl, and make a well in the middle. Crumble the yeast into it.
If you don’t have a cube of fresh yeast, other types can be used as well. Check out the handy conversion table in Kendall’s post on everything you need to know about baking with yeast.
You want to combine the yeast with lukewarm water and sugar at this point, to activate it. Stir in the center of your well, incorporating just a little bit of the flour.
Then cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set it aside in a warm place (like your oven with the light on) for about 15 minutes.
Step 2 – Mix and Knead
Remove the towel and add the rest of the water to the bowl, along with 2 teaspoons of salt and your softened butter. Stir to combine, then knead to form a smooth dough.
Step 3 – Portion
Next, you want to begin shaping your dough. Using a bench scraper, divide it into 10 pieces of equal size and form them into balls as if you were making rolls. Then cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 20 minutes.
Step 4 – Roll it Out
Now, you want to start rolling those dough spheres out into logs, and then thinner snakes. The gluten formation is important here – you may find that your dough wants to spring back into place rather than stretching out like you need it to. An extra resting phase is added here, to help this process along.
On a lightly floured countertop with floured hands, roll each ball one at a time into a rope about 8 inches long. Then cover and let rest for ten minutes.
Return to your logs of dough to roll them out even more, this time to a length of about two feet. You don’t want to be perfectly uniform here – the ends of each piece should actually be thicker in the middle than they are at either end.
Step 5 – Shape into Pretzels (Practice Makes Perfect!)
Possibly the most difficult step of the pretzel-making process, it’s time to shape those ropes of dough into their iconic soft pretzel shape.
Everybody’s first attempt turns out a little sloppy, but they’ll still taste great. Don’t be too hard on yourself! Just keep making pretzels, to perfect your technique. Looking at a picture of a pretzel (like those pictured here) can also help a lot during this phase!
To do this part, place one snake of dough in front of you horizontally, and take hold of each end. Bring them together, and then cross them over each other once or twice. Finally, press the ends down on either side in the area of the pretzel’s “tummy” (the thicker portion that makes the rounded base of your pretzels).
Repeat for each of your portioned and rolled out pieces of dough. Then cover them again and let them rest for about 30 minutes.
Step 6 – Boil
In the meantime, you can prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper, preheat the oven to 400°F, and prepare your boiling solution.
Boiling pretzels in a mixture of baking soda and water helps to start the cooking process, developing that chewy texture that you’re looking for. And it also helps to create that brown crust that you expect.
Baking soda is alkaline, so a coating of it helps to break down proteins in the dough, encouraging browning.
Combine about 3 ½ cups of water with your baking soda, and bring it up to a boil over high heat. After your pretzels have rested, carefully transfer them to the pot one at a time, cook for about 20 seconds, and remove with a large slotted spoon or skimmer. Let the solution drain off before transferring to the baking sheet.
Step 7 – Season and Bake
However you choose to season your pretzels is up to you, and you can even leave them plain if you like. But I like to use a mixture of coarse salt and caraway seed. Sprinkle some on top of each.
You can also choose to cut a slit across the tummy of each pretzel, so it will split open as it bakes.
To help build up that crust, you also want to get some steam going in your oven if you can. I like to fill a rectangular baking dish with hot water and place it in the bottom of my oven. Other similar techniques involve placing ice cubes on a baking sheet, or spritzing the walls of the oven with water immediately prior to closing the door.
Whatever you decide, put your steam creating plan into place, slice your baking sheets into the oven, and quickly close the door! Bake for about 25 minutes, until your pretzels are firm and brown.
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Originally posted April 7th, 2015. Revised and updated August 19th, 2018. Photos by Nina-Kristin Isensee, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.