Authentic Pretzel (Brezel) recipe made with lye, the real German way! A warm and moist inside with a flavorful crust and big salt.
There is nothing like a freshly cooked Brezel (Pretzel), moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside topped with a bunch of those crystal salts. In Germany, the home of pretzel/brezel, those knot breads are spelled with a “B” (Brezel), while in english it’s a “pret”zel with a “P” and a “t”, so forgive me if I write it with a “B” throughout the post, it’s a automatism since my husband is german and call them Brezel.
The origin of Brezel (Pretzel)
The precise origin of Brezel isn’t clear, but what is clear is; its history is an extremely old one. Being around since the Early Middle Ages and painted since the 12th century. Some say it was an Italian monk who invented the famous brezel to eat on the Lent fasting and its form reminded him of his arms joining to pray and the three holes of the bread were the Holy Trinity. Others says it was a baker prisoner who had to perform a perfect 3 holes bread in order to get out of prison and also there is simple story about a priest giving away those funny looking breads to kids who would pray. Encouraging them to pray, well… this is a good trick to make kids do stuff for sure… whether it’s praying or making the bed… just saying. There are too many stories out there to know the precise origin from those brezel… it could also be a simple mama in her kitchen having fun with the dough… who knows?
German Brezel; the Kings of Brezel
The Brezel is mainly eaten in Beer Gardens (Biergarten) in south Germany, which are a popular place to eat and socialise in Germany. Those Beer Gardens spread throughout whole Germany, although its origin and the city famous for its Beer Gardens is beautiful Munich. You can bring your own food to share around those long tables in the parc or big outdoor terraces. In each of them you’ll usually find a small restaurant attached to it, and there you’ll ALWAYS find the famous Brezel, most of the time it a gigantic 30cm large size. The normal size ones from the bakery and indoors restaurants are mostly about 18cm large, like the ones from this recipe. But you could add a few minutes and make extra big ones if you prefer.
Those delicious breads are as any other breads; the fresher the better. To be devoured within the day otherwise they loose there moist and fluffy interior and crispy exterior texture. You’ll often see them paired with traditional side dishes in southern Germany, for example; in the morning with the exquisite Weisswurst (white sausage) or in beer gardens you’ll often see the Mega Brezel eaten with an orange creamy cheese dip called Obatzda (Recipe here).
Let’s talk about lye
Lye or sodium hydroxide is a strong alkali which dissolve into water perfectly to make it a basic solution. Chemistry classes coming back to you now? Well this solution is the jacuzzi bath in which the brezel will get its brownish color and tasty crust, this is also called Maillard reaction. You can easily buy lye online, especially made for cooking, but elsewhere it could be hard to find. The problem with this basic solution is… it can burn you up quite badly so you’ll need to know those few rules/protection before using it;
- Never add the Lye in an aluminium container of any kind, it reacts to it, plastic and glass is fine (to calculate the grams)
- Wear latex gloves and eyes protection when manipulating the lye (adding the brezel gently to the solution not to splash yourself)
- Add the lye once the water quantity is right, add it to the cold water from the pot, otherwise it will react in hot water.
- Start the ventilation while manipulating the lye before it hits the water
- In case of accident; lye on your skin, or eyes, rinse it off immediately in cold water for 15 minutes, if it’s a lot, seek medical attention after the rinse.
- Keep the kids away from the basic solution and lye (This one is a no brainer) no a recipe suitable for kids, although once cooked it’s their favorite and perfectly comestible.
I hope all those rules didn’t scared you off… The quantity of lye is pretty low; a 10g per litre and you’ll give the brezel just a quick 20 seconds bath in it. Don’t worry, once diluted and heated it’s not only perfectly comestible but gives this unique irresistible flavor and color to the brezel. Let’s say it’s “Dangerously delicious”! You can safely throw the basic solution in the toilet bowl afterwards and clean up the pot and ustensiles with a oil cutting soap (Dawn) with latex gloves still on. If you drop some solution on the counter, clean it up right away with a bit of vinegar, it will neutralize the basic solution.
Alternative to lye
There is another method, safer one, to make the brown exterior layer of the brezel; baking soda. This is another alkali element, but a way softer one. So if you want to play safe, use the baking soda version. Check this article up for more info. I believe though… the lye gives the best result for an authentic german brezel flavor.
So let’s make those dangerously yummy breads!
Makes 7 (18cm large) Brezel | Preparation: 1h30 | Difficulty: medium-hard
- 500g flour
- 300ml warm water
- 18g of dry yeast
- 15g of butter
- 1 tbsp of sugar
The Lye bath and topping
- Big grain salt for the topping
- 20g of lye (sodium hydroxide)
- 200ml of water
- Start by making the dough, add the yeast to the warm water and sugar and let the yeast do its magic for 10 minutes
- Add the butter and salt to the flour and work the butter with the hands to make it incorporate into the flour
- Add the yeast mixture and knead the dough for a good 10 minutes (by hands) (depending on the flour make the though not stick by add more flour)
- Let raise the dough for an hour, covered with a kitchen towel in a warm place (light on oven)
- When the dough raised, cut it into 7 or 8 balls and let them covered in a slightly humid kitchen towel
- Makes rolls with smaller end and a bigger middle part, then make a twist (node) with the smaller ends and pressure the ends into the sides of the Brezel
- Mix 20g of lye into 200ml of cold water and bring to a boil (with proper equipment (latex gloves, glasses and no aluminium)
- Add the brezel carefully, one at the time in the simmering bath for 20 seconds then take out and add to a the baking sheet cover with baking paper
- When on the baking sheet, add big salt to the brezel and make a small cut into the larger end of the brezel with a knife (fine cut)
- Bake the brezel (pretzels) at 230°C (450F) for 15 minutes (depending on their size a minute more or less)
- Let them cool to get a harder skin and serve
Serve as it is or with a creamy Obatzda. Enjoy!