Experience the True Tradition of Bavarian Pretzels (Brezel) Crafted with Lye! Indulge in a Delightfully Soft and Moist Interior, Encased in a Delectable Brown Crust and Generously Sprinkled with Coarse Salt.
Indulge in a Just-Baked Bavarian Pretzel, with its Irresistible Fluffiness within and a Perfectly Salty Exterior. In the birthplace of Pretzels, Germany, these twisted pieces of bread are known as “Brezel,” while in English, we enjoy them as “Pretzels.” The authentic way of making them needs a light lye bath to give this brown colour to the Pretzels and this special Coarse Food-Grade Salt.
The Origin of Pretzel
The precise origin of the pretzel isn’t clear, but what is clear is; its history is an extremely old one. From around Early Middle Ages, it made an appearance in paintings. Some say an Italian monk invented the famous pretzel to eat on Lent fasting. Its form reminded him of his arms joining to pray, and the three holes of the bread were the Holy Trinity.
Others say it was a baker prisoner who had to perform a perfect three holes bread to escape prison. Also, there is a simple story about a priest giving away those funny-looking treats to kids who would pray. There are too many stories out there to know the precise origin of those pretzels… it could also be a simple mama in her kitchen having fun with the dough… who knows?
Bavarian Pretzel: the King of Pretzel
The Brezel is often eaten in Beer Gardens (Biergarten) in South Germany, a popular place to eat and socialize. Those outdoor spots did spread throughout Germany, although their origin is Munich. You can bring your food to share around those long tables in the park or on big outdoor terraces. You’ll find a restaurant always selling the famous Brezel in each. Sometimes as big as 30cm (12 inches) large. The normal-size ones from the bakery and restaurants are about 18cm (7 inches) large.
To Serve with
Those delicious bread are like any other; the fresher, the better. To be devoured within the day; otherwise, they lose their moisture and fluff. 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 a creamy orange cheese spread called Obatzda.
Let’s Talk about Lye
Lye or sodium hydroxide is a strong alkali that dissolves into the water, ideally making it alkaline. Are chemistry classes coming back to you now? This solution is the jacuzzi bath in which the pretzel will get its typical brownish colour and tasty crust—in other words, also called the Maillard reaction. You can easily buy food-grade lye online and pretzel salts, also. The problem with this alkaline solution is that it can burn you up quite severely, so you’ll need to know those few rules/protection before using it;
- Never add the lye to an aluminum container; it reacts to it; plastic and glass are fantastic (to calculate the grams).
- Wear latex gloves and eye protection when manipulating the lye (adding the pretzel gently to the solution not to splash yourself).
- Add the lye; once the water quantity is correct, add it to the cold water; otherwise, it will react in hot water.
- Start the ventilation while manipulating the lye before it hits the water.
- In case of an 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); not a recipe suitable for kids, although once cooked, it’s their favourite and perfectly comestible.
I hope all those rules didn’t scare you off… The quantity of lye is pretty low, a 10g per litre, and you’ll give the pretzel a quick 20 seconds bath in it. Once diluted and heated, it’s not only perfectly comestible but gives this unique irresistible colour nothing else can. Let’s say it’s “Dangerously delicious”! You can safely throw the basic solution in the toilet bowl afterwards. Then clean up the pot and utensils with an oil-cutting soap (ex., Dawn) with latex gloves still on. If you drop some solution on the counter and clean it up immediately with vinegar, it will neutralize the basic solution.
Alternative to Lye
There is another safer method to make the brown exterior layer of the pretzel; 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 lye gives the best result for an authentic German pretzel.
As mentioned earlier, pretzels are meant to be eaten fresh (under 24h). Form and bathe some in the lye solution to freeze some. Afterwards, you can freeze them in a plastic bag on top of a cutting board to keep their form. This way, you can store frozen for up to 6 months. When comes the time to cook the frozen pretzel, brush a bit of water or butter on top, add the salt and cook.
Coarse Food-Grade Salt
This type of salt is white, not see-through and pretty thick. You’ll find it easily online or in specialized stores under Pretzel salt, Coarse Food-Grade Salt or Rock salt.
So let’s make those dangerously yummy treats!
Bavarian Pretzel (Brezel)
- 500 g white flour
- 300 ml warm water
- 18 g dry yeast
- 15 g butter
- 1 tbsp sugar
The Lye Solution
- 20 g lye
- 200 ml water
- Coarse Food-Grade Salt (can find online (or Rock Salt))
Making the Dough
- Add the yeast to the warm water and sugar and let it do its magic for 10 minutes.
- Add the butter and salt to the flour and work the butter with your to incorporate it into the flour.
- Add the yeast mixture and knead the dough for 10 minutes (by hand) (depending on the flour, make the dough not stick by adding more flour).
- Let raise the dough for an hour, covered with a kitchen towel in a warm place (oven with light on, for example).
- When the dough is raised, cut it into 7 or 8 balls and cover them in a slightly humid kitchen towel.
The Rolling and Knot
- Makes rolls with thinner ends and a thicker middle part, then make a twist (node) with the smaller ends and pressure them into the sides of the pretzel.
The Lye Bath
- Mix 20g of lye into 200ml of cold water and bring to a boil (with proper equipment (latex gloves, glasses and no aluminum).
- Add the pretzels carefully, one at a time, in the simmering bath for 20 seconds, then take them out and to the baking sheet-covered rack.
- Add big salt to the pretzels on the parchment paper-covered rack and make a small cut into the larger end.
- Bake the pretzel at 230°C (450F°) for 15 minutes until brown.