Brezeln or soft pretzels are popular German snacks for in-between meals.
A good, German brezel is thick and soft in the middle, thin and crunchy but not dry on the outside and shaped into three equal loops.
Soft pretzels are not made at home very often because their secret taste is due to them being dipped in lye before baking. Lye, or caustic soda, burns skin and eyes and gloves and safety glasses are recommended when making this recipe. This is not recommended for baking with children.
USE EXTREME CAUTION: Lye is caustic and a 3% solution is considered corrosive. Always use gloves and safety glasses. Wearing long sleeves, pants and close-toed shoes are recommended.
Wipe up spills with paper towels and dispose of immediately. Rinse with water or vinegar. Rinse all utensils and gloves with large amounts of water and wash arms and hands after working with the solution. If you feel anything burning on the skin, rewash with soap and water, rinse and dry.
Unlike in the U.S., Germans eat soft pretzels with butter, not mustard or cheese sauce for dipping.
The bakeries also sell rolls made with the same dough, which are good with liverwurst or other aufschnitt (bologna) in the middle.
- For the Dough:
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 4 1/4 cups bread flour
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 1/2 tablespoons salted room-temperature butter
- For the Lye Dip:
- Plastic gloves
- Safety goggles
- 1 quart water
- 1 ounce food-grade lye
- Coarse salt
Make the Dough
- Proof the yeast by dissolving it in 1/4 cup warm water and sugar for 5 minutes.
- Measure the flour into a mixing bowl, add the salt, the proofed yeast and 1 cup of warm water. Mix by hand or with a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment until flour mixture comes together into a stiff ball. Add more warm water as needed to form the dough.
- Knead for 5 minutes, let rest for a few minutes and then add the butter and knead for at least 5 more minutes, or until butter is fully incorporated. At this time, the dough should be firm and soft, and velvety to the touch.
- Form into a ball, butter all surfaces and let rise until double, about 1 hour, in a warm spot.
Shape the Pretzels
- Place wax paper on a baking sheet.
- De-gas (punch down) the dough and divide into 12 (2-ounce) pieces. Form into balls. Using very little flour, form balls into 1-foot long strands, thicker in the middle and tapering towards the ends.
- Take each strand and roll out again to form 2-foot strands. Twist into a pretzel shape, using a little water to make the ends stick to the loop. Experienced pretzel bakers can flip pretzels into shape in the air, but most people have to coax them.
- Place the pretzels on the baking sheet and refrigerate for 1 hour. This dries out the surface and makes them easier to handle.
Make the Lye Solution
- Put on gloves and safety glasses.
- Place 1 quart of water in a plastic or glass container, weigh 1 ounce of food grade or reagent grade sodium hydroxide into a bowl and add slowly to the water, stirring with a plastic spoon or similar object. ALWAYS ADD THE LYE TO THE WATER, not the other way around! For scientists: The lye solution will be approximately 0.75 M NaOH (FW 39.99g/mol) or almost 3% w/w.
- Remove pretzels from the refrigerator and dip each for 30 seconds in the lye solution. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on greased or parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.
- Sprinkle pretzel with salt. Make a deep cut through the thick part of the pretzel horizontally with a razor blade or lame. Let pretzels rest for 15 minutes.
- Heat oven to 375 F. Bake pretzels for 20 to 25 minutes or until deep golden brown.
Dispose of Lye Properly
Follow county and state hazardous waste regulations to dispose of the lye. This might include dilution of the solution with water, neutralization with an acid and subsequent dilution, or taking the waste to a disposal facility.
You also can keep the lye solution in a tightly closed, nonmetallic container, clearly labeled, to use again, but starting with fresh lye is the best option.