Homemade pretzels

I’m from Southern Germany, and just as many of my friends who also came to live somewhere outside of Germany, one of the things I’m really missing on a Saturday morning is a fresh pretzl, with a bit of butter and maybe some cheese. I’m saying Saturday because I recall going to the bakery with my dad before breakfast to get some. And those bakeries were normally closed on Sunday.

We call them “Brezeln” in Germany, and since I’m from Stuttgart I will of course claim that they were invented in Bad Urach, which is not far away. Bavarians will claim that they are from Bavaria, and in the end nobody can say where they really come from. But just as wheat beer they have made their way and are now extremely popular throughout Germany. Which is not surprising because they’re the perfect snack as they are, or with butter, so you will certainly get them on the streets or at train stations, for instance. Sometimes, in the US or elsewhere one comes across something that is called pretzel and looks a bit like it, but it is actually not a pretzel, most of the time (they are not supposed to be heavy and they are not supposed to be too crunchy or dry–instead they are supposed to be crunchy where they are thin and soft where they are thick).

A pretzel is made out of yeast dough and the brown color comes from lye. So it can’t be that hard to make them I thought. It’s a bit like molecular cuisine because of the lye, though. I’ve been practicing making them myself, and I haven’t been too satisfied so far. But this morning I made some that turned out the way they should be, and in the end it’s actually not that hard now that I’ve found the right balance. So here’s the recipe. You’ll probably have to try yourself what works best, because ingredients differ across countries. So this one is optimised for Holland.

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I’m going to make six of them. Here’s how we do the raw dough. I used a kneading machine, but you can easily do the dough by hand. On the picture you see that I put everything into a large bowl, in the following way. Start with 300 grams of standard wheat flour. Bread buns and the like usually have 2% salt relative to the flour in them, so add 6 grams of salt on the side. Don’t mix it with the rest of the dough yet, because it’ll slow down the yeast when we put it together with the flour and water. Put in half  a pack of dry yeast (or 10 grams of fresh yeast), that’s something like 3 to 4 grams, a bit of brown sugar, a bit of butter (about a tablespoon), a bit of milk, and some tepid water, about 150 mills. On the display of the scale you see 467 grams, so that’s it.

You can see that I’ve put the salt to the side, as well as the butter and have dug a little hole in which I’ve put the yeast, the sugar and the water. Then I’ve stirred the water very gently so that the yeast dissolves. This will produce a watery pre-dough. It’ll form bubbles, so let it do that for 15 minutes or half an hour. Then knead the dough. It’ll be a fairly dry dough.

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Form six pieces out of it. Then roll them so that they are about 10 to 20cm long. This is what you see on the picture. It’ll be hard to make them longer, so let the dough expand a bit more by letting it rest for 10 minutes. Roll and pull at the same time. Leave them a bit thicker in the middle (about twice a pencil’s diameter).

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Now it’s time to form the pretzels. The picture shows how it works. There’s no need to rush, you can do this step by step. Place them on a baking sheet with baking paper underneath and wait. Now it’s important to wait a bit, so that he dough expands, but not too much because then it gets too fluffy and will be dry. I’d say wait about 10 minutes.

Now it’s time to put lye on with a brush. It took me a while to figure this out, but you can actually get lye from the Asia shop. In Chinese cooking, lye is used to make some noodles, for instance. I’ve thinned it down a bit with water and have also made sure that I go with the brush a bit underneath the raw pretzels. You can also use natron powder from the baking section, or natron lye from the pharmacy.

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Finally, put coarse salt on top and use a sharp knife to make a cut in the thick part. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes at 210 degrees Celsius. Good luck!

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About kleintob

Tobias Klein is an Associate Professor at Tilburg University. He is an economist by training and obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Mannheim, Germany. Before that he visited the University of California at Berkeley Ph.D. program and the Ph.D. program at University College London, respectively for a year. He is passionate about economics, politics, food, and travelling. See http://www.tobiasklein.ws for his professional website.

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