In Germany (where I am originally from) these are sold pretty much anywhere and are known as "Laugenbrezel", referring to the fact that the pretzels are dipped in lye (yep - much the same as drain cleaning lye but luckily of food grade). Now, I don't know about you but I am not too confident using lye in the kitchen, so I've been looking for an alternative and have finally found one: my old friend bicarbonate of soda.
Similar to bagels, pretzels are briefly poached in hot water prior to baking and in this case, the water contains bicarb. It gives the finished article a lovely brown shine and whilst the pretzels come out a bit softer than the lye variety, they are absolutely delicious, especially served slightly warm with butter. You could make smaller ones for a picnic, filled with ham & cheese, salami, just cheese & lettuce or anything else you might fancy. It's the first time I made these and - although my pretzel-forming skills need fine-tuning - this was definitely not the last time.
Pretzels ("Laugenbrezel) - makes 12 small or 6 large pretzels
(Please note: the dough needs to rise for 1 - 1.5 hours, so you will probably need a couple of hours from start to finish for this recipe)
For the dough:
10g dried yeast
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp salt
60ml warm water
625g bread flour
40g soft butter
250ml warm water
For the poaching water:
50 - 75g bicarbonate of soda
large saucepan of hot water
For the topping (prior to baking)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
coarse sea salt flakes
- Combine the yeast, sugar, salt and warm water in a bowl and whisk for a couple of minutes.
- Cover and put aside in a warm place until the mix starts bubbling up or foaming slightly (this should take only a few minutes).
- Then add the flour and 250ml of warm water and knead for approx. 5 minutes until the dough is smooth.
- Mix in the butter, kneading the dough for a further 3 - 4 minutes before placing it in a lightly oiled bowl, covering it with cling film and leaving to rise in a warm place until roughly double in size - this will probably take 1 - 1.5 hours.
- Once risen, knock back the dough by pushing your fingers into it and divide it into 6 (for large) or 12 (for small) pieces.
- Roll each piece with slightly wet hands on your work surface to roughly 45cm long and tapering it, so it has a thick middle and thinning ends (the length is needed in order to form the pretzel shape).
- Bring the ends inwards and cross over once, then twist once more, then fold back and press the ends onto the thicker side to create the pretzel shape.
- Preheat the oven to 200C (conventional oven) or 180C (fan oven).
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
- Now gently add the pretzels, blanching for 30 seconds each and remove with a slotted spoon. (I found it easiest to do them one by one with my kitchen timer set to 30 seconds, so that I didn't overcook them).
- Place the poached pretzels on a baking sheet*, brush with egg yolk and sprinkle with sea salt flakes before baking them for 15 - 20 minutes.
(adapted from the Gourmet Traveller website)