Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Different people have different ideas of what makes a perfect pretzel. I don't know much about pretzels in the US, or in particular at ball games. The pretzels I wanted to recreate are the kind that you can find all over Southern Germany, Alsace and Switzerland. I'm sure there's variations among these too, but I am not well-informed enough to know them.

What I was after was a dark, shiny pretzel with an elegant shape. Reading different recipes on the web, I discovered that if I really want to be authentic, I need to dip the pretzels in a lye solution (hence the "laugen" in "Laugenbrezel", which I never understood until now). In theory I could have purchased the necessary substance ("Natriumhydroxid" or NaOH) in a pharmacy, but given it is quite toxic, can produce rashes or burns, and requires special handling, I decided to start with something simpler, if not as authentic: a baking soda solution. You can find a whole debate on the merits of different kinds of bathing or glazing solutions on The Fresh Loaf.

One point I didn't want to compromise on was shaping. In the link above, there are photos of some tasty looking bread, but not, to my mind, pretzels: the chubby rope of dough was simply crossed over once, without the characteristic knot of the pretzel. Then through one of the comments on this post I found a lovely website with video demonstrations on shaping. The original link in German is here, and a translated one is here. While I have yet to master one of the different toss and fling techniques demonstrated, the videos showed me what I should aim for. I hope one day to be able to replicate the elegant moves and beautiful bretzel shapes.

Then came the question of ingredients. I first wanted to try a Sherry Yard recipe, but found it a little complicated (dark ale and buttermilk, for instance, and egg glaze, if my memory serves). I decided to try one of the recipes posted on the German site mentioned above (the one with the videos). It's simple, the dough is easy to make, and it rolls out quite easily. They taste good and pretty authentic to my non-expert palate.

One final word before I give you the recipe. Why would I choose to make these myself when I can buy delicious fresh pretzels here in Switzerland? To begin with, I don't have a pretzel stand literally near my home, and also they're quite expensive (think three children who do not want to share a pretzel among them.) But most of all... they're fun to make!

Recipe: Pretzels
Adapted from a recipe for "Laugenbrezel"


- 500g all-purpose flour.
(type 450 or 550 in Germany, ie type 45 or 55 in France.)
- 2 teaspoons salt (10g)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 liter (250g) lukewarm water
- 1 cube fresh yeast (42g).
This I believe is equivalent to 14g instant yeast. I was suprised by this quantity, but the pretzels didn't taste too yeasty.
- 40g margarine (hunh?) or butter (definitely butter!)
- Coarse salt for sprinkling

Dipping solution
- 100g baking soda
- 1 liter (1000g) water
This is a lot of baking soda. You can probably get away with less, though I really like the tangy flavor the soda gives the pretzel's crust. I keep the dipping solution for a while in the fridge for the next time I make pretzels, but I don't know if I can recommend that or not.

Dissolve yeast in water. Mix flour and salt. Form a well, add the sugar and the yeast + water. Let it rest for 15 minutes before mixing.

Add the soft butter and knead everything to a smooth dough (I kneaded for 5 or 6 minutes on 2 in my Kitchenaid). Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

From this dough you can make about 12 pretzels. Cut the dough into twelve equal parts, then roll each piece on the table (unfloured in my case, and I even had to dampen the table a little to generate some friction) to about 50 cm (20 inches?), tapered toward the ends. Don't make it smaller than 50cm, as it's impossible to get a good shape with a short, thick rope of dough. The dough should not get too warm or "locker" (loose? slack?) as you roll it out, or it might tear. (I didn't have any problem with this though, even after my kids' hot hands worked way longer than necessary on the dough ropes.)

Place the pretzels without covering them in the fridge for about an hour. This helps build a skin that will absorb the dipping solution better and make a beautiful shiny crust.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F)

Dipping the pretzels: (this is where I didn't follow the original recipe with its lye solution...) Add the baking soda to the water, and bring to a boil. Then dip each pretzel for 10 seconds into the simmering solution, and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (I would recommend dipping for no longer than 10 seconds. I left some in longer, and believe this caused them to develop too many cracks).

You're supposed to score the dough once like for a baguette with a razor blade or sharp knife. I tried with a knife on one or two without much success, so my pretzles cracked in random places.

Sprinkle with salt. (Notice you don't need to brush the pretzels with egg wash or anything).

Bake the pretzels at 200°C (390°F) for about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how dark you like them.

I let the girls have fun with shaping. I probably let the heart simmer for too long in the baking soda solution, as it has too many cracks. At least I assume that's what the problem was.


Thrumze of Michigan said...

Mon Dieu, quelle science pour quelque chose qui a l'air si simple. Compliments. Tu les vends en ligne?

Tanya said...

Beautiful! I love the heart ones (pun intended).

Kai Carver said...

Very interesting. The LCSLC (La Cerise Savory-Loving Cabal) thanks you. Your pretzels look lovely.

Note for French and chemistry speakers: lye is "soude caustique" (NaOH), used to unclog sinks (French brand Destop); baking soda is sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), which in French is called "bicarbonate de soude". There's also sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) or "carbonate de soude", used as a water softener in detergents. (I think I got it right this time...)

J is for James who took lye by mistake

Astrid said...

Claire - Rassure-toi, c'est simple, même si ça a l'air de toucher à la chimie... mais toi tu peux trouver du baking soda partout, donc pas de problème. Et non, je ne les vends pas en ligne, ils sont meilleurs mangés tout frais!

Tanya - Thanks! I love baked goods you can make art with...

Kai - Thanks for the scientific/linguistic contribution. But I would hardly recommend French bakers try dipping their breads in Destop... anyway for the lye recipe, I think you need to make a 3% solution with the lye but better read the original recipe before attempting anything.
Oh and yes, baking soda = bicarbonate de soude in French = Natron in German.
And I wish I knew what happened to James!

Aran said...

Another amazing creation Astrid! At the last hotel where I worked, out head baker used to make pretzels and he did use lye to dip them in. I'm not quite sure if that would have passed certain helath inspections, but he did use it and they were wonderful! You never seize to amaze me with your baking skills and patience!

Gay said...

did I send you an e-mail about pretzels? Most are made here in Lancaster county, PA because there is a high lime content in the water - I think that falls in the acidic side of the scale like lye? Kai would know! Do you have yellow mustard to put on those pretzels? yum!

Inga said...

Hi Astrid-
I've been lurking on your blog for months now so I thought it was about time I posted a comment ;-)
I like to marvel at all of the fancy & complicated baking you do, but occasionally when you throw an easy one in (lemon cake, brown sugar cookies, etc.) I'll give it a try. I just make these pretzels yesterday - YUM! I somehow missed the part about simmering the baking soda wash though so mine didn't get shiny or have a great crust. But we still loved them & next time I'll get it right!

Astrid said...

Aran - Thanks! Though really when it comes to baking skills, I think you deserve much more praise! I think the lye is perfectly safe and would pass health safety inspections, provided it's only used for dipping and then baked... otherwise there would be a lot of sick Germans!

Gay - Hi! Yes I think we've communicated about pretzels before. No, no yellow mustard here (though what do I know, maybe it's available). In Bavaria I think they eat these pretzels with a white radish, I have memories of elaborately carved white radishes.

Inga - Thanks for leaving a comment! I love to hear about friends' experiences with recipes on this blog. Do you need more info on the dipping?

GirlCanBake said...

These pretzels look perfectly well done! And the heart shaped pretzels gave me a little giggle. Thanks!

Karl Heinz Kremer said...

When you score the pretzels, you need to cut deep - about halfway through the dough. And, you need a really sharp knife. With anything less than that, you'll just mutilate your pretzel :) Here are a few pictures of "real" bavarian pretzels, and a couple of pictures of my attempts to recreate these wonderful baked goods.

I use milk instead of water, but the rest of my recipe is pretty much like your's.

Amanda said...

Hi Astrid :) I am new to your blog, just discovered it last night. I know this is an old post, but it was the one that helped me find you. I searched foodgawker for "german" as my daughter needed to make something for German class. We made your pretzels last night and I blogged about them. Glad I found you, I will be waiting for your next post, great blog!

Anonymous said...

Hi I'm lost please help! :)

I tried buying lye in a pharmacy in France as I really want to try the real recipe but no luck. I can not bring myself use "Destop"! :) Do you know where I could buy it in France?

Sofia said...


I just found your blog. Thank you thank you thank you. My husband is from southern Germany and I have been in love with the pretzels ever since my first trip there. I have searched and searched for a good pretzel recipe, yours is by far the best I've found. I made them today and they were perfect! Thanks again!


Astrid said...

Sophia: Great, thank you for posting I'm delighted when someone tries a recipe and it works for them.

Tina said...

This looks so delicious! :)
I've been looking around online for these so I can make those pretzels also. :)

Really like your blog


Andrea said...

Hi Astrid,

I love your blog! Last night i made these pretzels and they are wonderful! I'm from Philadelphia but live in Italy, and these pretzels are almost exactly like the famous Philadelphia soft pretzels you can buy from street vendors. I was so pleased with the result!

Your croquembouche project cracked me up! I'll try it when I feel brave enough. :-)


Bill_the_Baker said...

Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) is great for Pretzel making! I get mine from www.essentialdepot.com, the sodium is pure and the packaging makes it easy to use.

JJ said...

I've been obsessed with laugenbrezel since a visit to Munich a few years ago. After trying several recipes, I can say that yours is decidedly my favorite and the one I always return to. It results in a pretzel very similar to those I had in Germany.

FYI, I'm vegan and I make them with margarine as the original recipe calls for - and I think they're delicious!

Gigi said...

So glad I found your blog posting on pretzels. I tried your method and my pretzels are better than ever. I still have problems with the skin cracking. Your post includes several great links. Thanks.

MiraMoskva said...

Hi, Astrid!

Thank you very much for your post.

I'm from Moscow, but I spent some time as a child in Germany and after that I get regular Brezel-cravings. However, I've never been able to replicate a real Laugenbrezel at home before I tried this recipe (twice already).

I made the dough in my bread machine using instant yeast on the bread dough cycle. It turned out great, a pleasure to work with!


Astrid said...

Thanks Anna! You make me want to bake these again, I haven't in years...

Heidi Barker said...

I made these today but I only got 5 out of the ingredients, does this mean it needed longer to rest? Heidi (love your blog) :-)

Lu Salomão said...

I made this last week and divided the batch into 2: ''savory'' (with coarse salt) and sweet (with cinnamon and sugar) and they were delightful! Thank you so much!