German Pretzel Recipe
Posted by Gunnar Emilsson (+16829) 11 years ago
Steve's comment about never eating anything cooked in lye on another thread prompts me to post this classic German pretzel recipe from the Homebrew Digest some years ago. Once you make and taste pretzels like these, you'll never be able to go back.

>In keeping with the spirit of Octoberfest, I was wondering if anyone knows
>of a recipe for German soft pretzels?

Just happen to have one here in my pocket. This is an recipe from an
old German baker here in Ann Arbor that I got via a fellow baker. (I
have a wholesale French bread "micro-bakery"). My friend got it about
30 years ago and started his business by making these and selling
them on Saturday mornings to the huge football crowds heading to
Michigan Stadium. Did pretty well. I have made up to 20 dozen with
a crowd of volunteers for our elementary school's ice cream social as
a fund raiser. They go like hotcakes, err, well more like hot
pretzels, I guess.

A few quirky things about pretzels. First, in order to get that
distinctive pretzel flavor, you have to simmer them a short time in
lye water. Otherwise, they are just funny shaped soft salt bagels.
Strangely, after they are baked, the lye disappears. perhaps the
acidity of the dough neutralizes it.

It isn't a dangerously strong solution (1 Tablespoon [15 ml] dry lye
flakes per quart (liter) of water, but you don't want to get it in
your eyes, and even on the skin it can irritate. If you are making
these with children, it's best to use a baking soda (sodium
bicarbonate) solution. Of course, you need much more baking soda to
get the same flavor. I suppose 1/4-1/2 cup per quart. It's been a
long time since I used soda - our kids are grown now.

Another thing is that after you simmer them, you need to bake them on
a non-aluminum cookie sheet, and as they are wet, they will want to
stick like crazy. It helps to drain them a moment on an old tea
towel before placing them on the cookie sheet.

The old German non-stick solution was to melt bee's wax onto the
sheet. The flavor of bee's wax is actually a traditional part of
these old pretzels, but I prefer to use silicon-treated baker's
parchment. You can get this in rolls at kitchen stores. I get it in
boxes of 1000 18"x24" sheets. Perhaps a friendly baker in your town
would give you a few sheets. I don't suppose I need to tell you what
you can offer in return. I also suspect that a modern non-stick
cookie sheet might work, but 25 years ago, I tried a Teflon coated
sheet and they stuck to that. Make sure it's lye-proof.

Pretzel salt is an important part of the authentic pretzel
experience. It is composed of coarse pellets about a millimeter
across and looks rather like sleet. Perhaps you could get those for
the same exchange as the parchment from a friendly baker who makes
pretzels. Otherwise, kosher salt or other coarse salt will work, but
these are flakes and not as appropriate.

The milk and shortening (I'm sure the original recipe used lard) and
all-purpose flour are key to making these soft - don't use bread
flour. Some amounts are by weight. This is much more sensible than
volume, and European home recipes use this. I hope you have a scale
for your hops and grains. Otherwise, the ingredient packages may
help convert to volume.

This recipe works well in a large mixer or food processor, and I have
formatted the recipe for this (see note for hand).


German Soft Pretzels
Makes 1 dozen

o 2 packets dry baker's yeast
o 1/4 cup water 105-115 degrees F (40-45C)
o 1 ounce dry milk powder
o 3 ounces shortening
o 1/4 cup sugar
o 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt
o 19 ounces all purpose flour (about 4 cups)
o enough additional water to make a soft dough - about 1 cup (note -
my notes say 3/4 cup, but I think this is a mistake - I'll make up a
batch sometime soon and check).

Rehydrate the yeast in the 1/4 cup warm water and a pinch of sugar.
Be sure to use a container like a plastic cup that won't suck all the
heat away. It should foam up in a few minutes.

Mix the rest of the dry ingredients in the mixer bowl or food
processor *. Add the yeast water when it's well hydrated and foamy,
then turn on the mixer or processor and add water until you get a
soft dough. Continue mixing according to manufacturer's instructions
until well kneaded.

* If you make the dough by hand, add the rehydrated yeast and other
ingredients with half the flour to a large bowl, stir with a wooden
spoon until mixed, then stir in as much of the rest of the flour as
possible, then turn out onto a work surface and knead in enough of
the rest of the flour to get a soft dough and knead it until it is
elastic and smooth, about five minutes.

Let the dough rise covered until doubled, probably 30 minutes with
all this yeast.

Now prepare the lye water. Put cold water in a non-reactive pot, add
1 tablespoon lye crystals (like Red Devil) for each quart. Add the
lye to the water, not the other way around! Use normal precautions.
You're big boys and girls. Bring to a simmer.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

When the dough is doubled, divide into 12 equal pieces, roll out into
18" lengths, then twist into pretzel shape. This is easy to do but
hard to describe with pictures.

Start with the dough in an upside-down "U", then cross the legs twice
into a double twist. Next flip the top down over the legs and press
each part of the loop onto the legs where they cross, making a tack

Set aside on a towel and shape the rest of the pieces. Then starting
with the first one and using a slotted ladle or spatula (not your
fingers), immerse each pretzel in the simmering lye water for 30
seconds to one minute. They should expand and begin to float.
Remove it and place on a wet tea-towel to drain and sprinkle with
pretzel salt.

Now arrange on prepared cookie sheet (you will probably need to use
two cookie sheets and bake one at a time) and bake until done. In my
oven, this takes about 9 minutes. While they are cooling a bit, pour
yourself a well deserved pint and then enjoy the pretzels.

These freeze quite well when cool. Thaw them and pop them into the
oven to reheat or gently microwave them if you must.
Posted by Moonbeam (+20) 11 years ago
Oh how cool! Thanks for sharing! I can feel a new holiday tradition coming on!
Posted by Dave Golterman (+237) 11 years ago
Thanks for sharing the recipe. I've been playing around with baking my own bread this week using a recipe I found online from a high class New York bakery. It's incredibly simple, just mix some flour, a little yeast, some salt and water. Let the dough rise and then bake in a heavy covered dish (I use the removable stoneware from my crock pot). It produces a delicious, hard crusted bread.

The recipe is available online here (go to the second page of the article):

It's a great bread to eat with a hearty stew or soup.