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Saturday, December 18, 2010

German Pretzels

German Pretzels
 When a recipe asks me to don protective gear like goggles, long sleeve shirts, and rubber gloves, I get a little leery. I'm not one to turn my kitchen into a possible chemical hazard zone for the sake of a recipe. So, when I saw those caveats in a recipe for German Pretzels, it gave me pause.

The original of this recipe calls for a lye bath for the dough. That's not the safest cooking procedure in the world. Luckily, there are alternatives. I, for one, will sacrifice the minute taste difference for something that won't send me to the hospital should I mess up!

Of course, lye reminds me of story about a local Lutheran church back in South Carolina. I grew up in what is known as the "Dutch Fork" of South Carolina. Almost everyone I knew was of German descent and Lutheran. Their families had immigrated to the colonies in the 18th Century at the invitation of King George II to help fill up the back country of South Carolina and provide a buffer to the Indian settlements and the Spanish and French to the South and West. Thus, Lutheran was the predominant religious denomination in my part of the South. My brother even became a Lutheran when he married into the Summer family - a very old German family.

Each Easter the Lutheran churches would celebrate Ash Wednesday by burning the palms used in the previous year's Palm Sunday service. These ashes would then be used to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of participants in Communion. As it turned out, that year happened to be quite rainy. The folks in charge of getting together the ashes for the service got the palm fronds burned nicely but then left them sitting out in the open for several days until the service. In the meantime, it rained.

Undoubtedly, the old craft of soap-making had been lost in the community because no one seemed to notice that ashes and water equal a fairly potent chemical when mixed together and allowed to sit. Yep, sure enough, the water as it sat with the ashes and percolated down created lye.

Unbeknown to the minister, as he scooped the ashes into a vessel for the service they were coated with lye. The service went forward and everyone filed to the front for communion and their cross on the forehead. Then, by the end of service people were noticing their their foreheads were itching and burning. Sure enough, when they washed off the ashes the lye in them had left red burns in the sign of the cross! Luckily, no one was seriously injured and the marks faded after a day or two.

Obviously, lye wasn't something I was particularly fond of trying in this recipe! So, I utilized a baking soda bath for the dough instead.

This turned out very nicely and I liked the result much more than an Amish recipe I've used in the past. The dough is soft and chewy and using both a coarse Kosher salt and a coarse Pink Himalayan salt not only gave a nice flavor to the pretzels but a great presentation as well.

Recipe: German Pretzels


  • 3 3/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tbs. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • Kosher Salt and Coarse Himalayan Pink Salt (optional) for sprinkling


  1. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with dough hook, combine the flour with water, yeast, salt and butter. Knead at medium speed until flour is well moistened - about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to high and knead until dough forms a smooth and elastic ball around the hook - about 8 minutes.
  2. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface and cover with a cloth. Let rest for 5 minutes. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces and form each piece into a small ball. Cover with cloth and allow to rest another 5 minutes.
  3. On an unfloured surface, roll each ball of dough into an 18-inch long rope using the palms of your hands. Shape each rope into a pretzel by forming into a "U" shape then twisting the arms over each other twice. Bring twisted ends back over top of pretzel and gently press into place. Repeat with all 8 pieces of dough, allowing dough to rest for 5 minutes if it springs back to much when working.
  4. Arrange pretzels on two large parchment lined baking sheets and allow to stand in warm place, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until slightly risen. Transfer sheets to a refrigerator and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  5. Preheat oven to 400°. After removing pretzels from refrigerator, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. When boiling, add 1/2 cup baking soda. Gently place each pretzel - top side down - into the boiling water and allow to boil for 30 seconds. Using a spatula, transfer pretzel to wire rack (flip right side up) and sprinkle with kosher salt and optional Himalayan Pink salt. Repeat with all 8 pretzels.
  6. Place one oven rack at highest position and one at middle position. Arrange pretzels back on parchment lined baking sheets and bake in 400° oven for 17 minutes rotating baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back at halfway point. Pretzels are done when they are golden brown and risen.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.
Prep time: 1 hour 10 min
Cook time: 17 min
Total time: 1 hour 30 min
Number of servings (yield): 8
Meal type: snack
Culinary tradition: German
Copyright © Buck Bannister and Sugar Pies.
Recipe by Buck Bannister.

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