We love pretzels. As a Bavarian I call them ‘Brezen’. There is something about these dark brown breads that makes them very addictive. I prefer pretzels the Bavarian way: a soft centre covered by a deliciously salty skin that offers a bit of crunchy resistance to the bite. The fat pretzels sold everywhere in Manhattan do nothing for me (excuse me bakers of New York). They lack flavour and texture.
Unfortunately, medical here in India pretzels are hard to come by. For a long time I wanted to bake them at home and I finally succeeded for the sake of my newsletter.
When I was a teenager and living in Bavaria, sale I tried one time to make pretzels but that experiment resulted in utter failure. Something went wrong with the alkali solution that you dip the pretzels in before baking them – the secret behind the brown skin of pretzels. My pretzels did not change colour at all and I gave up on baking them.
A few days ago, I set out again to bake homemade pretzels. I wanted to make them with whole-wheat flour because I avoid white flour whenever possible. Thanks to the Internet I found plenty of recipes. Nevertheless, my latest pretzel experiment turned out as a kind of hit and miss.
You need to dip the pretzels before baking into a boiling solution of water with salt and baking soda. My first pretzels did not like this at all. They disintegrated almost immediately when they hit the solution.
I thought I have to find another recipe for this month’s newsletter. Fortunately I remembered a German website recommending to freeze them before dipping them to ‘keep the shape better’.
Honestly, my pretzels needed one hour in the freezer to keep their shape at all.
The flavour of my pretzels came pretty close to the original. They tasted good enough to disappear almost immediately. I like to slice open my pretzels and smother them with fresh butter, accompanied by a cold beer.
At this point I would like to announce that I am taking a two-month holiday from writing because we will be travelling in Europe. I have worked very hard to finish the manuscript of my new book with the working title ‘Cooking for Happiness’. I am proud to announce that HarperCollins India will publish it towards the end of this year or beginning of next year.
(for 8 large pretzels)
- 500 g whole-wheat flour
- 2 packets dry yeast
- 50 g butter
- 200 ml milk
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 100 g baking soda
- Salt and Water
Pretzels are made with yeast dough. When you replace white flour with whole-wheat flour, you have to remember that you need more rising power because whole-wheat dough tends to be denser. Normally one packet of yeast would be sufficient for 500 g flour. But pretzels need to be light that’s why we need two packets to do the job.
Making yeast dough is not difficult but you need to remember some basic facts: yeast is a fungus that likes moisture and warm temperature. You cannot make yeast dough in a hurry because it needs time to rise. If you heat yeast to more than 60 degrees, it dies.
First of all, you need to wake up the dry yeast. Place the sugar into a bowl, mix it with a cup of water and add the yeast. Stir well and wait until bubbles develop. Place the flour into a bowl and dig out a well. Fill the bubbling yeast into the well and cover it with flour. When the yeast bubbles out of the flour, start adding the milk and ½ tablespoon salt. Melt the butter and add it to the bowl. It is not really necessary to melt the butter but it makes mixing a lot easier.
Yeast dough needs severe kneading, when you use whole-wheat flour even more so. Kneading activates the gluten that holds the dough together and makes it rise. I start off to incorporate enough liquid to obtain smooth dough with the help of the kneading hooks of my hand mixer. It is rather impossible to predict how much liquid you need exactly. Remember that the extra fibre of whole-wheat flour soaks up quite a bit of liquid. Work the dough for at least 15 minutes. I gave it 10 minutes with my hand mixer and then I kneaded some more by hand. You can also lift up the dough and through it hard onto your kitchen counter.
You can stop when you have dough that does not stick to your fingers and that gives the impression that it is growing by the minute. If you have added too much liquid and the dough remains sticky, incorporate more flour until you feel the consistency is right.
Cover the dough with a moist cloth and let it rise until it has doubled in volume.
Knead it through one more time and divide it into equal pieces. One German website suggests weighing it but that seems a bit exaggerated to me. Roll each piece of dough into a long string that is thicker in the middle. You might need a little bit of flour to prevent it sticking to your work surface. Cross the ends. Turn them around one time and fasten them to the opposite side to get the typical pretzel shape.
Place the pretzels onto baking paper so you can remove them easily. Let them rise for half an hour or so. They should visibly grow. Don’t cover them; they need to develop a kind of skin. When they have risen enough place them into the freezer for at least half an hour. They need to be hard to the touch.
In the meantime, prepare the dipping solution. Place 1.5 litres water into a pot and add one-tablespoon salt. Bring it to a boil. Switch off the fire and add the baking soda gradually. Be careful, it tends to bubble up quite a bit. Bring it to the boil again. Your solution is ready now.
When your pretzels are ready to be dipped, bring the solution to a boil and preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Drop each pretzel into the solution and let it swim for at least 30 seconds. Keep pressing it carefully down with a slotted spoon to make sure that the whole skin is immersed in the solution.
After 30 seconds take them out with a spatula or the slotted spoon and place them onto a cookie sheet. Sprinkle them with salt. Some people like rough salt on their pretzels.
I use a silicone sheet to avoid sticking. If you don’t have one, butter the cookie sheet generously. If any pretzels disintegrate – like my first ones did – form them into balls or just keep the fragments. Keep them longer in the freezer before dipping them.
Probably you will need to bake your pretzels in two batches. They need around 20 minutes in the oven at 200 degrees. In my gas oven I finish them with five minutes under the grill to make sure they are crispy. Let them cool down and eat them as soon as possible. Pretzels tend to turn soggy quickly. However, you can always crisp them up again. 10 minutes in the oven by 200 degrees should do the trick.
Kornelia is a German food writer living in Goa, India, with her Italian husband and her son. She has published two cookbooks, Kornelia’s Kitchen – Mediterranean Cooking for India and Kornelia’s Kitchen 2 – Cooking for Allergies. Both have won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award. All her recipes are easy, fast and delicious – the right kind of food to keep your family healthy and happy without spending too much time in the kitchen.