One of the highlights of German cuisine is the overwhelming number of bakeries. I simply love bakeries in Germany and their enticing smell!
And of course my utmost favourite item from a bakery would be a soft and salty Brezel, that I can have for breakfast, alongside my favourite vegetable dips or simply cream cheese and egg.
Have you ever wondered how Brezel came into existence? It is believed that it was created by Italian monks long time ago, using the leftover dough from the bread, as a reward for the children who used to learn their prayers. The German name itself derives from the Latin "bracchiola" which refers to "little arms" (therefore the shape of the Brezel resembles 2 little arms crossing the chest).
What I love about the German Brezel is the unique flavour that it gets from the lye bath. Usually there are 2 substances which give the deep dark rich brown colour to them, these are food-grade lye, which unfortunately is not available in stores and is used in most of the bakeries. The other one is a simple and affordable substance which can give almost the same results: bicarbonate of soda! I can guarantee you will not feel much difference.
I researched a lot on a good prezel recipe and I am happy I found one in the book "Pretzel making at home", where Andrea Slonecker and Alex Farnum explain the art of making pretzels at home in very detail.
In a big bowl, add the warm water and sprinkle the yeast over it together with the brown sugar. Allow 10 minutes to the yeast to bloom and foam, then add the beer and mix everything well. Add the softened butter, flour and salt and mix the dough until a ball is formed.
Start kneading the dough by hand for approximately 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. You can also use a mixer, but then you need to reduce the kneading time.
Grease a clean bowl with a little bit of butter and put the dough there. Cover with plastic foil and then let it rise until doubled in size (1h).
After 1h, move the dough onto a floured surface and knock out all the air from it. Divide it into 8 equal pieces, then form them into little balls so that it will be easier for you to shape them. Take every ball and roll it into a rope. At this point, it helps if your working surface is not dusted with flour anymore (since the dough should have absorbed the flour by now), as this is enough to create friction in order to form the pretzels. See my video for more details.
Once you rolled the rope, position it into a U shape, with the 2 end pointing away from you, then cross the 2 ends in such a way so that they will form an x (see video). Repeat the steps untill all the pretzels are shaped. Placed the shaped pretzels on a surface with dusted flour (or a baking sheet dusted with flour). Let them proof 20-30 more minutes.
In a big pot, bring approximately 2L of water to a boil, then add the bicarbonate of soda to it. Take each pretzel carefully and place it into the water bath (use 2 spatulas to drop it, be careful at this step because the pretzels may break if you don't handle them with care!) and leave it there for 20 second, making sure you splash some of the water on the surface of the pretzel too (with a spoon). It is important to cover the pretzel completely in the soda water, to ensure the same brownish colour everywhere on its surface, but since the pretzels are floating and only one side is covered, just use a spoon to pour the water over it (like you do when you cook a steak and take the melted butter from the pan with a big spoon and pour it over the steak, over and over again, so that the steak will get more flavour). You can also turn it upside down, but you need skills and a really big pot for that.
After 20 seconds, take the pretzel out with the spatula and transfer it to a baking tray lined with baking sheet. Repeat the steps for all the pretzels.
Sprinkle some salt crystals over the pretzels and bake them for approximately 25 minutes or until they are dark brown. Once they are in the oven they will start developing a dark brown color due to the soda bath.
Enjoy them with butter or your favorite topping. They are pretty easy to make home if you follow all the steps carefully so I would really encourage you to try them.