Twist it Up: DIY Soft Bavarian Pretzels
By John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist | Photos By Jim Klousia 0
When you think of soft pretzels, you probably ponder a treat at a fair or a bakery specialty. But surprise! Pretzels don’t have to be a unique outsourced indulgence. With a little twisting practice and a magical ingredient called lye, you can make your own soft pretzels that will come out of the oven ready to go viral on Instagram.
With Wisconsin’s deep German roots, our state proffers a natural love for an authentic Bavarian pretzel, complete with a harder outer skin surrounding a chewy center. Called a “Laugenbrezel” in German, pretzels make the ultimate bar comfort food. Beer. Soft pretzel. Add in some cheese dipping sauce or mustard and you have the perfectly well-rounded Wisconsin meal.
What’s the secret ingredient to making bakery-worthy pretzels at home? Two things, actually. First, a dash of patience as the whole rising and shaping process can take almost a day. Second, you need to give these babies a quick dip in lye, a food grade version of sodium hydroxide. Yes, this is the same caustic alkaline solution that makes soap and cleans drains. But as the lye bath is heavily diluted and the pretzel is baked after dipping, you are perfectly safe. Trust those Bavarians, who have been doing this for hundreds of years.
“If you want to make a really good soft pretzel at home, lye is the way to go,” says Molly Maciejewski, executive chef at Madison Sourdough. “Lye sounds scary and you do need to take some simple precautions and safety measures, but it’s worth it to get the true pretzel flavor.”
You can buy food grade lye online, and a one-pound bag will stock your pretzel-making addiction for a long time. Be sure to wear protective gloves, long sleeves and safety glasses, and wash everything that touched your lye solution with plenty of fresh water after you clean up. Another tip from Molly: Only add your lye to cold water, never hot, and keep your face away from the water surface while you let the lye dissolve. Although baking soda can be used as a dipping alternative, lye adds a browning agent to get to that beautiful mahogany crust you’re never going to get otherwise.
This recipe makes a hearty batch of six pretzels. Forming the strand into the classic pretzel shape sounds intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, you will quickly twist. After you get comfortable with the pretzel shape, move on and up to pretzel bites. Take the recipe through the rolled strands and instead of twisting, cut the dough into two-inch pieces. Freeze and proceed with the rest of the recipe. A nice perk to these pretzel bites or nuggets? You avoid accusing someone of double dipping their pretzel.
Chill the beer—or twist it up and pair your pretzel with a Wisconsin-brewed cider. Brix Cider’s Orchard Series teams up nicely with these soft and chewy wonders.
Gather friends. Twist. Dip. Repeat.