German-style Pretzels

The first Oktoberfest was a wedding celebration.  No wonder it’s basically a giant party where one is expected to consume large quantities of beer and food.

It’s also held in Munich at the end of September, so that the final days are in the first week of October.  In this regard, the Oktoberfest I am planning with a friend next weekend is woefully inaccurate; but I think we can make good on the beer and food part.IMG_2074 color correct

It really all came about because her husband, M, has become quite the connoisseur of homemade mustard.  Naturally, I invited myself over to taste some of the many flavors he has developed over the past year or so.  And, as is wont to happen with people who love food the way we do, one thing led to another, and now we’re hosting our very own celebration of the 1810 wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.  What can I say, we’re a sentimental bunch.

As we drew up the list of necessary foods (sauerkraut, bratwurst, cheeses, pie), someone made the suggestion to order pretzels from an excellent local German bakery, Fressen.  And, as is wont to happen with someone who loves food the way that I do, I immediately scoffed at that notion and insisted that I would make the pretzels myself.IMG_2084 color correct

I have never made pretzels before but I do know that traditionally they are dipped in lye to achieve their deep brown sheen.  This sounded like the kind of chemistry experiment I wasn’t willing to attempt in my kitchen.  Luckily, my friend the baker, who has yet to disappoint me when I send him strange and urgent requests, was able to turn up a recipe that I could adapt to home-scale proportions.

Rolling the dough out just right to achieve the German pretzel’s trademark fat belly and skinny arms may take a bit of practice; but rest assured that your pretzels will be delicious no matter what shape they take.

I don’t have a homemade mustard recipe yet so you’ll just have to make do with whatever you have in the fridge; but maybe this weekend I’ll learn a thing or two at Oktoberfest, and I’ll let you know.

German-style Pretzels
To make 15 3-oz. pretzels:

16 oz. water, lukewarm
2 ½ t active dry yeast
3 T sugar
5 C flour
1 ¾ t salt

Baking soda solution:
64 oz. water
2 t salt
2 T + 2 t baking soda

In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, and sugar.  Let sit 5 minutes.  In a separate bowl combine the flour and salt.  Add the flour and salt to the yeast mixture and stir to combine.  Knead until the dough passes a windowpane test*; if using an electric mixer, mix with the dough hook attachment for 5-8 minutes; if mixing by hand, gather the dough into a ball and knead on a lightly-oiled surface about 10 minutes.

IMG_2076 color correct

Roll only the ends of the pretzel, leaving a fat section of dough in the center.

Lightly oil a large bowl and let the dough proof, covered, about 45 minutes.  On a lightly-oiled surface, cut the dough into 3-oz. pieces.  If you don’t have a kitchen scale, divide the dough into three pieces, and then divide each piece into five.  Roll each piece of dough out to about 20 inches, leaving a fat bulge in the middle.  Bring the ends around to the inside, give them a twist, and press the twisted ends into the pretzel’s belly (see the top photo for reference).

Preheat oven to 475 and prepare a sheet pan with a layer of parchment paper.  Bring the baking soda solution to a boil and drop the pretzels in a few at a time until they float to the surface, about 30 seconds.  Lift the pretzels out with a large slotted spoon and place on the prepared sheet pans.  Sprinkle with coarse salt.  Bake until dark brown, about 20 minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

*The windowpane test means that when you gently stretch a small piece of dough between your fingers, the gluten bonds are strong enough to allow the dough to form a thin, translucent screen rather than ripping.

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