My husband is German. His father moved to Canada as a young boy, having lost his own father to the war and his home and all he knew to the aftermath. Before meeting my husband, I’d never heard of nor seen pretzel buns, aka Bretzels, aka Laugenbrötchen (I looked that up – even my husband doesn’t know that word).
For years, both my husband and father in law satisfied their craving for these buns with a trip to a local German deli. But it closed up shop a few years ago, not to be replaced. I’ve picked up a half dozen or so at a time during my all too infrequent trips to Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market, but until today I’d never thought to make them.
If at first you don’t succeed
In the wake of my (rather disappointing) bagel attempt, I felt familiar enough with dipping dough into a boiling water solution to attempt it again. I remember doing the same in high school home ec when we made actual soft pretzels, many moons ago.
Traditionally pretzels are dipped in a lye solution to achieve that deep brown crust and wonderful texture. I don’t have lye, so I used baking soda and salt, which yielded quite satisfactory results, which my husband said was really very good. High praise indeed. He’s taking a salami sandwich on one tomorrow.
2 cups milk
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
3-4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons oil or melted bacon fat
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
The boiling water bath
7 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons baking soda
In a glass measure, combine the milk, water and sugar/honey. Pour over the yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if doing this by hand). Whisk and let stand until the yeast activates and bubbles start breaking the surface (skip this step if you’re using instant yeast).
Add the oil or bacon fat, salt, all of the all purpose and 2 cups of the bread flour. Knead until incorporated, and then begin adding more bread flour, a little at a time, until a smooth dough is achieved. The dough should be a little sticky, but not unworkable. It took about 5 minutes in my stand mixer. Turn the dough into a large greased bowl, turning it to coat with oil, and cover with a dish towel. Put it in a warm place to rise for one hour. It’s chilly here, so I turned my oven to 100F for just a few minutes, shut it off and popped the bowl in.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and punch it down. Shape it into a rectangle and cut it into fifths. Cut each fifth into thirds and shape each into a taut ball by pulling the dough under. There’s a great tutorial here. Place on a well-greased surface and let them rise for 15 minutes.
As they rise, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get the pretzel bath ready. In a large pot, bring the water, salt, and baking soda to a rolling boil. Carefully place just a few dough balls into the water and let them poach for 30 seconds on each side. Keep an eye on the pot, as it may begin to foam up as you go along. Using a slotted spoon or wire spider, transfer the buns to a well-greased baking sheet. I used parchment paper and they stuck. I’ve never had anything stick to parchment. With a serrated knife cut 2 deep slashes across each bun and sprinkle them with coarse sea salt. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until pretzels are a nice, deep brown. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy.