Looking for adventure? Make Pretzels!

One of my favourite baked goods is the soft pretzel or Laugenbrezel as it is called in German (plural: Laugenbrezeln; Lauge = lye). I love their unique fluffy and still dense texture, the dark brown crust colour and the white crumb, and of course their very outstanding taste, which is achieved both through a lye bath and the salt that is sprinkled on top right after bathing.

Laugenbrezeln or soft pretzels

It has been a while since I posted my first attempts in soft pretzel making here on this blog. Although I liked the results back then, those baked goods were far from being real Brezeln (this is the Swabian spelling [singular: Brezel], the Bavarian version is called Breze [plural: Brezen]). I used to make these baked goods with the help of baking soda which does lead to a similar result as the lye does: it colours the crust and adds a unique taste. But traditional Brezeln are made with lye, which is nothing you have lying around at home except maybe if you need a tube cleaner.

Soft pretzels made with baking soda solution

Making traditional Brezeln is not that hard, it is just important to keep several things in mind. Brezeln are made from white flour, water, malt, yeast, salt. (Sometimes fat in the form of butter or lard is added). The special thing about Brezel dough is, that it has to be a very stiff dough with a low water content.  The result is a dense and chewy texture similar to that of a bagel. Another similarity to bagels is that most Brezeln are cooked before they are baked.

Natron – baking soda

I used to cook my pretzels in a solution made with baking soda. That way they got a brown crust and looked similar to Brezeln, but the taste was not the same. Baking soda  is sodium bicarbonate which is not the same as sodium hydroxide used for a lye bath. And pretzels made with baking soda just aren’t the real thing to me.

sodium hydroxide

A lye bath means that you need to be careful and wear gloves, because sodium hydroxide is a corrosive substance which can damage your skin or your eyes if you are not careful. You need to buy food-grade sodium hydroxide which for example comes in the form of  little white granules. Those granules have to be added to water to make the lye solution. (Don’t do it the other way round.)  While preparing the solution I used gloves, long sleeves, and an apron. I didn’t use safety glasses but you can do that if you want. Be sure to keep children and animals out of the kitchen and work carefully and slowly.

This might seem scary, but it really isn’t and the finished product is worth the trouble. The lye colours the crust during baking. I usually don’t dip the pretzels but brush them with lye. You can see the difference between a lye brushed and a non-lye brushed area in this picture:

Prezel made with lye, baked

I found two great step by step explanations on how to make Brezeln. One can be found here and the other one here. Now for the recipe: This is a basic pretzel recipe which can be varied by adding whole wheat flour (and more water), for example.

Laugenbrezeln (makes 10)

490 g all purpose flour or bread flour
10 g diastatic malt powder (optional, adds colour to the crust)
2 t salt
1 t sugar (optional)
250 ml water
1 envelope instant yeast (7 g)
20 g margarine, room temperature

Combine all ingredients and knead into a smooth dough. Add more water, if necessary but keep in mind that you want a very stiff dough, which will look like it is difficult to work with. Knead for 10 minutes and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour. The dough will be easier to work with after that. Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a strand, 50 cm long. If the dough is hard to handle, roll it into a 25 cm strand first and let it rest for a couple of minutes to relax the gluten, then go on. (Make sure to check the tutorials mentioned above as well.) It is important that your log is much thicker in the centre than at the ends. Now shape your pretzels:

Shaping pretzels

Brush the ends with water so that they stick to the thick part of the pretzel. Set them aside and preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Fill a large pot (I used stainless steel) with cold water. Put on gloves. Dissolve 30 – 40 grams of food-grade sodium hydroxide in the water. It is important to put the sodium hydroxide into the water and not the other way round! (You will cause a violent reaction if you pour water over the lye granules.) This is the lye solution you are going to brush your pretzels with. It makes a lot, but you can either save the leftovers for a second batch (store in a glass jar and leave in a safe place!)  or you can use the solution to clean your plugholes.

Take a silicone baking brush and generously brush the pretzels with lye. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt, let rise for 10 minutes and bake for 15-20 minutes or until shiny and brown. Let cool completely before enjoying.

Almost eaten…

Ok, ok. If you’re still not convinced here is an alternative method to make pretzels with baking soda: bring 1 litre of water to a boil, add 50 g of baking soda and let cook uncovered for ten minutes. Boil every pretzel for 1-2 minutes, sprinkle with salt and bake for 15-20 minutes.

If you want to use whole wheat flour, add 50 ml more water and 1 T of gluten powder (vital wheat gluten) to the dough. You can also use sesame seeds instead of salt if you are sensitive to it, like I did on these whole wheat soda bagels:

Whole Wheat Soda Bagels


44 thoughts on “Looking for adventure? Make Pretzels!

  1. See how I think about your posts for just *ages*! :-) I

    am wondering if you have any experience or thoughts on using lye for gluten free doughs? I would love to experiment with that, but I wasn’t really sure how much the lye would cost (don’t want to end up with a jar full of epensive lye that doesn’t work without the presence of gluten). So, I went to the Apotheke and asked for Lauge to see how much it would cost and if I could get just a little for experimenting.

    I told them what I wanted it for, and they were totally intrigued, but were sure that I didn’t want pure sodium hydroxide “because it is so caustic”. Now my German is not so great, and my non-cooking, German husband was not much help, so I said I would come back with more info. Any thoughts on helping them understand exactly what I would like to buy? And, if it makes sense to try it out on gluten-free dough?

    1. I’ve never made gluten-free pretzels, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t work. As for the lye, yes, you want pure sodium hydroxide or an already prepared 4% solution. If you buy pure sodium hydroxide, like I did, you have to prepare that solution yourself, to brush the pretzels with it. Maybe you can tell the pharmacist that you want to make/need a 4% solution (“Eine vierprozentige Natriumhydroxid-Lösung zum Bepinseln von Laugenbrezeln” aka “Brezellauge”) to brush your baked goods with. Maybe they can prepare the solution for you.

      I order it here. A small box is a bit more that 2€ and once you’ve made the solution, you can use it several times.

      1. As always, many thanks for the quick reply and the help. I will head over to the Apotheke again on Monday. I could just order it online, but I really should practice my German. :-) Thanks again…

  2. Your pretzels are beautiful! I haven’t had any pretzels in ages, and never made them myself. The fact that the recipe comes from a German vegan makes it even more precious :)

  3. These pretzels look so delicious! Just like the kind you see at sporting events or on the street in NY. thanks for all the info about the lye. I feel so much more informed now.

  4. Your post is wonderful! I LOVE the shaping of the pretzels and now want to try my hand at it. (I’ve made pretzels before, but never shaped them so beautifully.)

    As others have said, “I may just have to try lye”….it really does offer up a unique finishing touch, and if we are going to make the ‘real’ item, why not go whole-hog, as they say in the United States. ;)

    Thanks again for your exquisite post. Kudos to you!

  5. Fantastic!! Finally, I think, I will be brave enough to bake my own Brezeln. I am German, but living in Ireland, and the Irish don’t do bread very well, I’m afraid…
    Thank you thank you thank you

  6. i made pretzels for the first time a few months ago… but yours looks so much more fluffy! i need to retry using your recipe. i love coating with them with a little margarine and minced garlic… so yummy!

  7. Oh my goodness, those look incredible. Slathered up with some mustard and served with beer…yeah, that’d be pretty darn good!

  8. Wow, I’m impressed. The Brezeln look delicious! I love Laugenbrezeln, there are really popular where I live (Salzburg), you can get them everywhere (but I prefer to buy them a our local supermarket where I can see the ingredients list…). I really like them just with vegan butter – and in the summertime with a big glass of beer, sitting in a nice beer garden :-)

  9. I am stunned. I can’t believe you made those! You are a culinary genius, those are flawless and beautiful and they look SO tasty. I am going to have to give them a try. Thank you SO much for the recipe!

  10. I had never thought lye could be used in the kitchen, and didn’t know it was a common ingredient for bretzeln. You never stop learning ;-) By the way, once used, should the lye be discarded separately from other waste?

  11. you’re the best, Mihl! i love your adventures in pretzel making and i had no idea about lye! craziness! this is all so awesome – i wonder if it’s possible to make gluten-free soft pretzels? i might just have to find out some day!

  12. Great post – the pretzels look great.

    I remember when I first heard that they were dipped in lye i thought WHAAATT?? I use that stuff to make soap and it’s caustic!! crazy what works!

  13. Cool! Well that explains a lot. My bagel never got that soft crust and that color because I was simply boiling the in water and soda. Oh my I love pretzels. Yours look delicious!

  14. as soon as you said gloves..and stuff I started getting scared as I do not want it going into my face but with everything you have to be careful. This was very informative. It is funny we eat things and never really wonder why this food is like this and that.

  15. Nice! Mmm this makes me really want a Laugenbrezel now… I’ve used sodium bicarbonate before, but I had not realized the big difference in taste between that and sodium hydroxide! (The chemist in me is saying, natürlich.) I also enjoyed all the chemistry talk you included and am glad you were careful with the sodium hydroxide (as I often have to remind students in the lab as they forget such little pellets can actually be rather corrosive!)

  16. I was in Hamburg for new years and it was fantastic! Even had a pretzel on the dock… yum! And those bagels look amazing. Bagels are one of the things I miss most when I’m in Europe, and I’m determined to make some myself!

  17. Fantastic! Making pretzels is one of those projects that’s been on my “to bake” list for ages. Maybe this will finally be the year… I certainly appreciate having a reliable recipe now, and your thorough photos! :)

  18. Ooh those look delicious and oh-so-pretty. I’m a little obsessed with pretzels and I love making them, so I might just have to try your recipe very, very soon.

  19. Oh soft pretzels – I remember the chewy ones we used to get from the soft pretzel carts in Philadelphia. The ones I’ve tasted since just aren’t the same. I would probably use the soda method because the word “lye” scares me. Your pretzels look perfect!

  20. I love Laugenbrezeln! I just picked some up from the local German bakery :)

    Very nice lens your dad has! I just sold my 18-55mm lens but mine was a cheap kit lens, looks like your dad’s is nice, very good aperture size.

  21. Again genius! I tried making Brezeln with Natronlauge a few times and they totally fell apart as soon I had put them into the boiling water- maybe my dough wasn´t heavy enough. Thanks for sharing this!

  22. I had no clue the color of brezeln was due to the use of lye. That’s very interesting! And yes, your brezeln look like it was totally worth the trouble!

  23. I am mightily impressed! Wow..these look incredible. I know exactly what Brezeln you mean from my trips to Germany. I’d love to figure out someday how here in America we ended up called them “pretzels” instead of Brezeln..a linguistics detective story I guess! I have your stollen in the oven right now (from your christstollen post) and it smells heavenly..I cannot wait to take a bite!! It just doesn’t stop snowing here so I suspect I will be making many of your recipes this month! Happy new year!!

    1. I think pretzel is German, too. Some kind of dialekt. But don’t quote me on that :) American English seems to preserve many old-fashioned German linguistic tidbits which came with German immigrants a long time ago. Like the tz in pretzel. I often see Americans writing German words with tz instead of t (like Kreutzberg, which is Kreuzberg). There used to be many tz’s in the German language a long time ago, but we skipped them. It is really funny to see that.
      I hope you like the Stollen. We have still lots of snow too and I’m enjoying it.

      1. The stollen was a BIG hit! We polished off two loaves with the help of our neighbors in one day (Gluttons R Us!). That’s really interesting about the old German tidbit..we were trying to figure that out a while ago. It’s true..I always want to write “Kreutzberg”!

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