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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Making Real Bavarian Pretzels (Laugen Brezen)


To a Bavarian like me who lives a Brezen-less life outside of Bavaria, this is a sight for sore eyes.
Actually, I’m quite lucky that I took this photo. It’s a little fuzzy, and I wanted to take another, but the phone rang. When I came back from my phone call there were no Pretzels left to photograph!! My 5-year-old ate them all!! And yes, I do feed the boy LOL

He did leave us the Laugensemmeln (lye rolls) and the Domspatzen (little birds made from this dough) – but all the Pretzels were gone. Except for the one I snagged fresh out of the oven for myself! YUM!!
His father then finished off the rest LOL

Both my men, but especially the boy just love, love, love fresh bread of any kind and the Bavarian Brezen rank right up there with his most favorite. He had been camping out in front of the oven when he realized what I was baking!

Anyway, here is how I made them.

First let me say that the dough itself is nothing terribly special. The huge difference to other recipes and what makes this as delectable as it is, is the lye bath. And it is the lye bath that will never compare  Bavarian Brezen to other soft pretzels. Even the hot baking soda bath methods used in American recipes don’t quite compare. They make nice Pretzels, don’t get me wrong, but they are NOT like these! This is the real deal!

It’s not just the difference in color. The lye bath imparts a subtle, very thin crunch and a very particular cracking of the crust, as well as a subtle but very distinctive taste. As well as a slight sheen.


So, first of all, get yourself some Food Grade Sodium Hydroxide Lye. I got this one – it works well and it will last me a good long time!
Now let’s get down to it!

This recipe makes about 8 Pretzels.
For the dough:

1 cup whole milk 
1 tbsp sugar 
1/4 oz granulated yeast 
2 tsp salt 
1 tbsp shortening (I use Spectrum Organic Shortening)  
2.5 - 3 cups flour (I use King Arthur Bread Flour
Pretzel or kosher salt for sprinkling

For the lye bath:
2 quarts of water
To prepare it, get a sealable container, a thick tupperware type bowl like mine for example, and fill it with 1/2 a gallon of cold water. Do NOT use a metal bowl! Glass is ok though!  You need it to be wider than it’s deep so you can easily and quickly dip the dough.


Wearing latex gloves and protective eye gear, add the pellets, stirring carefully with a metal spoon until the pellets are dissolved.


They have a tendency to form this crystalized structure at the bottom. Break it up and keep stirring until it is all dissolved.


Careful, the contents can get HOT!
Seal the container until you are ready to use it. 



This stuff is not only poisonous, it is very caustic. 
So, please be extra careful and take precautions! PLEASE keep it far away from children!  Flush any unintentional contact with plenty of water.

You soap makers and olive picklers out there know the drill, but it can never be said enough – be careful around this stuff!

Now let’s get started:

1.  Warm the milk a little (30-40 seconds in the microwave usually does the job) and dissolve the sugar and yeast into it. Allow it to sit for a few minutes and see if bubbles form. It confirms that your yeast is active.

2. Add the liquids to a mixer with a kneading hook if you have one.  Or add to a big bowl with a wooden spoon and give it some elbow grease.
Add salt, shortening and 2 cups of flour. Start the mixer and let it all knead together. Add enough flour to form a dough that doesn’t stick to the sides anymore and is nice, uniform and elastic. It can take a total of anywhere from 2.5  cups to 3 cups.

3. In the microwave, boil a small bowl of water. Or if you prefer, boil some water on the stove top, place a lid on your boiling pot until the lid is nice and hot and wet on the underside. Remove the mixer bowl from the mix and place the hot, wet lid on top. Let the dough rest for a few minutes.
Or, back to the microwave method. Quickly open the microwave, place the bowl of dough in and shut the door. Again, let the dough rest for a few minutes in the warm, moist environment. It relaxes the gluten and will make forming the pretzels much easier.
4. Remove the dough, knead through one more time by hand. The dough shouldn’t stick to your counter top. Divide into 8 equal pieces.
5. Roll a long snake, thicker in the middle than on the ends. This needs to be MUCH longer though before you form the pretzel shape.

I forgot to take a photo of the shape and length of dough , so here’s a photo from a bakery, courtesy of google images It gives you an idea where you need to be :


Then form a Pretzel shape.

If you’d like to make some little lye birds, here is how.

Roll a snake, like before, even though this time you’re keeping the thick part more towards the front. Like so:

P2166711[1] This one doesn’t actually have to be very long. Just long enough so you can make a knot in the dough and have a little bit left for the head and the tail.
Then you make an actual knot in the dough.


Now pinch the head part into a beak and make a cut in the tail and separate it a little.


6. Let the Pretzels rise for about 1/2 hr in a warm, moist place. I usually turn on the oven to it’s lowest setting, turn it off and place a bowl of water in there with the Pretzels.

7. If you haven’t made your lye bath yet, do it now!

8. When the half hour is up, remove the Pretzels from the oven and preheat to 400 F.

9. Make sure your baking sheets are either lined with silicon or baking parchment. Once the dough is dipped, it wants to stick to anything and everything! Put on your safety gear, especially the gloves!

10. Dip your risen dough shapes quickly but carefully into the lye bath. I find that it works best to never quite let go of them. Dip them top down first, let them be for about 2 seconds, turn them around briefly and scoop them out, placing them immediately on the baking tray. These are going to be REALLY fragile, so  be gentle.

11. Sprinkle them all with pretzel salt. 
12. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes or until you get that deep brown color.
Remove  from oven, place on cooling rack, wait as long as you possibly can and until you basically you don’t burn your mouth anymore eating them.

 Untitled-1[1] Enjoy with fresh,cold butter! Yum!
Let the feeding commence:

That’s Max on #4 … he slowed down some I guess Open-mouthed

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  1. Man I love those! I live in Bavaria (moved here 2 years ago) and you did an AWESOME job. They look like the real deal to me. Yum yum yum! Now I really want to eat one... I might have to go to the bakery for breakfast!

  2. This post made me hungry! They look delicious!!!

  3. Thank you for this recipe! I love Brezeln.

  4. oh my they look good bet they were delicious

  5. Great tutorial! Thank you for sharing. I am glad I found you. By the way, I have a contest giveaway on my blog you might find fun. Take a look. triumphandtears.blogspot.com

  6. GREAT TUTORIAL! My kids would love these! Thanks SO much for linking up to Thrilling Thursday @ Paisley Passions! I hope to see you again next week. Oh, and if you have time, come link this up to my Fun w/Food Friday linky too! :)

  7. From one Bavarian to another-I am glad to have found this. I miss Brezn, too.

  8. Die gibt es bei uns fast jeden Sonnabend ! ;-)

  9. hey everyone, im just stoppin in again to remind everybody to check out Essential Depot ( www.essentialdepot.com ) they're selling High quality food grade Lye, 2lb's for 3.44

  10. hey everyone, back once again with yet another update! Essential Depot is giving out the discount code "EDPC10" worth a 10% discount on your total order cost - including shipping and handling!

  11. Hi Bill_the_Baker. I appreciate your updates and special offers. However, I think that posting here every other day is a bit excessive and I would appreciate it if you could stop doing so.

    I have left two of your messages up so people can go and check it out.

    Beyond that, please respect the fact that even though I recommended your product in my initial blog post, it does not mean that this blog is an advertising free-for-all for the company.

    Thank you for your understanding!

  12. I do apologize, for the ambush of all my posts and comments at once... maybe im a bit too outspoken but if i know of something good i wanna share it lol, guess i shared it too much haha.... anyways, although i have made the bavarian style pretzels before and i must say they are delicious, i dont know much about their history? any quick history lessons?

  13. From what I understand, Pretzels originated in France and/or Italy, where Monks used scraps of dough to reward kids who knew their bible verses :) Eventually they traveled over the Alps to Germany, where they stayed as an integral part of the culture. Especially in Bavaria though!

    Some sources say that the expression "tying the knot" came from the custom that involved newlyweds pulling a large Pretzel apart (much like a wishbone) on their wedding day and whoever had the larger piece would have their wishes comes true.

    I'm not entirely sure that the expression really comes from that but certainly in Bavaria nothing much happens without Bretzen being involved in some way! :)

  14. Birgit, thanks for the post on how to make Brezn - I might give them a try! I've never made anything with lye before, are the latex gloves enough protection for your hands to dip and remove the brezn from the solution?

  15. Yes, I've made them many many times now and it has always been just fine with run-of-the-mill latex gloves. On occasion I've even had the lye splash on bare skin, but I just rinsed it straight away and it was perfectly fine! Just make sure you have good access to the sink :) I hope they turn out wonderful for you!

  16. Birgit - Thank you sooooo much for this wonderful recipe. I lived in Germany for twenty years before moving to the US and miss some things dearly. Bread always is a reminder of home. Prezel are a wonderful reminder of any kind of event, including Weihnachstmarkt, which makes it so much more special right now at Xmas time. I am, as I write, enjoying a delicious Brezen with real Bavarian mustard and homemade Weisswurst (for everyone reading - please take the time to find the real thing. I might just cry. Thanks for the recipe. Keep blogging!

  17. Ohhh, it's been a good few years since I've had real Weisswurst! Wonderful! Frische Bretzen und a g'scheite Weisswurst ... heaven! :) I haven't attempted making my own weisswurst yet, even though I did make leberkaes the other day and came quite close to the real thing! VERY labor intensive though, especially without the right equipement! And now I'm thinking maybe I should give weisswurst a shot too! The biggest obstacle, apart from a really good recipe, is the meat grinding equipment that normal households just don't have *sigh*

    I'm glad you enjoyed the Brezen so much! Happy New Year!

  18. Dear Birgit,

    Thanks for such a great bretzel experience. We didn't used the Lye, because we did not find it, so instead we used baking soda. They were really really good with some Franziskaner weisbier!

    I have one question, when the dough is ready I have a hard trouble to make the bretzel shape, can you give us some tips on how to make the LONG snake, because it shrinks every time I expand it.

    Thanks a lot!


  19. When the dough contracts too much as you work it, it means the gluten are seizing. The best remedy for that is to let it rest. So, when you roll a snake, let it rest for a few seconds, then pull it a little longer, roll it a little, let it rest a few seconds, and so on. I usually have two on the go, so when one is resting I work the other one. HTH! Happy Easter!

    1. Thank's for the advice, next time I try them I'll let you know how they turn out.

      Happy Easter!

  20. Hi! I'm an italian girl, my father was born in Austria, so we go there every year in the summer, and I'm really fond of brezel!! I eat them whenever I see a backery or a stand, I love them! But here in Italy they are impossible to find so I usually prepare them with backing soda, but now I really want to try these recipe, especially because I'd like to obtain that nice crunchy crust.. :) But I have some doubt: when I have to cover the dough with the wet lid, is the dough in a bowl or not? and when I dip the brezel in the lye bath do I have to do it with latex glooves or with perforated spoon? Thanks for this superb recipe!!!

  21. You place the wet hot lid on the bowl of dough after it's done mixing. In my instructions I'm mixing the dough in a bowl, so yes, it is in a bowl when you cover it with the lid. You want to give the dough a warm and moist environment, so a bowl with a mostly fitting lid is best. And yes, please always wear gloves and protective goggles when handling the lye solution! I tend to just dip them by hand, as my brezen are larger than a perforated spoon, but you can do whatever feels easiest to you. Hope they turn out really well for you, Elena!

  22. Eine Frage - ich hab bis jetzt immer baking soda hergenommen, aber werd jetzt mal die lauge von amazon ausprobieren. Ich nehm in meinem teig allerding immer butter statt shortening her. Was is der grund shortening zu bevorzugen?


  23. Hallo - eine frage. Ich hab bis jetzt auch immer mit baking soda gebacken, werde jetzt aber mal die lauge von amazon ausprobieren. Ich hab gelesen das du in deinem rezept shortening hernimmst, ich verwende butter - was is der unterschied?

  24. Da es nur 1 Essloeffel ist, besteht da wenig Unterschied. Es ist nur persoenlicher Vorzug :)

  25. confused!!! You have mentioned above that the lye solution, might get hot? I have not experienced this. I used cold water,added the lye and dipped the brezn. am I missing something?


  26. Hmmm, lye and water generally form a chemical reaction that gives off heat. I'm not sure why yours wouldn't! :o|

  27. Thanks so much for sharing the recipe, we are enjoying it often! I so have a couple questions though. How
    long do you keep using the lye solution and what do you do with it when you are done with it? Secondly, can I make the dough and store it in the refrigerator? Finally, how
    Long can I keep the dipped and salted raw pretzel dough before I have to bake it

  28. HI Bill,
    I discard the lye solution when I'm done. Unless you plan on doing pretzels every other day, it's really saver to just discard.

    Yes, you can store the dough in the refrigerator, but be aware that after a while you will get somewhat of a sourdough flavor, if you keep the dough in there for too long. A few hours to a day or so should be ok though.

    You need to bake the dipped/salted pretzels straight away. Otherwise they get way soggy, and they will either fall apart on you or the crust won't work.
    HTH! :)

  29. hi Birgit,
    My ancestors are from Bavaria too, and visiting this place is my dream. Thank you in advance for your time and kindness.

    I am planing to make pretzels based on your recipe and was wondering if you could please answer these questions ...
    1. I think if I put pretzel into lye bath - it will be very difficult to keep its original shape. Do you think keep it in freezer for 10 minutes is ok before I dip it it into the lye bath?
    2. Your recipe calls for 2 table spoons of lye per 2 quarters on water, which means 2 x 15 grams = 30 grams of lye mixed with 1892 grams of H20. This creates lye bath with lye concentration less then 2%.
    Is that what you really meant? I am asking this because many call at least 3-4% of lye concentration to make pretzels.
    3. And finally, you are not boiling them simply lowering them for couple seconds... and then into oven.. Have you ever tried boiling them before you place them into lye bath?

    Best wishes to your and your family

  30. Hi Boris.
    1. They keep their shape pretty nicely - I have never had a problem. You can place them on a large spoon, or ladle, float them in the lye bath, then pull them back out with the ladle if you find they fall apart on you.
    I have no experience with freezing the dough first, but I'm sure it wouldn't hurt anything.

    2. Yes, 2 tbsp of lye to 2 quarts of water. This is the recipe I have used. If you prefer a stronger solution, you are welcome to follow another recipe. I can however only comment on my recipe, since I am not familiar with other's.

    3.) Bavarian Brezen are not boiled. That's more of an American thing. And no, I have not tried it.

    I would suggest you follow the recipe as stated at least once. You may find that it's a fairly straightforward process.

    Happy baking! :)

    1. Dear Birgit,
      Thank you so much for your kind reply.
      I will follow your Bavarian Brezen recipe, no more doubts.
      Best wishes!

  31. Birgit, thank you so much once again
    I did follow your recipe and I got it.
    These Brezens were outstanding, thank you so much for sharing. My whole family enjoyed them so much and now!!! I want to try some other dishes you cook, what would you recommend ... sorry for bothering you.
    Best wishes

  32. I'm glad you enjoyed them, Boris!
    Since it's advent/Christmas season, you may want to try some of the German Christmas cookies/goodies.
    You can't go to a Christkindl Market without smelling and enjoying these little gems: http://birgitkerr.blogspot.com/2010/11/sugar-almonds-gebrannte-mandeln.html You can also find my recipe featured here on Pioneer Woman's site. http://tastykitchen.com/blog/2010/11/a-tasty-recipe-burnt-sugar-almonds/ There are a bunch of comments there which may help with any questions you have about the process.
    And of course there are all the scrumptious cookies:
    Elisenlebkuchen: http://birgitkerr.blogspot.com/2010/11/elisenlebkuchen-german-christmas.html
    And Heidesand: http://birgitkerr.blogspot.com/2010/11/german-sand-cookies-heidesand.html
    And Zimtsterne: http://birgitkerr.blogspot.com/2010/11/cinnamon-star-cookies-german-zimtsterne.html

  33. Followed your instructions precisely, except that the dough did not stick to bowl with 2 cups of flour, thus only 7 brezen. Result: close, much better than US products, but not quite as I remember. Great taste, but texture was too dense. Worked up a sweat to roll out the snakes, kept sliding (formica counter)tead of rolling. Also, while resting the brezen (or Bretzga as we Augsburgers used to call them)did not rise significantly. Any suggestions?
    Fritz Grasberger

  34. Difficult to guess what exactly might not have worked out. For a start, if the dough wasn't slightly sticky to begin with, you might have needed a tad more milk or water. It's also really easy to overwork doughs like this, especially when rolling them a lot which often makes for a much denser end product.
    Lastly, there is always the issue with the freshness of the yeast and rising times. Everyone's kitchen is different. Rising times are usually only approximate. You may have needed more rising time.
    Could be something else .... could be any of the above or any combination of the above. With bread baking and especially specialty bread recipes like this one, practice is probably key. :)


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Birgit Kerr