FAB – Soft German Pretzels

In Baking, Friday Afternoon Baking, German, Recipes on March 29, 2010 at 1:48 am

Friday Afternoon Baking (FAB) is my new venture into regular baking. I love to bake goodies for special occasions such as festive seasons (Chinese New Year and Christmas), as well as for parties and birthdays. But why should I wait for such occasions in order to bake? Loving to bake IS good enough reason to get myself away from boring lecture notes and whip up some yummylicious goodies. My theme for FAB is the search for quick and easy recipes with affordable common ingredients that I can whip up in a jiffy and give away to friends weekly without burning a hole in the pocket.

I first learnt about pretzels through Auntie Anne’s, a pretzel chain that is ever so ubiquitous in Singapore. In fact, Auntie Anne’s is pretty much synonymous with pretzels to almost any Singaporean. I’ve tried it once but never quite liked it because the one I had was soaked in an incredibly soggy amount of fat. Never really wanted another pretzel since then (in 2003 maybe?) until I had the fresh soft pretzels (mit Weißwurst und süßer Senf ) in Baden-Württemburg when I was there for a music festival in October 2009. The roasty flavour of the crust, with its soft interior and specks of saltiness was absolutely addictive. I was instantly hooked and each time I pop over to Germany (I was studying in Wageningen, NL for 6 months before Copenhagen), I’d always make it a point to grab a bag of these ‘steering wheels’.

Pretzels are pretty simple to make, they’re affordable and they make a great breakfast or mid morning / afternoon snack. They are also particularly interesting, from the perspective of a food scientist. If you’ve had any hint of a chemistry education, you might have heard of Maillard browning — the non-enzymatic browning reaction that makes our lovely roast chicken brown and bursting with caramelic roasty aromas. The Maillard reaction is a very complex one, involving a cascade of reactions that begins with sugar and protein (I shan’t go into details of Schiff base formation)… but one interesting fact is that this reaction is promoted by a basic (opposite of acidic) environment, enhancing the extent of browning and flavour development. This is the key to the pretzel’s beautiful dark brown crust. Check out khymos for more chemistry!

Here’s my first attempt at pretzel-making. Not exactly how it would look in a German bakery, but it tastes good, alright! Recipe was adapted from The Fresh Loaf, but I made 9 smaller pretzels instead of 6, sprinkled some poppy seeds and used yeast cakes instead of instant yeast (matter of availability). Enjoy!

Soft German Pretzel Recipe

  • Half a yeast cake (or 1 tsp instant yeast)
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar / malt sugar / any sugar
  • 2-3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Baking soda bath (about 2 tbsp sodium bicarbonate in about 500ml water)
  1. Disperse yeast in warm milk.
  2. Mix 2 cups of flour with salt, sugar and milk-yeast mixture.
  3. Add additional flour until combined into a soft dough. Knead until smooth (about 5 min), cover with plastic wrap, then set aside in a warm water bath to rest for an hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 220˚C while preparing to shape dough.
  5. Shaping of dough: divide dough into as many portions as you want pretzels (how big do you want your pretzel to be?), stretch into cylindrical lengths of dough (I find it easy to grab two ends and gently flick it like an elastic rope). Shape as desired.
  6. Dunk the pretzel in a simmering sodium bicarbonate bath for about 5 seconds, then transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt / sesame / spice mix / poppy seeds / cinnamon sugar / really, anything you want on your pretzel.
  7. Bake for 12-14min or until golden brown.
  1. Wow that is actually baked by u!!! U r so good at this!

  2. when it’s fresh baked it’s sooooooooooooo nicccccccce

  3. Gives me goose bumps seeing you talking about Schiff base formation!!! OMG ;S

  4. I think your pretzel looks more appetizing than regular smaller ones.. I’d like to give this a try but i’ve got 2 issues:
    1. I can’t find baking soda (NaHCO3 itself) to save my life, in this country. I suppose baking powder will work similarly? Anyway, what I want is basic pH right?
    2. what do you mean by “set aside in a warm water bath to rest”?

    Keep up the good work Gracey, I really like this blog.. and the layout looks very polished! 😉

  5. Really good questions, Fabiola. You’re right, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to find baking soda in the Netherlands. Did you even find baking powder?? If I go back to Wag next semester, these would be some of the things I’m bringing along with me haha.

    1. Baking powder is a mixture of basic sodium bicarbonate, a weak acid (cream of tartar / sodium aluminium sulfate) and a filler (corn starch) that prevents the acid and base from reacting to produce carbon dioxide. [Note to self: I should make a post of the differences.] Hence, if you heat a bath of baking powder solution, you’d just get some fizzy neutralization reaction, though you might have a little luck if it is slow-acting baking powder (i.e. very slow-release acid), which they never ever seem to state on the package. I think the best alternative for you is to glaze with egg yolk! First boil the pretzels shortly in water for the chewy texture, then brush the surface with egg yolk before baking! It will not turn out as brown or roasty as the soda version, but it’ll still taste good!

    2. As for the water bath, I placed the bowl containing the dough in a little tray containing some warm water (~40-50˚C) to encourage the yeast fermentation. My kitchen is sometimes really cold (<10˚C), especially when we open the windows to freshen up our air!

    Hope this helped! 🙂

  6. Hey Grace,

    Loooove your blog! I’ve put it in my ‘Favorites’:D

    About the baking soda and baking powder in NL, the first one is indeed hard to find, but I bought mine at toko Indrana, it’s on the shelf across the spices, next to the coconut oil. Hope you can find it Fabiola!
    The toko sells baking powder as well, but you can buy it in every supermarket, it looks like this: https://sslsites.de/www.food-shop24.com/images/Backin_3er.jpg

    Talking about hidden foods, do you by any chance know where they sell curry leaves and/or young coconuts in Copenhagen?

  7. Thanks Ingrid!! 🙂 LOL that package seems so familiar, but I wouldn’t have thought that that would be a picture anyone would put on a baking powder package. Maybe my intuition told me it was icing sugar when I saw it? hehheh…

    I haven’t really looked for those things, but there’s a good chance you’ll find it in one of the 5 asian shops by the main train station. Their all in a row! Thai, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern and some other Asian shop! I even found fresh-made Indian sweets that I love to get whenever I visit Little India in Singapore! I’d bet that you’d be able to get curry leaves there at least! 🙂

  8. Hi Grrracey! So it turns out I never knew this, but I love pretzels! And, I love making them =P It’s midnight and I just finished baking, but they turned out so great, I’m happy. Thanks so much for bringing me the NaHCO3, I literally wouldn’t have been able to do this without you! haha =P And you’re right, the alkali bath gives them such a pretty Maillard coloring! I’ll take pictures tomorrow, but so far I know they’re perfect grab-n-go breakfast food. Thanks for the recipe! And the inspiration… I think I just might start my own WAB (weekend afternoon baking!)
    Happy baking! =)

  9. PS. Peanut pancake thingies are next! =P

  10. Hi Fabi!! baking at midnight! lol you’re such a fanatic…I’m really glad you liked it:) let me know how the peanut pancakes go, they’re one of my absolute fav singaporean snacks…!

  11. Looks awesome. Did they really cook in 12-14 mins at 220? Mine aren’t?

    • Thanks! I believe it varies from oven to oven, the shelf that you use, and the size that you make your pretzels! In any case, if it isn’t done in 12-14min, pop it back in for a few minutes more 🙂

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