Oktoberfest may have just finished in Munich but I’m still drooling over German pretzels. A big part of the festival is obviously 1 liter sized Bavarian beers but also traditional German food, which includes tons of large, soft, salty pretzels! When you think of Oktoberfest does a lady with dozens in a basket for sale come to mind? Or a small cart with pretzels hung from every available spot? Maybe just music and dancing in your dirndl or lederhosen all day and into the night…
In 2010 we went to the 200th anniversary Oktoberfest. 200 years! It started as a wedding celebration for Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. They invited all the people of Munich to come celebrate their marriage in the fields and even held a horse race. It is now the largest festival in the world. Since it is a celebration you should try all the delicious food: a whole duck, veal schnitzel, the many varieties of wurst or Lebkuchenherz (heart shaped cookies, similar to gingerbread) with different sayings frosted on them (many are meant for the one you love, while others are a bit sarcastic).
In Southern Germany bakers started using pretzels (Brezeln) on their signs as early as the 12th century. It has been a popular snack for Oktoberfest since it began, but pretzels are made all year round and are especially popular at yearly celebrations or festivals. At Christmastime they are sometimes made of Lebkuchen dough (the gingerbread like cookie mentioned above).
When starting out trying this recipe I had a hard time finding barley malt syrup in a typical grocery store. I did find it in a Whole Foods near other syrups/ molasses and it was reasonably priced (especially compared to my thoughts of ordering online- the shipping costs were crazy!). One jar will last for a lot of pretzels, but believe me you will want to start making these frequently. Traditionally, pretzels are made with lye but that is not as realistic in a home baking situation so here I use a baking soda and water solution to create the crust instead (as many people do now).
In my instructions below I mention preheating your baking sheets or using a pizza stone. I don’t personally have a pizza stone so I just used normal baking sheets I had. (If you have a stone- great, you should use it!) This step is important as you want the pretzel to be cooking on the bottom as well as the top/ sides. If the baking sheet has to heat up at the same time as the pretzel that won’t happen.
- 1 1/2 tablespoons barley malt syrup
- 1/4 oz active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups water warm
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- 4 cups flour plus some for rolling
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 1 cup water
- coarse salt for sprinkling on top
Prepare oven and baking sheets: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Place two baking sheets in the oven to preheat as well. If they have sides place them upside down. (Note: one of my baking sheets has turned more black from this step so use ones you might care less about just in case!) If you have a pizza stone you could use that here instead.
Make pretzel dough: In a large bowl, combine the barley malt syrup, yeast and warm water. Mix together and then let sit until it becomes foamy, about 10 minutes. Mix in the butter, flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt until cohesive.
Knead and form pretzels: Once the dough has become a dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it. It should become smooth and elastic and will take 8-10 minutes. Divide kneaded dough into quarters. Take your first piece and roll out into a long rope, less than 1" thick and quite long. I found starting on the surface and then using gravity between my hands worked best. I would start from the center and work my way up allowing the other half to hang below (but not too aggressive or it will break). Take that dough rope and form into a pretzel shape on parchment paper. I have found folding it in half, laying the half point down on parchment and then creating your twist in the air with the two ends, then forming the shape on the paper to be the easiest. Repeat with remaining 3 dough pieces.
Coat and salt the pretzels: Allow the pretzels to rest for 20 minutes before coating them. During this 20 minutes bring the baking soda and 1 cup water to a simmer over medium high heat, making sure to stir constantly. The baking soda should dissolve. This will be what makes the pretzel "crust". Once you've allowed the pretzels to fully rest, work with one at a time: generously coat them with the baking soda water using a pastry brush. Be sure to get all sides and edges that you can. Sprinkle as much coarse salt as you would like on it before proceeding to the next pretzel. Make a cut along the bottom edge of each pretzel about 1/4 of the depth and 4" long.
Bake the pretzels: Once you have completed the coating and salting, move the pretzels on their parchment paper to the preheated baking sheets in the oven. Bake them for about 15 minutes. Check them after 12 minutes just to be sure of your oven. They should come out with the nice traditional brown crust.
Recipe adapted from Saveur
These pretzels can be served with many different dips and sauces – feel free to get creative! I like serving mine with melted butter, a whole grain mustard and a warm beer and cheese dip. Since the first two don’t take any time I HIGHLY suggest making this dip to go with them. Use a beer you plan to serve with them to keep the flavors jiving. For beer, try to find one that you would like with the pretzels – we really liked going with a traditional Bavarian beer, Warsteiner, and even found their Oktoberfest brew.
Beer and Cheese Dip
- 4 oz cream cheese
- 4 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
- 4 oz shredded cheddar cheese
- 3/4 cup beer if serving with beer use that one to keep consistency
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
In a small to medium pot melt the cream cheese on medium heat stirring consistently (to avoid burning). Once melted add the rest of the ingredients. Continue cooking over medium heat stirring constantly. Once everything is melted and combined it is ready to be served.