German Schwäbisch style pretzels and I go waaaaaay back. I remember my first pretzel from a German delicatessen in West Vancouver (that is sadly no longer there), still warm from their oven and slathered with cold butter. I remember my Mom buying frozen pretzels from that same delicatessen to bake fresh on a Saturday morning, savoured with a little sausage, some strong cheese, coffee for her and fresh orange juice for me.
It had been a long time since I had one of those pretzels… until I took a bread workshop at the Vancouver Pastry Training Centre. The workshop was all about sourdough breads, but because they would all be finished on day two, our instructor Marco snuck in his german lye beer pretzel recipe so we all had something to take home on day one. They were just like I remembered… soft, salty and super tasty. The only part of the process that intimidated me was dipping them in the lye solution. Although it turns into an inert salt while baking, it requires safety gloves, goggles and extra caution to not drip it on the counter, your clothing, etc. Yikes. Not to mention I found it awfully tricky to find food grade lye I could order myself.
I’ll let you all know up front, these German Schwäbisch Style Pretzels are dipped in a strong baking soda solution, not lye. Baking soda imitates the alkaline lye solution and gives the pretzels a similar taste, but it’s not exactly the same. Even so, these pretzels are still soft, salty and exceptionally tasty. My favourite way to eat them is by pulling off chunks, slapping a piece of really cold butter on it and stuffing it in my mouth. Nothing else needed! Of course you can also slice them in half and create a pretzel sandwich, but my tastebud’s patience doesn’t usually last long enough for that to happen.
A huge thank you to Louisa Weiss’ Classic German Baking book and Marco for the inspiration and hands on technique that gave me the confidence to attempt these!
Recipe Updated May 21, 2023:
While I have made these on and off over the years, I knew they needed a serious upgrade. I went back through the recipes I had sourced inspiration from, tinkered around some more, made the pretzels a little larger and discovered a new to me technique of quickly boiling the pretzels in a strong baking soda solution. The results were mind blowing. These pretzels are now so incredibly close to the pretzels I remember that I won’t be going back to the old recipe.
Through this re-creation process I also learned that the pretzels I was making were not Bavarian at all! When pretzels have a thick center with thin strands they are Schwabisch pretzels. This made shivers run down my back as the area these pretzels are most popular (Swabia, Germany) is where my my Oma was born and raised.
If you liked this recipe you are going to love these ones!
German Schwäbisch Style Pretzels
- 500 grams organic, all purpose wheat flour
- 6 grams instant yeast
- 10 grams sea salt
- 14 grams dark brown sugar
- 20 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
- 280 grams water at room temperature or DDT 75F (see notes)
- course salt for sprinkling on top
Baking Soda Bath
- 9 cups water
- 1/2 cup baking soda
Make the Pretzel Dough
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, instant yeast, sugar and salt. Add the butter in small pieces and toss together with the flour mixture. Add the water and combine with your hands until the dough comes together.
Empty the dough onto a work surface and knead the dough until it is smooth (about 5 minutes). Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
Uncover the dough and divide into 8 equal portions (approx. 100g each). Cover the divided dough with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat and set aside.
Shape the Pretzels
To form each pretzel, take one ball of dough and flatten it into a rectangle with the heel of your hand. Fold one long side into the middle then seal the seam with the heel of your hand. Fold the other long side into the middle and seal that seam with the heel of your hand. Fold in half and seal the seam against the work surface with the heel of your hand.
With the sealed seam side facing up, roll the dough out to approximately 2ft long using the palms of both hands. Apply more pressure to the edges of the dough to create thin strands with a thick center.
Turn the seam side down and bring both strands towards you on the work surface. Take the end of each strand in one hand, cross them over each other twice, flip the ends over and press each end deeply into either side of the fat middle. Transfer the shaped pretzel to the lined baking sheet.
Repeat the shaping for each piece of dough. Let the pretzels rest at room temperature, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes (or until pretzels have swelled and look poofy). This could take longer or shorter depending on how cool or warm your room temperature is and if you used room temperature water or calculated the water temperature you needed using the DDT (see notes below).
Transfer the entire baking sheet to the freezer and freeze uncovered for a minimum of 1 hour (or overnight).
Prepare the Alkaline Bath
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large pot, bring the water and baking soda to a slow boil, stirring once to help the baking soda dissolve. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and loosen each pretzel from the parchment or silicone baking mat before proceeding.
Bake the Pretzels
Place two pretzels at a time in the boiling baking soda solution and boil for 20 seconds. Remove the pretzels with a large slotted spatula and return them to the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
Using a very sharp knife or bread lame, deeply slash the belly of each pretzel horizontally then sprinkle course salt over the belly of each pretzel.
Bake for 15-18 minutes or until pretzels are a deep brown. Remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Freeze any pretzels that will not be eaten on the same day.
- The desired dough temperature (or DDT) for this recipe is 75F. To find out what temperature water you need to achieve the DDT, follow the formula below:
- 75*3 factors (air, water and flour) = 225
- 225 – 10 (friction factor from kneading) – air temp – flour temp = water temp