A few weeks before we boarded the plane for Germany, more than a month ago now, I was talking about our upcoming trip with a former exchange student’s mother. “Oh, bring me back a pretzel,” she requested, relating how they were a favorite food when she visited her daughter.
Even though it had been more than 30 years since I had eaten one, I remembered the German pretzels well, and we lamented that nothing available in the U.S. compared with those pretzels. Alas, the pretzels are best fresh and don’t stand up well to being stashed in the suitcase, so I wasn’t able to fill her request.
However, I remembered the conversation as Hubby Bryan and I bit into our first pretzel the night we arrived in Munich (after a few hours of napping at hostess Heidi’s house). While sometimes the reality pales in comparison with memories — particularly three-decades-old memories — that wasn’t the case with the pretzels. They were every bit as good as I remember, and Hubby Bryan was immediately hooked.
So, during the course of our 10-day trip, we consumed pretzels everywhere we went: at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich city center, accompanied by large glasses of beer, of course; for supper with plates of sausages, wienerschnitzel and white asparagus (more about that seasonal delicacy later); and even for breakfast, fresh from the bakery, split open and spread with butter and homemade preserves at the home of our other host family, the Zobels, in the village of Rot am See outside of Worthington’s sister city, Crailsheim.
I would estimate that we consumed a minimum of three pretzels apiece a day while we were in Germany. The German pretzel — “bretzel” over there — is an entirely different species than the pretzels sold in the U.S. They have the same color as the snack pretzels sold in American grocery stores, but are bigger and much softer. And yet, they are not like the soft pretzels you find at ballparks, either. German pretzels have a dark brown, crispy crust, but they are soft on the inside.
Because we were so enamored of pretzels, our German hostess Heidi and her friend Steffi resolved to find out which Munich venue makes the best pretzels — for our next visit there. We will anxiously await the results of their survey.
In the meantime, Bryan and I have been going through pretzel withdrawals. My mouth is watering as I type this blog. But while I did nothing more than complain and lament that there was nothing so good here, Bryan took action. He went online and researched pretzel recipes, trying to determine exactly how the German bakers were able to achieve that crispy exterior and soft interior.
And on Sunday — after church and before his weekly beer-brewing session began — Bryan made a batch of pretzels (I helped roll out the ropes, but the project was mostly his). While he still wants to tweak the recipe a bit, we were both quite satisfied with the results, and so were visitors who stopped by later that day. We may never be able to achieve that dark brown crust with the ingredients and tools we have available in our American kitchen, but the texture was similar to what we savored overseas. I’m not sure how they will hold up to freezing, since the pretzels were consumed too rapidly to try, and so I must emphasize that they are best consumed the same day they are made.
Here’s the recipe:
Combine 1½ cups warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 package active dry yeast. When yeast begins to bubble, add 22 ounces bread flour (about 4½ cups) and 3 tablespoons butter to form a soft — not sticky — dough. (Add a little bit more water if necessary, but make sure the dough does not get sticky. We were able to roll out the ropes without putting any flour on the board.) Let rise until doubled in size.
Divide dough into 14 balls of equal size. Using hands, roll out each ball into about a 20-inch rope. Form into a pretzel shape and place on parchment paper lined baking sheets (coat paper with cooking spray or a little olive oil). Cover and let rise again for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring 10 cups water to a boil; add Z\c cup baking soda. Drop pretzels, one at a time, into the soda water and let boil for 1 minute, turning after 30 seconds. Remove from water, let drain briefly, and return to baking sheets.
Mix 1 egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water. Brush tops of pretzels with the egg wash and dust with kosher salt.
Bake at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes, until richly brown.