Pretzel Rolls (Laugenweck)
Pretzel Rolls (Laugenweck)
Interestingly enough "pretzel bread" is the one bread that in our collective psyche seems to top all others. No matter what other bread you may have tasted and enjoyed in Germany, “pretzel bread” is the one thing that people seem to remember above all else. And why not? When done right, it IS addictive. A good pretzel roll or “Laugenweck” should be slightly crunchy on the outside, have a deep brown color with a milky-white, if slightly browned, cross on top and be soft and chewy on the inside. If you have never eaten the real thing you don’t know what you’ve missed. There was a bakery in my hometown where people used to trek from the surrounding region just because their pretzels were THAT good. (As things go with German commercial baking these days, though, theirs are only a faint memory now of what they used to be years ago, too – I was really disappointed when I bought one last August as I was visiting my mom...)
Pretzel rolls make the best hearty sandwiches, and while they have become popular lately as “hamburger buns”, I prefer them just with butter and maybe a good, strong cheese. (A word on those “hamburger buns” – unless they were made the traditional way, what you probably ate was a weak imitation of the real thing; but if you like that, imagine what these actually taste like...) They are best eaten fresh on the day they are baked, and you can even toast them back to their original glory a day later. They will freeze fairly well, but the salt on top in conjunction with the crust will have a tendency to render them soggy and mottled-looking after a few days. If you must freeze them, thaw them on the countertop OUTSIDE of their bag. The German “Laugenweck” literally translates to “lye roll”, or what a witty friend called “pipe cleaner roll”. Let’s just say that Germans have a reputation for precision for a reason, but obviously we’re not that good at marketing ourselves. “Pretzel roll” sounds SO much prettier than “lye roll”, and of course you wouldn’t use pipe cleaner for these, but food-grade sodium hydroxide.
That’s right, folks. Sodium hydroxide.
There are all sorts of knock-off recipes out there, but if you want to make REAL pretzels and pretzel rolls, you HAVE to use lye. Anything else won’t give you the same results. My grandma’s cookbook for example makes the solution with something like water and wood ashes – NOT the same thing. As caustic as lye is, it will convert to a simple salt on top of the pastry when baked, giving it the characteristic beautiful, deep brown color.
So, I am including a disclaimer. Not because I think I’d be liable in whatever way, but I think you should be aware of what you will be dealing with:
DISCLAIMER: Sodium hydroxide is highly caustic, even at lower concentrations, and I highly recommend wearing long sleeves, goggles and gloves when handling it. Use all stainless steel equipment as the lye will eat through aluminum and coated baking sheets over time. ALWAYS TAKE GREAT CARE WHEN STORING/HANDLING SODIUM HYDROXIDE AND FOLLOW ALL SAFETY DIRECTIONS ON THE PACKAGE THE SODIUM HYDROXIDE CRYSTALS CAME IN.What you will need (besides the actual dough):
1. pretzel salt - a coarse salt that will not simply melt into the pastry but stay intact during baking. Here’s the difference between “normal” salt (pictured is “real” salt) and pretzel salt:
2. Food-grade sodium hydroxide, available for example from Essential Depot.
3. 1 stainless steel stockpot large enough to hold the water comfortably (see recipe)
4. 1 stainless steel skimmer
5. 1 – 2 stainless steel half sheets
6. 1 sturdy metal scraper
7. chemical resistant gloves (preferably), but any kind would already be a good protection
8. goggles, long-sleeve shirt
I found this originally on an expat German forum somewhere on the Web with very vague information as to how strong the lye should be, but by now we have tweaked this recipe so much that I can regard it as our original. The very first time I tried it, I used an 8% lye solution, which produced really dark, really blistered, and really inedible pretzels. :)
Pretzel Rolls (Laugenweck)
For 10 rolls or pretzels:
725 g bread flour
5 g salt
7 g yeast
375 g water
5 g diastatic malt powder
Pretzel salt for topping.
For the lye (at a 3.5% solution):
2 l water
70 g sodium hydroxide crystals
Dissolve the malt powder in water. Add the dry ingredients to a mixer bowl with a dough hook, slowly add the water and keep kneading until the dough forms a ball and clears the sides of the bowl. If it appears to be too dry, add a little bit more water until you achieve the desired consistency. Let rise until doubled, preferably retard overnight. On baking day, preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C). Slowly add the sodium hydroxide to the COLD water, close the pot and bring the lye to a rolling boil, then turn off the heat. Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces, each weighing about 110 g. Spray the stainless steel baking sheets well with cooking spray.
CAUTION: NEVER, EVER ADD SODIUM HYDROXIDE TO BOILING OR EVEN REALLY HOT WATER AS IT IS HEATING ON THE STOVE – IT WILL CAUSE THE POT TO INSTANTLY BOIL OVER AND POSSIBLY SPLATTER YOU WITH LYE. (Believe me, I have been there – filed this experience under “What was I thinking???”)
Shape each piece into a round and be sure to seal them well on the bottom. Proof them at the most to 1/2 proof, not fully. Dip the rolls into the hot lye upside down, remove with the skimmer, drain well and place onto the baking sheet. One half sheet will comfortably fit 10 rolls. Score them with a serrated knife or razor blade. Traditionally, these rolls are scored with a cross on the top. Sprinkle pretzel salt on top.
Bake until they are a deep brown and register at least 180 F (85 C) in the middle. The light part of the roll should remain mostly light and not darken very much.
TIP: Use a scale to make sure they are all the same the weight. If you cannot get your hands on diastatic malt powder (available online for example from home brewing stores), just use brown sugar. Depending on how wet the rolls were when they were put on the baking sheet and on how well they were sealed at the bottom before dipping, they may stick to the baking sheet and appear not to want to come off – use a good scraper, but try not to rip off the bottom.