My best friends from college joke about how they’d vocalize a craving and within moments, I’d have found everything necessary and be halfway done making it. To be honest, I can’t actually think of one example of doing this. But, it sounds like something I’d do. Nowadays, my husband holds the magic lamp which makes all of his food cravings appear. Most of the time he just waits to see what I put in front of him. But every so often, he gets a hankering for something and I do what I can to bring it to fruition.
Such was the case last night, as my husband was scrolling through his iPhone and ran across a New York Times article entitled, Making Soft Pretzels the Old-Fashioned Way. You see, my husband has got a tiny, little obsession with pretzels; doughy, salty Bavarian pretzels. It all began just after our college graduation. We lived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany for the summer and worked at an American-owned hotel. I was a waitress and bartender in the hotel’s main restaurant. My husband worked in housekeeping. We spent most of our evenings at German beer festivals drinking huge glasses of Bavarian Hefeweissen and eating pretzels. On days off, we’d huff and puff our way up the Kramer Mountain (with little old German ladies swiftly biking past us) to our favorite biergarten, informally known as the Halfway House, perched halfway up the mountain, overlooking all of Garmisch. A couple of beers and a pretzel later and we’d hike back down. What a summer! It’s really no wonder that a pretzel obsession developed.
Here in the states, good German beer is readily available. There is a wide selection of imported Hefeweissen, Dunkel Bock and Pilsners right at my local grocery store. But, pretzels are a different story. Good Bavarian-style soft pretzels are not as easy to find. Over the years, my husband has been on an endless search for good pretzels. He buys a pretzel whenever he has the opportunity, whether it be at a baseball game, the mall, or from a street vendor. So far, the closest we’ve found to an authentic Bavarian pretzel is at the Hofbrauhaus in Las Vegas. Without fail, the very best part of every Vegas trip is our evening at the Hofbrauhaus, singing along with the live German music while consuming as much German beer, pretzels, and food as we can before taking turns rolling each other back to the hotel.
But, Vegas is far away and there are no Germany trips in our near future. And so, this morning, while my husband was busy at work, I decided to try my hand at pretzel making. I poked around online for a bit looking for an authentic soft pretzel recipe. Turns out that the key to making really good soft pretzels is dipping the dough into a lye bath just prior to baking. Lye is a highly caustic substance, the use of which necessitates safety measures, such as gloves and masks, to prevent chemical burns. Lye is used in the curing processes of numerous foods. It is also used in drain cleaners and soap. I’m all for adventurous cooking, but something about using a product in my food, which can be found next to the Drano, just sits funny with me. Not to mention that I’m not wild about using something which can cause chemical burns, in proximity of my ever-present children. Either way, it doesn’t appear that lye is commonly available anymore. One online pretzel recipe linked to Amazon.com as a source for food-grade lye, but the lye I found on there was listed in the Automotive section. Yeah, that’s not really going to work for me. So, I did a little more searching around and found a number of recipes which use a baking soda bath, prior to baking, to achieve that pretzelrific exterior browning, including a recipe from Alton Brown. Alton Brown knows his stuff! I trust his expertise completely. That, and 234 positive reviews of the recipe convinced me that it was worth a try. I followed his recipe exactly, only substituting coarse-ground sea salt for the pretzel salt. I made a few pretzels and several rolls to use for sandwiches.
Pretzel sandwiches would be outstanding with any number of fillings. I chose to use Black Forest Ham, Smoked Gouda, thinly sliced pear, and German-style mustard. My husband is in for a real treat when he gets home for lunch!
Enjoy with your favorite German brew.