You can create an Oktoberfest all your own with homemade Bavarian-style pretzels. While I use food-grade lye in my home bakery for the color, flavor and texture, I’ve discovered that a simple substitute at home can help give your pretzels more flavor and color without lye.
What you do is take a box of baking soda and layer it an inch thick on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake it in your oven for 1 hour at 250F. Then, let cool and store in a sealed container until ready for use in the recipe.
This recipe is from my first ecookbook, “Pretzel Baker,” which is available on Amazon.com. You can freeze the pretzels once they are cooled down and they will reheat nicely in a hot oven or even a toaster.
(Makes 6–8 Pretzels)
1 ½ cups (355 ml) lukewarm water
2 tsp (5g) instant yeast
3 tbsp (38g) brown sugar
1 tsp (5g) salt
4 tbsp (2 oz or 56g) melted butter, cooled
4 ½-5 cups (621g–690g) all-purpose unbleached flour
pretzel salt to top pretzels with (or sesame seeds, kosher salt, sea salt, etc)
1. Into a mixing bowl add water and yeast.
2. Stir well to wet the yeast and then add the brown sugar, salt and cooled melted butter.
3. Then stir in 2 cups (half) of the flour until dough comes together as a thick batter. Then, start adding the rest of the flour a little at a time till it becomes easier to shape with your hands.
If quite wet, add more flour and knead until just a bit moist and tacky to the touch but doesn’t stick all over your fingers when kneading it.
4. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth, shiny and without stickiness. It should spring back when you push your finger down into it.
(NOTE: Alternatively, you can place it all from step one into a countertop mixer and mix it all together and knead it with the dough hook.)
5. Place dough into a buttered or greased bowl, cover and let rise 30 minutes.
You can measure your dough if you like to get even pretzel sizes. For this size batch we weigh each pretzel to 160 grams to get six pretzels with possibly a little bit left over. Depending on humidity and if you had to add a more flour you may get 7 or 8 pretzels. Or you can certainly make them smaller and make more from one batch.
If you don’t want to measure the dough you can just break it in half, then break each half into halves and so on until you have several nuggets of dough to work with.
6. Take one and begin rolling it to make a long snake or coil of dough, about 2½ feet long (0.76m). It helps to wipe down your table or counter with a damp cloth first. Flour will make it harder to roll the dough, because it won’t have enough friction.
If the dough isn’t stretching well for you and breaks, let it sit for 15 more minutes and it should work better with more rising time.
7. Fold and twist into pretzel shapes (practice to get a feel for it) and then place onto wax paper or parchment paper on a sturdy surface so they lay flat and place into freezer. Freezing them before baking makes them easier to manipulate in the lye dip or baking soda bath before baking. Otherwise they can fall apart like noodles and lose their shape. They will bake just fine from frozen. You freeze them a minimum of 30 minutes and as much as several hours ahead. So, you can prepare a lot of them ahead of time this way and bake when you’re ready.
8. In a baking dish place 4 cups of water and 1 cup of the baked baking soda. Stir well.
9. Place frozen unbaked pretzel into bowl and leave for 2 minutes.
10. Remove and rinse the pretzel under running water for a couple seconds.
11. Place onto baking sheet lined with an ungreased silicon baking mat or heavily greased parchment paper and sprinkle with salt.
12. Bake at 450F for 12 minutes.