Somewhere along the line soft pretzels became synonymous with malls more than anything else. Sure, you can find shops peddling sour cream and onion seasoned dough tucked between Forever 21 and Spencer’s Gifts in most shopping centers across America, but softly looped pretzels have been part of the German mainstream for far longer than any indoor shopping arena has been open for business in the United States. As it turns out, those popular fast food pretzels are a little less Lacoste and a little more lederhosen!
For more than two hundred years, Munich has been celebrating all things Bavarian during their annual Oktoberfest. The quintessentially German festival is the largest in the world and lasts for an average of seventeen days. Daily festivities center on regional music, German beer, and a host of domestic dishes.
Bratwurst, Sauerkraut, Sauerbraten, and Weiner Schnitzel reign supreme when considering the staple dishes of Germany, but the humble soft pretzel, known as wiesen brezen, is a mainstay of any Oktoberfest celebration.
Like bagels, soft German pretzels are boiled and baked. This dual cooking process gives the finished bread the signature chewiness millions of fair goers clamor for.
Don your dirndl skirt and bust out the beer steins! Whipping up a batch of savory German Brezen is the perfect way to welcome the change of season and celebrate Oktoberfest at home.
Shaping Pretzels 101:
- Divide the dough into 18” long ropes.
- Pull the ends away from you to form a large letter “U”
- Connect the top of the “U” by twisting the tips of the dough.
- Make the traditional pretzel loop by pulling the twist down and attaching it to the bottom of the “U” with a bit of water.
- Proceed with boiling and baking as recipe directs.
Oktoberfest Inspired Soft Pretzels
This recipe makes 6-8 generously sized pretzels. I chose to serve my brezen alongside a simple beer cheese soup, but they would be equally lovely served with assorted mustards or your favorite herb, bean, or spinach dip.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 Tablespoon honey
- ¼ cup water (more or less as needed)
For the bath:
- 8 Cups water
- 1/3 Cup baking soda
- Olive oil, coarse salt, and dried herbs for finishing
Warm the milk slightly and combine with the honey and yeast and let sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the flour and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the machine running on low gradually add the warm milk mixture. Increase the speed to medium and mix until a soft dough forms (dough should clean the sides of the bowl, but stick slightly to the bottom of the bowl-if mixture appears to dry add the water; if dough appears too wet add a little more flour). After mixing for about minutes, turn the dough onto a floured surface and shape into a ball. Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until double in size (about 1 hour).
Punch the dough down to release the gasses and divide into 6-8 equal sections. Roll the sections into 18” long ropes and twist rope into a traditional pretzel shape. Cover shaped pretzels with a towel and allow to rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and fill a large pan with the 8 Cups of water and bring to a boil; add the baking soda to the water. Place the pretzels two at a time into the boiling water and cook for about 1 minute. Transfer the boiled pretzels to a parchment lined baking sheet.
Brush the pretzels with olive oil and sprinkle with salt or the dried herbs of your choosing. Bake pretzels in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly and serve warm.
* Double Duty Dough: Alternatively, this dough can be made into bagels. Roll each of the 8 sections into a ball. Poke your finger through the center and twirl it to expand the hold creating a bagel shape. Proof, boil (without the baking soda in the water), bake and season as directed.