Americans love pretzels: from classic street vendors to snacks at a baseball game, they’ve become another staple of our fast food diet. The specific variety we’re all familiar with (hand-sized, sprinkled with salt) are called “laugenbrezel” in Germany, where we adopted this recipe from. The special looped form of these pretzels once served as an emblem of German bakers and their guilds as long ago as the 12th century.
Today we’ll focus on arguably the most popular variety of German pretzels around the world: Oktoberfest Bavarian Pretzels. Appropriately celebrated in the last weeks of September and the first weekend in October, Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival celebrating beer in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. It is the world’s largest fair, gathering crowds more than 6 million strong each year and demanding the best in Bavarian drink and -- of course -- food.
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 & 1/4 cups warm water
5 cups flour
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup baking soda
4 cups hot water
1/4 cup kosher salt (for topping)
1. In a small bowl, stir yeast and 1 teaspoon white sugar into warm water for about 10 minutes, or until dissolved and creamy.
2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. Create a hole in the center of this powdery mixture and fill with the above yeast mixture and oil. Mix thoroughly and form into a ball of dough (add water if too dry). Knead dough for about 7 to 8 minutes, or until smooth.
3. Lightly oil a second large bowl and place dough inside, turning it to coat with oil. Cover this with plastic wrap and set in a warm place, letting it rise for about one hour, or until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F when dough has risen.
4. Dissolve baking soda in hot water in a bowl and set aside. Remove dough from plastic wrap and roll it out onto a lightly floured surface, dividing into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and twist into a pretzel shape. Once dough is shaped, dip into baking soda solution and place on greased baking sheet.
5. Generously sprinkle each pretzel with kosher salt (the more you use, the better the flavor!), and bake for 8 minutes, until brown.
Dip these delicacies in a Bavarian obatzda (cheese-butter spread) or more simply, your choice of mustard or marinara sauce. Other traditional German foods to compliment this dish are würstl (sausages), knödel (potato dumplings), and kasespatzle (cheese noodles). Of course, to get the full effect, you may have to go searching for the world-renowned Oktoberfest Beer. If you do the latter, be sure to raise a glass and toast the country that invented this delectable recipe by saying cheers -- or rather, as the German say -- “prost”!