Food & Recipes

This Traditional Recipe Is The Perfect Winter Comfort Food with a Twist

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There are many dishes that classify as “comfort food”, depending on your taste bud preferences, but carbs are always high on my go-to list of foods to eat when I need a little boost. Pasta with butter and cheese, toast with jam, and potatoes au gratin are all favorites of mine. But my most favorite comfort food is a traditional German pretzel. The first time I had one — or four — was when I lived with my best friend’s parents for a couple months after college. Her father was from Hamburg, and one night he made pretzels. When they’d cooled a bit, we cut them in half and spread them with butter. A little sweet, a little salty, these were some of the most delicious things I’d ever tasted in my life.

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Traditional German Pretzels

Real German soft pretzels, otherwise known as Laugenbrezeln, are usually made with Lye, which is a chemical agent that can severely burn the skin if touched, create harmful toxic fumes, and, if swallowed accidentally, burns the esophagus and results in death. Why would a home recipe ever call for use of this chemical, you ask? And how can something so toxic be eaten in the first place? According to the King Arthur Baking Company blog, “Lye isn’t used frequently in baking, but when it does show up in a recipe, it must be approached carefully. Lye can be dangerous to work with if you’re not exercising caution; at the same time, it’s essential for achieving the distinct taste and texture of classic pretzels and pretzel-style buns.”

Lye alters the ratio between proteins and sugars in the dough, which accounts for the flavor claim, and creates a crunchy shell texture on the outside of the pretzel when baked. We would caution against using this agent in a pretzel recipe, particularly in a house with either pets or children, or both! If you do choose to use lye, be sure to follow directions to the letter, and wear safety goggles and safety gloves (who ever thought pretzels would be such serious business?). Of course, because of the baking process, pretzels dipped in lye are completely safe to eat once they are cooked!

Don’t want to risk it? Don’t worry! Try this “twist” on the traditional recipe — no toxic agents involved!

How to Make German Pretzels Without Lye

Although coating soft pretzels with a lye-based mixture before baking is known to add unique flavor and texture to this chewy treat, there’s a safer and effective way to make them, and here’s the secret agent (no, not the kind that wears a trench coat): Baking soda! Similar to lye, baking soda is alkaline, and dipping the dough twists into a baking soda solution before baking creates the same kind of coating as those made with lye. The following recipe was created by a woman who spent some time as an au pair in Germany, and wanted to recreate the delicious, authentic pretzels she so loved to eat during her travels. Her recipe looks delicious, and its base can be used for many other types of breads.

If authentic German pretzels can be made safely with baking soda and still taste as good, I’m ready to bake some right now! Dipped in honey mustard or slathered in soft butter the way the Germans do it, this comfort food will delight and sustain you all winter long.

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