Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Authentic German Pretzels (Laugenbrezeln)

These authentic German soft pretzels are made using food grade lye. You can make them in under 2 hours! They are a perfect recipe to make for Oktoberfest, complete with cheddar beer sauce for dipping. 

Ah yes, these were Samuel's absolute favorite German food when we lived in Berlin. He would always grab one at the train station on his way to school.

Now, I do not want you to be afraid. You are about to make your very own German style soft pretzels with LYE. Yes, this is also a chemical that makes a great drain cleaner. Are you afraid of drain cleaner? Then, you don't need to be afraid of lye. 

But... we're going to eat it, aren't we? Yes, of course. But lye is no longer toxic once baked. People have literally been eating lye pretzels for hundreds and hundreds of years and lived to tell the tale.

What is lye and how is it used in cooking?

Lye is sodium hydroxide. It was originally made by soaking wood ashes in water. This chemical is used in soap making (a recipe I've got up my sleeve for another time), to cure lutefisk and olives, to dissolve the membranes in canned mandarin oranges, and most importantly in speeding the browning process in classic pretzels. Lye is what gives pretzels their unique flavor and shiny, brown crust. 

You may have made my mall pretzels that I dip in a baking soda solution. The baking soda will have the same type of effect as lye, but lye is much higher on the pH scale so the reaction will be much stronger. 

Lye is caustic,  so you will have to take a few simple precautions when working with it. 

1. Do not touch the lye solution with your bare hands. You can use rubber gloves if you would like. Basically just treat it like touching drain cleaner.

2. Cover your pans with parchment paper or foil to prevent the baking lye from leaving a mark on the pan. I have definitely baked pretzel shadows onto my pan before when I haven't used parchment. To be extra safe, you may also want to cover your counters with foil or plastic wrap to prevent any lye drips from leaving a mark. 

3. Work with your lye in a well ventilated area. A cracked window or vent over your stove will work great. 

4. Dump your leftover lye down the toilet. I do this so that my toilet can get a free clean and also just in case there are any sensitive pieces in my garbage disposal (I'm probably being paranoid though). 

 5. Food grade lye is not less strong than other forms of lye used for cleaning. It is simply more PURE. 

6. Don't be afraid to eat your pretzels! The lye is no longer toxic after it is baked!

Who first invented pretzels?

Well, there are a few different legends. My favorite is the story that around 600 A.D., an Italian monk would shape leftover pieces of dough to look like little arms folded across a chest in prayer and then give them as a reward to children who learned their prayers. This story seems to check out to me since etymologically the word pretzel comes from Latin roots meaning "arms".

When Pretzels Saved Vienna

In the 15th century, the Turks were digging tunnels under the walls of Vienna to invade the city with a surprise attack, but monks who were baking pretzels in the basement in the night heard their progress and warned the city. The king rewarded the bakers with their own coat of arms featuring a pretzel and two lions. This emblem is still used today in bakeries in Europe! 

Which side of the pretzel is the top? 

This emblem brings me to my next point. In Germany there is apparently a debate about which side of the pretzel is the top. I thought it was obvious, but this emblem is making me question myself. Samuel thinks it makes sense to see the one big hole as the top because in Germany they often hang the pretzels up on hooks or pegs.

When Samuel was an exchange student in Bavaria, they would very often have a breakfast of pretzels, weisswurst sausages, sweet grainy mustard, and BEER. Yes, beer for breakfast. He was one happy sixteen-year-old. 

I personally love pretzels dunked in pub cheddar beer cheese. This recipe is pretty simple and so good. Oh and these pretzels are somewhat of a cheater recipe because you can make them in under 2 hours.  So no excuses. Make them this weekend. :)


  1. These look delicious and perfect for this time of year! Also, that cheese sauce is everything!!

  2. If I can’t buy lye can it be substituted for baking soda? If so, what would the measurements be. Thank you

  3. Have you ever attempted to make these gluten free?

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