How to make German pretzels

Not to be outdone by Culinspiration, I think it's time for a food post. In the spirit of going native, I have taken to making my own pretzels. Here's how it's done.


1 package dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup warm water

3 3/4 cups white flour
2 teaspooons salt
additional 1 cup water

4 tablespoons baking soda
4 cups water
1-2 tablespoons coarse salt or seasme seeds

Dissolve the yeast and the sugar in 1/3 cup warm water. Sift the flour into a large bowl, and sprinkle with salt. When the yeast mixture is foamy, add it to the flour. Gradually add just enough of the remaining water to make a strong, elastic, and slightly wet dough. (I use almost the full cup.)

Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes, adding as little additional flour as possible. (I'm not kidding about kneading for at least 10 minutes. You want the gluten to develop.)

Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for an hour and fifteen minutes. Your dough should be a smooth, fat ball, like this:

On a floured surface, divide the dough into twelve equal pieces. Then roll each piece into a thin 18" snake, slightly fatter in the middle than at the ends. Twist each piece into a pretzel. Twist the ends as illustrated below, then attach the ends to the top of the arch to form a pretzel. If the dough is dry, use a drop of water to hold the ends in place.

Place each pretzel on parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).

Combine baking soda with 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Dunk the pretzels one or two at a time for 30 seconds. Lay the pretzels on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with coarse salt or sesame seeds while still wet. (About 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt per pretzel is enough. A little goes a long way.)

Bake the pretzels for 20 to 25 minutes until they are a dark golden brown. Serve fresh with butter, mustard, or cheese.

The Germans call pretzels Laugenbrezen, which means "lye pretzels." The secret to the distinctive crunchy exterior, it seems, is to dunk the dough in a 4% solution of NaOH (sodium hydroxide). For home use, baking soda is a suitable substitute, but using a lye solution is the right way to do it.

Make it stop

For as long as we have been in Bonn, our street has been torn up so workers can replace pipes. The project has crawled up the street, and is now in full force just outside our apartment. The booming and crashing begins every morning around 6:45 and goes on until the late afternoon. At the current pace of progress, they will be on our block until, oh, about the time we move again.

The project is popular with small children, as you can imagine. (Check out this little kid's sweet ride on the back of the stroller.)

As for me, two backhoes are outside my window making noise and shaking my floor, and I'm ready for it to end.

Eugene and Nikki were here

They came, they saw, they wandered.

Telltale signs that I may be living in a German apartment

If I need light in the hallway leading to my apartment, I need to press a button that turns the light on for just long enough to climb two flights of stairs. It's a good idea to have my cellphone handy to use as a night light in case I don't make it to my door before the light goes out.

That hallway is not heated.

When I enter my apartment I am standing in an enclosed entrance hall (Flur), where I take my shoes off and tuck them under the stairs. Because there are no closets in Germany, I hang my coat on a hook on the wall. From the Flur I can reach the bathroom, the kitchen (separated from th Flur by a door), and the living room (also separated from the Flur by a door).

To reach the table with my food, I must go through two doors. It is nice to be able to close the door to the kitchen, especially if there's something stinky in there.

My refrigerator is about a third the size of an American refrigerator. I do not have a freezer, which effectively deprives me of peas and ice cream. My fridge is designed to fit inside a kitchen cabinet (and my kitchen cabinets are designed to accommodate a fridge).

I heat my water to make my tea in an electric kettle. Mine happens to be cheap and poorly designed. Still, it boils water in about 60 seconds.

I carefully separate my trash: paper in one bin; glass in another; plastic and metal in a third. Many of the bottles I purchase can be returned to the grocery store, where I feed them into a machine, and get a little coupon that I redeem when I purchase my groceries. Because I separate out so many recyclables and Pfand bottles, it takes me a long time to accumulate actual trash. Unfortunately, this means a faint stink often lingers in the air.

I don't have any cookie sheets as such. I have a deep Backblech that came with my stove, and fits inside it like a baking rack. I am always puzzled that doesn't result in food that's over-baked either on the top or the bottom, but this is never the case.

I have an on-demand water heater in the kitchen, and another in the bathroom. This means that I have an infinite supply of hot water (though sometimes it isn't very hot).

My bathtub does not have a curtain. Nor does it have a door. It has a folding barrier that covers about two thirds of the width. Showers are chillier when you're not really enclosed.

I have a two-speed toilet. I explained how to operate a German toilet in a prior post.

I have a heated towel rack. (Be jealous.)

In my bathroom there is a washing machine. It is highly water-efficient. However, a cycle takes about two hours. It wants me to wash my clothes in really, really hot water, because that--so the thinking goes--is the secret to cleanliness.

90% of the stuff in my apartment came from Ikea: table, chairs, sideboard, hutch, TV stand, art, wardrobe, bed, bedding, rugs, lamps, dishes, pots, silverware, kitchen cabinets, etc.

Like my German neighbors, I am highly conscious of my electricity consumption. I turn lights off when I leave the room. I turn the television off--really off--when I'm not watching.

However, also like my German neighbors, I am not heat efficient. I participate in the great German ritual of l├╝ften, which means that though there is a blizzard outside, I feel the need to open my windows and let all the warm air out, and the cold air in.

It may be that like my German neighbors, I am worried about Schimmel. Yes, mildew may be collecting even as I write this. Opening the window will save me from this fate. I guess.

My windows open in two directions. If the handle is horizontal, I can open my window like a door. If the handle is vertical, my window hinges at the bottom and opens a sizable crack at the top.

I do not have screens on my windows because I live in northern Europe, and there are few bugs to bug me. Also, if I had screens in my window, I would not be able to do any of those things with my windows. And if I didn't do those things with my windows, I might get Schimmel.

My doorknobs aren't knobs. They are horizontal. Thus:

My wife and I do not share a blanket. I have a small comforter with a duvet. She has the same.