One of the biggest things for us during our time in Germany was the pretzels. We lived in southern Germany, in the state bordering Bavaria, so pretzels were plentiful. They were also extremely cheap and easy to get your hands on. You could get them at the grocery store for 30 Euro cents and there were stands everywhere to snag one on the go. It was great because I could grab one for Brady right before catching the train home and he'd eat it the whole way there, then be ready for nap. If it's possible, I think he ate more pretzels than we did.
Since returning home, we've been on the search for a pretzel as good as the ones we had in Germany. It's been very disappointing. The worst was when Andy bought one at Heinz Field during a Pitt game. It was so dry, I had a hard time choking it down. We were sure pretzels were ruined for us forever. Our friends, the Reeses, were in Germany during the same time we were, and Bethany loves to bake. She has take several classes at a bakery called Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, learning how to bake all different kinds of bread. She saw they had a Bavarian pretzel class and invited me to take it with her. While I wanted to get somewhere close to our Germany pretzels, I'm not the cook in our family, but I accepted anyway, figuring I could give Andy the recipe after we got home.
We booked the class back in August and had to wait until this past Wednesday to take it. Part of the problem with the soft pretzels here in America is that they aren't made using lye which is very dangerous and corrosive. This class used the lye and other things like un-hydrogenated lard and barley malt which are also a little more difficult to get your hands on than other ingredients. One of the biggest things was that you have to knead the dough by hand for 8-10 minutes as it's a very tough dough and would burn out the motor on an electric stand mixer.
When it came time to shape, the instructor showed us two different types of shapes, both of which we'd seen in Germany. The more stick-like shape and the classic twisted pretzel. She showed us the fun way to twist them in the air and suggested we try it at least once. Several people struggled to make it work, but I got it every single try without any effort. Bethany joked that I was a natural because it's in my blood (although my people are from nowhere near Bavaria, so pretzels weren't their thing). Above are my pretzels.
Because the lye is so dangerous, we were given gloves and only one lye solution was prepared for the whole class. We were able to go up two at a time to dip our pretzels in the solution, of course being very careful not to splash ourselves.
When the pretzels were baked, we all got to sample the batch the teacher had made. She had also demonstrated the alternative to lye by making a solution of baking soda and water. She dipped only a few so we could taste and see the difference. Even before they were baked, we could see the ones that were dipped in lye were already getting darker. When they were baked, the baking soda ones were a very light brown and the lye ones were a very deep dark brown. There was certainly a taste difference, with the lye ones tasting way better.
While we were at the class, Andy and Tom were at our house watching all the kids. Above is Sam and Ainsley playing on my old Little Tykes see saw.
Our class ended around 9PM, so the kids were getting a little tired. I guess at some point, Andy decided to put on Disney Junior for the kids and as you can see, Ainsley and Brady were hooked. Sam has little interest in TV, so he continued to play.
We each got to take home the dozen pretzels we had made during class and they were still warm after the 30 minute drive home. As soon as we walked through the door, both Brady and Sammy bombarded us asking for pretzels. They were the best that first night they were baked. By Friday night, we had to throw away the two or three we hadn't eaten as there are no preservatives. My dad, who thought he knew how to make pretzels, is eager to get his hands on the recipe, but first we have to track down those elusive ingredients which are hard to get your hands on.