Bretzel Bread

As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to spend two months in Switzerland. I was working in a lab, learning how to work with a somewhat difficult yeast – a close relative to our favorite baker’s yeast (and scientific model organism).

People thought it was an opportunity of a lifetime. And it was – an all-expense paid trip to Europe for eight weeks. But to be honest, I didn’t have the time of my life. I was 25 and had never been abroad. Although I took 3 years of German in high school, I was hardly conversant and I lived in terrible fear of disrespecting the culture. I certainly did not want to be the stereotypical American. I still have nightmares about my first visit to the grocery store and the clerk screaming at me in German. I think she was upset because I hadn’t weighed and priced my oranges – something that must be done prior to checkout, unlike in the states where the cashiers will take care of that for you. I am pretty sure I didn’t eat fresh produce for the rest of my time there.

It was a lonely time. The lab I was visiting was nice enough, but I didn’t make any long-term friends. I have come to learn that I am not a person to make friends easily. (But once I do, well, you’re stuck with me). I had only brought 2 books with me, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins. I must have read each of them half a dozen times (in the case of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the first five readings were necessary to follow the story – the sixth was purely for entertainment). I had also brought with me the fourth season of Sex and the City, which I don’t want to admit how many times I watched.

I finally managed to navigate the buses and trains and made my way around a lot of Switzerland – Basal (where I was staying), Zurich, Luzern and Lausanne were among my favorite cities. I went to a lot of winter markets (I was there in November-December) and drank a lot of mulled wine. While I did not love my time in Switzerland (although I give it full credit for being picturesque), I did love some things: chocolate with hazelnuts, gummi candies and bretzel bread.

So when I was at the store earlier this week, happily not weighing and pricing my produce, I spotted a fantastic sale. Buy one, get one free of Rondele – a soft spreadable cheese infused with garlic and herbs. I am a sucker for this kind of stuff and was how I liked to enjoy my bretzel bread while abroad.

Cracked open with the soft chewy, bread-y insides exposed and slathered with garlic-herb cheese. Perhaps one of the best things ever. So I went ahead and bought two of them and dreamed of making my own bretzel bread this weekend.

After extensive internet searching, I found basically one simple recipe (here, here and here) and it looks like any other bread recipe – yeast, a little sugar, a little salt and flour. The key is prior to baking you poach the bread in a lye bath.  Sounds disgusting I know, but totally worth it. That’s how you get the dark, crispy crust.

Since it’s just me, I decided to halve the recipe. Here’s what I did.

Bretzel Bread

3/4 cup warm water (~110º F or warm to the touch)                                                    
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast                                                                                         
1 teaspoon sugar                                                                                                                    
2 cups bread flour                                                                                                                 
1 teaspoon kosher salt                                                                                                          
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Poaching and Glazing                                                                                                      
1/2 cup baking soda                                                                                                              
2 tablespoons sugar                                                                                                              
8 cups water                                                                                                                           
1 egg white, beaten                                                                                                              
Coarse salt


Dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons of yeast into 3/4 cup warm water.

Add 1 teaspoon sugar to yeast and water.

Let sit until nice and foamy – about 15 minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

2 cups bread flour.

4 tablespoons of butter, melted.

Mix with dough hook until dough comes together.

Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

I decided to shape mine into two demi-baguettes.

Cover and let rise for an addition 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375º F and prepare lye bath.

Bring 8 cups to water in a large saucepan to a boil.

Add 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 cup baking soda – this will cause bubbling.

Cook dough for 30 seconds on each side.

Transfer to a cookie sheet that is greased and sprinkled with cornmeal.

Brush with egg white and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake for 30 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 10 minutes.

They didn’t quite get as dark as I had hoped. But they did come out tasting fantastic – salty and crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.

Eat these warm!

Not bad work for a Sunday morning.


3 responses to “Bretzel Bread

  1. OMG! I can’t wait to make this and eat it with some fancy mustard.

  2. Your bread came out beautifully! I will definitely have to try this one day soon–I love the idea of poaching the whole loaves, much like a bagel I suppose. Nice work!

  3. Cynthia K-R in Canada

    Have you ever tried the ‘no-knead bread’ recipes? They are so much easier, and taste FABULOUS-O. Try this bread recipe =
    It is easy and so yummy. Mix; let sit overnight; flop again; bake; EAT.

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