Prep time 20 mins, cook 20 mins (plus proving)
These salty snacks date back to Roman times, and yes, they'll make you thirsty – but it's nothing a Bavarian beer won't fix.
There are many varieties of twisted pretzels found across the globe, but it's Germany's Laugenbrezel, the hand-span-sized yeast-risen soft bread with a salt-crystal glaze that tops our list.
We've turned to Culinaria Gemany for recounting the history of the pretzel (known as a brezel in German, or brezen in Bavarian). According to the book, it dates back to the Roman conquerors of ancient Germania who introduced fine-wheat flour to the region from Egypt.
Originally the Romans shaped the bread into a ring; the twisted version is believed to have come about in the 12th century. It was shortly after this time that the pretzel also came to be an emblem for bakers – it forms part of the German bakers' guild logo that's still used today.
Other pretzel-lovers credit Christian monks with the invention of the bread's unique shape, suggesting the three interlocking segments represent the concept of the holy trinity. Certainly pretzels were traditionally a treat reserved for religious feast days and festivals: there are different recipes, for example, for New Year pretzels (Neujahrsbrezel) and Palm Sunday pretzels (Palmbrezel).
The Laugenbrezel gets its brown glazed crust from being blanched in a salty solution before it's baked. According to Culinaria, this typically Bavarian salt glaze originated in 1839 when baker Anton Pfannenbrenner mistakenly brushed the dough with a lye solution meant for cleaning. Legend has it that he baked them anyway, creating a chemical reaction which resulted in the golden glazed, salty pretzel we know today.
For this recipe, we've opted for a solution made using bicarbonate of soda instead of lye and added a good pinch of salt to the dough to give the bread its signature look and taste.
A scattering of coarse salt flakes and some thirst-quenching Bavarian lager are the only accompaniments required. It's the kind of snack that would find a very warm reception at any of the impending football finals parties (that is, if you need another excuse to get baking).
Combine yeast, sugar, 2 tsp fine sea salt and 60ml warm water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Cover and set aside in a warm place until starting to foam (5-7 minutes). Add flour and 250ml warm water and knead until smooth (5-6 minutes). Add butter a little at a time, mixing continuously until incorporated and dough is very smooth (3-4 minutes). Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and set aside to rest in a warm place until doubled in size (1-1½ hours).
Knock back dough and divide into 6 even pieces. Roll each piece on a work surface to 45cm long so it tapers at the ends and is thicker in the middle (wet hands slightly to assist with rolling). Bring ends inwards and cross over once, then twist once more, then fold back and press ends onto the thicker side to create the pretzel shape. Place on a tray lined with baking paper.
Preheat oven to 200C. Bring 5 litres water to the simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add bicarbonate of soda, stir to combine, then carefully add pretzels one at a time and blanch, turning once, until floating and slightly puffed (30 seconds). Remove with a slotted spoon and place on trays lined with baking paper. Brush with egg yolk, scatter with salt flakes and bake, swapping trays halfway through cooking, until golden brown (15-20 minutes). Serve warm.