One of my favorite ways to eat bread is in the form of soft pretzels and lye rolls/bars. These are a specialty from the south of Germany, essentially rolls or pretzels made out of a yeast-based white-flour dough which are dipped in lye solution and then sprinkled with bits of coarse salt. Back in the day, during my a five year involuntary stay in Swabia (where my husband lived at the time), I used to eat these all the time, for they were my absolute favorite. In the village I lived in there was one baker who had the best lye rolls and another one who made the best soft pretzels, so depending on what I would want to eat I would visit one or the other. One rule about both these is though: purists eat them with butter. I am not a big fan of a lot of salt, so peeling the coarse salt off the roll or pretzel was a well-observed ritual. I do enjoy one grain or two though, so I will always leave that many on my roll.
Here in Cologne, I have yet to find good pretzels. Acquaintances from Swabia always lament the lack of lye rolls and soft pretzels (and Spätzle and really nice bread) outside of southern Germany, and while I agree, I am happy to be living elsewhere now, surrounded by (for German standards) cheerful people. But I do miss starting my day with a soft pretzel with a bit of butter through its middle and crunching on the crispy top part. Now that I can’t eat the mediocre bread that I could in theory buy in Cologne’s bakeries any more and the packaged pretzels I have come by until now have been less than spectacular, I may as well learn to make my own.
I met some people from the German celiac forum some weeks ago and one of them mentioned that one of his acquaintances makes the most delicious gluten-free pretzels for their regional celiac group meetings, so making my own has been my plan for a while. I was lucky to come by a recipe for lye rolls through the German celiac forum on Facebook recently, thank you Katharina. I couldn’t wait to get started and now that it’s definitely fall as of today, I thought it would be appropriate to turn on the oven again. Throughout the process of making this recipe I was highly skeptical that the results would be worth the ingredients, but lo and behold like magic they were the most delicious lye rolls. I also made pretzels, but they didn’t turn out as I would have liked, so I recommend you make either lye bars with this dough so that you may the enjoy the results thoroughly. They are crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. My husband, who is also a big lye bread and soft pretzel fan, really enjoyed them, too. This recipe is based on one published by Hammermühle, a highly regarded company in celiac circles. They make some of my favourite bread.
Ingredients for about eight to ten rolls:
500g universal gluten-free flour mix
100 or 150 g buckwheat flour (or whole grain rice flour; I added both)
9g dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp xanthan and guar gum/carob and arrowroot flour mix
125g low-fat quark (http://germanfood.about.com/od/resources/r/Homemade_Quark.htm)
125g sour cream (I am sure you can also use yoghurt instead; ommit these for a vegan option and add a bit more oil; see below)
150ml soda water
3 tbsp vegetable oil (6 tbsp for a vegan option)
lye solution or baking soda
Activate the yeast by putting the contents of the package into a bowl, adding the sugar and covering with hand-warm water. Add a bit of the gluten-free flour-mix and mix into a soft mass without any lumps. Let rise in a warm spot for about ten minutes.
In a separate bowl, add the rest of the universal gluten-free flour-mix, the baking powder, the salt, the quark, the sour cream, the xanthan gum-mix and knead into a smooth dough with the water and the oil. Add the yeast-mix and knead both doughs into each other until they are one homogenous mass. If the dough sticks to your hand (it was way liquid for me, add the buckwheat or whole grain rice flour. I added a lot of additional flour until I had a dough at hand that I could shape into buns. Forming pretzels was almost impossible and I didn’t want to add even more flour for fear that the results would come out too dry. Maybe next time, I will divide the dough into two batches, and then add more flour to the second batch and try forming pretzels out of these. Drench a cloth entirely with water and drain. Place damp cloth on top of the bowl with the dough and then let rise in a warm place (e.g. your oven which you have heated up for a minute to 50 °C) for two to three hours.
Prepare the lye solution in a pot. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Take a handful of dough out of the bowl and form into a roll. With a spatula place the roll into the lye solution until covered entirely, then place onto the baking parchment. With a knife, cut two parallel, slanted lines into the roll, about half a centimeter deep. Sprinkle with coarse salt (or if you are so inclined with a bit of cheese, such as emmental or gouda, but I’m no big fan of this version). Repeat with the remainder of the dough until there is none left.
Bake at 190 °C for twenty to twenty five minutes until the rolls are done and have a dark brown color. I got the best color results when diluting one tablespoon baking soda in a tablespoon of water and brushing them with the solution after about ten minutes into the baking process. Once they are ready, turn off the oven, let the rolls cool and then peel off the baking parchment. They are delicious when eaten while they are already cold on the outside, but still warm on the inside.