13 September 2009

so German it almost hurts

Close your eyes and think 'Germany'.

Think autumn. Think Oktoberfest.
(Which never fails to irritate me as it is being held in September.)

You see beer? Lederhosen? Spit-roasted suckling pig? Cool.

But I wasn't aiming that high with my projects, at least not yet. No, rather simple but still so German it almost hurts: Brezeln.

Emboldened by my recent successes in baking, I have lately been trying my luck with 'Brezeln', or pretzels, and generally all kinds of baked goods dipped in lye.

Actually, is there any other way to translate 'Laugengebäck' other than 'lye pastry'? That really sounds too weird to my ears, like apple pockets and lye.

Dipping dough in lye before it is baked is a tradition in Germany and surrounding countries that is far wider than just pretzels. Though 'Brezn' are by far the most common version in many shapes, you can theoretically use any dough. A short bath in lye adds a very specific, savoury taste and a lovely deep colour. And at least in my area, lye croissants are giving the classic pretzels a real competition.

Curious as I am, I have been experimenting a lot, and together with this post on 'Hefe und Mehr' which I found via Yeast Spotting, I stumbled upon a real treat - kaiser lye rolls.

Very pretty, assertively savoury rolls with a glossy crust and a fine crumb and a nice but not overly obvious part of whole grain flours. And dead simple to make. What more could I ask for?

kaiser lye rolls
(makes eight rolls)

for the rolls:
350g bread baking flour
100g whole wheat flour (German type 1050)
50g coarse rye meal
250ml lukewarm water
50g butter
1 sachet active dry yeast (about 12g)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt

for the lye:
1l water
30g sodium hydroxide pellets

On the day before baking, mix all the ingredients for the dough in a large bowl. Knead until smooth (first gluten developement).

Store the dough in a cool place (cellar or upper area of fridge) for twelve hours.

On the day of baking, degas the dough and cut into eight pieces. Roll each into a string of about 60cm (four to six hands wide).

Make a knot (see here for instructions) and leave to rest for about 45 minutes, until the rolls have gained about one-and-a-half time their original volume.
Do not cover the rolls during this time. Just let them dry out a little, it'll make them easier to handle and they'll take up the lye all the better.

Meanwhile, prepare the lye. Pour the cool(!) water into a metal or glass bowl. Add the pellets and occasionally stir until the lye is clear again and the pellets are completely dissolved.
Two words on lye - while the final lye is relatively harmless, the pellets are not. Never touch them with your bare hands, never pour water onto them or use a wet towel to wipe them up if spilled. Just keep them dry until you put them into a lot of water, and all will be fine. Do not boil the lye.
Also, while the final lye IS caustic, it'll not eat away any of your equipment or digits if spilled. You can simply wipe it off, just use some clear water to wipe after.
But - if you have wooden countertops that are merely oiled, it
will stain them a lovely dark brown, just like the rolls. My freckled countertop is living proof to that, sadly so.

When the rolls are ready, individually dip them into the lye for about 15 to 30 seconds each.

Transfer onto a baking sheet, making sure there is no (or only a little) lye pooling in the centre of the crown.
One tiny disclaimer - I have no idea of the effect of lye on silicon baking sheets. Don't blame me if things go boom.

Bake for about 20 minutes at 190°C, no steam necessary, until well browned.

These rolls are best eaten fresh, but can be quite well frozen and crisped up again.
Cold & old, they're plain vile.

The lye rolls hold up especially well against strong toppings. I had some smoked trout and horseradish on them for breakfast, and the combination was a perfect match. On the other hand,  my wife prefers them with plain cream cheese, so what do I know.

P.S.: Again, I will submit this post to the YeastSpotting section of Susan's formidable blog Wild Yeast. As already mentioned above, it is a constant source of inspiration for me.


Susan/Wild Yeast said...

I had no idea lye was used for baked things other than pretzels. The rolls look beautiful, and thanks for the tips on working with lye. I'm afraid of it, but maybe I don't need to be.

Laura said...

perfect looking rolls . . .

Mary Bergfeld said...

Reuben, these look wonderful. The tips on working with lye will be really helpful. I've made Kaiser rolls but the recipe I used was not as authentic as yours. Re Oktoberfest: you forgot the chickens when you were talking about the food served during the festival. Have a wonderful day.

Reuben Morningchilde said...

Susan - thanks! There really is no need to be afraid of lye. It is way less dangerous than most detergents anyway, only with the added benefit of being edible.

Laura - well, the one in the picture looks good, admittedly. But we're better not talking about the rest of the dozen I made, are we, yes?

Mary - How could I forget the grilled chickens? (An Australian friend of ours, a real chicken gourmet, while visiting us, stopped dead in her tracks on the local market, mouth agape, pointing at the stall grilling chickens, and whispered in awe: "You've got chicken grease cascades...!" So really, how could I forget?!) Thanks a lot for dropping by!

denimadept said...

Because of the way it reacts with some metals, I'd strongly recommend against using any metal tools or bowls with this solution, or with the dipped pretzels before they're baked.

Reuben Morningchilde said...

@denimadept - Interesting statement. What metals are you talking about? As far as I know, none of those that are used in the kitchen react to lye, and definitely not in this concentration. Curious to learn more.