Pretzels are certainly one of the most widely known German foods and for very good reason. They are everywhere here. But pretzel is a shape, not a type of bread. Laugen (lye in English) is the bread type. Join me in an exploration of pretzels and laugen bread.
Bread Backed with Lye
What Americans see as pretzel bread is called Laugen, this is the bread type. In English the word Laugen is Lye, which is a very basic solution (as opposed to acid) often used in soap. The classic “pretzel” look of brown and smooth on the outside and soft and white on the inside comes from coating the bread in lye before baking. A more in depth description is here at wikipedia. They mention that baking soda is basic enough to work as well. I actually even remember making pretzels with a baking soda solution in high school as I was beginning to learn German. Unless they are stale, laugen breads from the bakery are soft not crispy.
A quick word about words:
- Laugen – Pronounced “Lau – gen” where the ‘Lau’ rhymes with house and the g is hard like in grape.
- Bretzel – This is the German word for pretzel and pronounced almost identically. The plural form is Bretzeln.
So laugen is the bread and pretzel is a shape. This shape is well known with the rounded bottom and crossed tailed laid back over it and the most common form of laugen bread that I have seen in my German travels. Laugen breads come in other very common shapes as well. Laugen shape are most often covered with grains of salt although sesame seeds and poppy seeds are common as well. In the fall come the pretzels covered from head to tail in pumpkin seeds.
In Many Forms
Other Things To Do With Pretzels
Given that laugen breads are so common, there are also many variations. The pretzel shape is as a filled version is most often cut in half and covered in butter. In perfect German language form this is called a “butter pretzel” (Butterbretzel, yup all one word). There is one bakery in town that does cremecheese instead of butter which is nice. The other shapes will also get split open and filled, but usually with salami or cheese and a slice of lettuce as a sandwich. These “belegte Brötchen” are available in every bakery and make good snacks for day trips. Like most sandwiches in Germany, they are also likely to have a layer of butter between the bread and the fillings, even if the filling is cheese.
I have seen Laugenstange (the rod shapes) with butter, though rarely. Another option for expansions upon a theme is having a piece of cheese (sometimes with a slice of ham underneath) baked over a pretzel. The snack is cooled and also available in bakeries.
Because pretzel is a shape not a bread, you get other types of pretzels too. There are sweet pretzels made of flaky pastry covered in glaze (called Rapunzel as I have seen) or pudding pretzels with the spaces filled with vanilla goo. I even saw a “Berliner Pretzel” at the bakery which was a donut made in that shape.
Pretzels and Mustard
Soft pretzels are something I remember from baseball games in the US, usually served with mustard. Germans do not put mustard on pretzels or really on bread at all. When asked I got the clear answer that mustard goes with the sausage (Wurst) not the pretzel. They may commonly be eaten together, especially sweet mustard with Weisswurst in Bavaria, but the mustard goes with the meat not the bread. So another odd food combination that came into the US. It must have all come together and due to whatever reason the sausage part of the trio dropped away.
What in the US are sold as pretzel sticks are here called Salzstange (salt sticks). Of course the snack food versions of pretzels and sticks are here as well. These are the more classically known small pretzels sold in bags next to the chips. These too are a form of laugen, but must be baked differently to be crispy. As mentioned above the pretzels from the bakery shouldn’t be crispy. I take that as a sign of them being stale.
Cheap Snacks For On The Go
Because the laugen breads are local and so popular, they are also cheap. I expect to pay 60 cents or so for a simple roll or pretzel and maybe 80 cents for a Zopf. A butter pretzel shouldn’t be more than 1.20 Euro. Every bakery in the south of Germany should have a range of these and given their popularity should have a good turnover. Buy salami or cheese and make your own sandwiches along the way.
More pictures can be found on the Grounded Traveler Facebook fanpage.
Submitted to My Expat Germany’s Food Friday on the Käse Spätzle Week.