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Making Bavarian Brezeln (Pretzels)

September 10th, 2009 2 comments

I love Brezeln. I could eat them every day and never get tired of them. Sadly they are hard to find here in NorCal, the ones sold at the mall pretzel places have nothing but the form in common with a real Laugenbrezel. So I decided to make them myself earlier this year. I posted this originally on eGullet, but since they were so good I will post it here too

First the recipe I used:
1package active dry yeast
warm water 350ml
brown sugar 1/3 cup (note, recipe says 1/3 cup or 80gr, but 80gr looked like a lot and did not fit in my 1/3 cup so I went with the smaller amount)
flour 520gr

4 quarts water
2Tsp lye (from certifiedlye.com)

I put the yeast, flour, sugar all together and then added the warm water, made the dough. Does not need to rise but probably did for 30min or so in the end. I did not see a difference between the first and last Brezeln, so the rise does not seem to have much effect.

I did not know if these will rise much in the oven, so I made them rather small compared to what you get in Germany (about hand size). They did not grow much, next time I’ll make them larger.

You roll the dough into a long sausage, then cut off pieces and form a long about thumb thick sausage. You make a loop, cross the ends over and fold them back on the loop. Easier to see in pictures (which I did not take but can be found in many books).

You add the lye to the water (never the other way around!) and heat it up to just boiling, then reduce heat a bit to keep it just very hot. Submerge each Brezel for some 30 or so seconds until they float and turn a light yellow. They might stick to the bottom of the pot, I found it best to sink them in with a spatula and then jiggle them a bit around so they did not make contact with the bottom of the pot.

I just put them on the baking sheet with salted parchment paper after I let most of the bath run off. (I later discarded the paper, it got all wobbly and brown after the 2nd batch. You must make sure though, that your sheet is non-reactive and especially not made of aluminum as lye will dissolve it) Sprinkle with some coarse salt (the larger the grains the better) and if you like with some seeds like anise or cumin. I baked them for about 10 min at 475 until they had a nice brown crust.

Here they are in all their glory:

Homemade Bavarian Brezeln

Homemade Bavarian Brezeln

Brezeln, crust and crumb

Brezeln, crust and crumb

They smelled and tasted absolutely authentic and I will make them again soon, the kids love them :-)

You can store these in a bag but they will turn a bit gummy, put them back in the oven the next day to get them nice and crunchy again. If you have left overs….
I sometimes spray them with some water and sprinkle some more salt on too, since most of the salt on there tends to dissolve over night.

Next recipe will be an adaption from a German book, once I can figure out if the 40gr of yeast are correct, as it seems like a lot for 600gr of flour?

Just to add, making the lye bath is little trouble, but you have to be careful. I wold recommend to use gloves and maybe even goggles. I wear glasses anyway and I passed on the gloves as I used a long slotted spatula and slotted spoon, but if you get this stuff on your skin it will burn you. I’m actually not sure if the solution would be strong enough to do so, but the pure lye definitely has to be handled with care. The recipe I used actually does not use lye, but 2Tsp of baking soda per each cup of water used (and you need enough to really have the Brezel float around). I went for the real thing and don’t really see it as much of a hassle at all, but the baking soda is an option if you rather don’t have hot corrosive liquids around. As long as you keep Aluminum far away and handle things somewhat careful you should be fine. certifiedlye.com has lots of info on their site, add some common sense and get baking! And with lye you can make some nice soap too if you want :-)

Categories: Baking Tags:

Germany and Austria – a food photo album part 4

September 3rd, 2009 Comments off

My family owns a small condo in Mühlbach am Hochkönig im Salzburger Land in Austria, a pretty little village with a copper mining history that goes back thousands of years (5000 if I recall correctly). We stayed there for a couple of days to go on smaller hikes (what a 2 year and a 6 year old can do). One fun thing in the Alps and elsewhere in Europe are the Almhütten, little huts formerly used as summer residence for farmers who brought their cattle and other animals up to the lush and tasty pastures once the snow of winter thawed. Nowadays many of those are at least partially rustic restaurants that serve traditional meats, cheeses, and breads that are often made on the premises. You also get to taste their fresh milk that tastes nothing like the manufactured slop in the supermarkets, their own butter and real butter milk. Real butter milk is basically what is left over after you made the butter, maybe mixed with some more fresh milk. There are little butter pieces here and there and it has a nice sour taste. Butter milk here in the US on the other hand is some cultured product that really has nothing to do with butter.

To close this travel report I thought I’ll show you some of the tasty fares we got to enjoy visiting some of these alms.

This first photo actually shows our first dinner with some of the wonderful wares we brought with us from Herrmannsdorf (see prior post). Excuse the plastic wrapping, I kept things wrapped for freshness, as we had enough for several meals.

Herrmannsdorfer Brotzeit

Herrmannsdorfer Brotzeit

Our first hike brought us to the Wildrauchegg Alm, where we enjoyed self made charcuterie and cheeses. The little pile of “shredded cheese” is actually freshly shredded horseradish, a delicious condiment I will have to make myself.

Lunch at Wildrauchegg Alm in Austria

Lunch at Wildrauchegg Alm in Austria

My son could not get enough of the fresh well water that runs continuously, according to him “this is how water should taste like, it’s the best I’ve ever had!”

The best water ever!

The best water ever!

Rooms (with optional views for the daring ones). Note the sink and mirror to the left.

Private rooms

Private rooms

The next day, my boy’s 6th birthday, we took a gondola up to the Karbach Alm, a small hut many years ago, now one of the main restaurants of the ski area in Mühlbach. I had Essig Wurst (vinegar sausage, thin slices with onion, vinegar and other condiments, my boy enjoyed his first Kaiserschmarrn, something like a scrambled pancake made with eggs and flour, served with apple sauce and a tangy berry preserve, and my wife enjoyed a soup with a cheesy baked dumpling that was quite delicious too.

Essigwurst

Essigwurst

Kaiserschmarn

Kaiserschmarrn

Soup with cheesy dumpling, once I remember the real name I will add it here

Soup with cheesy dumpling, once I remember the real name I will add it here

And to end this little food centric travel report, what better image than a great sunset enjoyed on the balcony of our condo!

Sunset

Sunset

And as a PS: back in Bavaria we went to a restaurant where I enjoyed Schlachtschüssel (slaughter bowl) with Blut und Leberwurst (blood and liver sausage), some boiled pork belly and meat. Delicious!

Liversausage, Bloodsausage, boiled pork belly and meat with potato and sauerkraut

Liversausage, Bloodsausage, boiled pork belly and meat with potato and sauerkraut

PPS: I’m still learning this wordpress thing, once I figure out how to get the images to go with the text I will update this article. Sorry for the odd layout!

Categories: Germany, Travel Tags:

Germany and Austria – a food photo album part 3

September 2nd, 2009 2 comments
Herrmannsdorf from the air; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

Herrmannsdorf from the air; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

I have family in Glonn, outside of Munich. A pretty little town in the rolling hills that slowly lead to the alps, which can be seen in the distance. What I did not know until this year is that Glonn is also the postal address of Herrmannsdorf, which is the most amazing all old fashioned all organic agricultural enterprises I’ve come across, especially considering it’s owners history.

I have to try hard not make this too long, I could write a book (there actually is a book) about Herrmannsdorf, so here goes:

There is a very large sausage maker called Herta in Europe. It was once the largest of them all, maybe still is. All industrial, using thousands of animals a day, turning them into lunch meats that end up all sealed in plastic in the supermarket, like so many here in the US too. Filled with who knows what, artificial taste enhancers, preservatives, colors, too much of what does not belong. You know what I mean. Produced from animals that are treated like parts in a car factory – if that well.

Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth      Foto: Hermmannsdorfer

Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

This company grew from a butcher shop founded by a Mr. Schweisfurth in northern Germany. Famous for it’s sausages in a working class town to several such stores, to a factory, to a larger factory and so forth. In the third generation is was led by Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth. He eventually visited the US, especially the gigantic slaughterhouses in Chicaco (if I recall correctly) and was impressed by the automation and conveyor belt process of slaughter to sausage to supermarket. Just as Henry Ford was impressed by the process way back when and applied it to his cars. Schweisfurth brought this knowledge with him back to Germany and turned his comparatively small operation into the largest meat producer in Europe, eventually processing 25.000 pigs and 5.000 cows per week into meat and sausage products that sold all over Europe.

Sometime around 1980 he decided to travel with his meat buyers to see where all this meat actually comes from, and was appalled by the way most of these animals were brought up. He had also gone through personal thought transitions that made him more aware of what was going on in the world. He realized that the meat quality of these tortured and imprisoned animals was nothing compared to the past, that the products could not really be called a food. In German, food is called a Lebens Mittel, deerived from the German word for food, Lebensmittle. It can be translated as life-sustainer or life-enabler and Mr. Schweisfurth seperated the two words to give each their own meaning back. The tortured souls crying from the supermarket shelves in their vacupacks did no longer fall under his definition of Lebens-Mittel . Add to this that his children were not interested in continuing his company once he retired and increasing doubt in what he had built, he decided to sell his company to Nestle for a what must have been a tremendous amount of money.

He decided to go back to the way things were in the past, humane treatment of the animals, ecological processes, striving for what a small village farm used to be way back before machines took over. He also set up the non profit Schweisfurth Stiftung to which he gave 50 million Euro. This non profit gives financial support to a wide variety of research into sustainable, healthy and humane agriculture and livestock treatment.

The gorgeous main residence

The gorgeous main residence

In 1986 he opened the Herrmannsdorfer Landwerkstätten. He had acquired an old large Ranch named Herrmanndorf (Hermann’s Village) that once housed 32 families, a small self sustaining village as there were many in Germany’s past. And he returned it to what it once was, raising pigs in the most humane way possible, preparing the most delicious meat products from them, including a fantastic prosciutto style ham and a mind blowing salami from what he calls WWW (Weide-Wühlen-Würmer, meaning free range animals that are never fed anything but the plants that are planted for them, the worms and roots they find, basically living in the wild). The pigs are a cross between a Schwäbisch Hällisch sow and a Pietrain. They are slaughtered in the most humane way and a lot of the meat is processed immediately, the traditional way Mr. Schweisfurth learned as a young man.

He also has beef from his Angus beef that he raises on a similar ranch not far away and there is a bakery that uses a variety of old fashioned grains like Dinkel and Emmer. Often using the flour the day after it was milled if not earlier. A brewery – Schweinsbräu – brews in the most old fashioned way (and the beer is fantastic!), a creamery makes everything from outstanding parmesan style aged cheese(called Der Alte – the old one) over soft cheeses like bri to their version of Emmentaler, called Glonntaler of course.

Happy piglets

Happy piglets

There is one gorgeous main building and a whole lot of outbuildings with stables, barns, basements etc. that form a square. He managed to transform this into what is today an outstanding example of sustainable and humane ranching, where you walk past

beautiful pigs that roam around to get to a very high quality restaurant or just sit in the beer garden or go shopping in the little store that sells all their wares. I was hoping to be accidentally get locked in there over night. Of course, it is not cheap (though still laughable compared to what we pay here!) but well worth every Euro. If you are ever in Munich and have a day, I urge you to go and visit, have a taste, buy a pick nick, eat in the beer garden or make reservations in the restaurant.

Herrmannsdorf is now largely run by one of the sons that had no interest in Herta, Karl Schweisfurth.

The store at Herrmannsdorf

The store at Herrmannsdorf

I could go on and on gushing about this place, it is a slice of heaven on earth. At least the kind of heaven I’d be happy to believe in. A gorgeous facility in a gorgeous landscape, the land of milk and honey, only that it’s rivers run with beer and the milk is cheese and the happy animals are cured, dried and sliced paper thin. I don’t usually get homesick for Germany, but just thinking of this place makes me want to pack my bags and start working for them or just mow the lawns or clean the stables in exchange for food.

I hope I made no mistakes in this article, it is based on my recollections of the book “Wenns um die Wurst geht” by Karl Ludwig Schweisfurt, his autobiography which I read in a day, as well as some information sheets I collected there. I gave the book to my father so I don’t have it handy as reference at the moment, please contact me if you find any mistakes. I also apologize for all the links to German websites, I could not find anything in English. I think wikipedia offers some translation service, but don’t know how good it is. I might translate some of the articles into English if I find the time one of these days.

I hope I sparked some interest in Herrmannsdorf and maybe one or the other might make the trip from Munich, outside of rush hour it takes about 45 min or so from downtown Munich by car. Very well worth the trip. You can also find their products in several stores in and around Munich and Bavaria, sadly they do not deliver.

It is an amazing story, especially with the history of Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth, whom many I’m sure considered crazy when he sold Herta and “went back to nature” in the mid eighties, when this still was a rather unusual step to take. Of courses the money he got in the sale of Herta helped establish this wonderful establishment as well as some other operations and his non-profit. He is fully aware of this and knows that not everybody can do this, but he also helped several other farms in the region to become part of his endeavor. And he has no illusion that somewhere in the future all supermarket meat will come from happy animals that danced with the butterflies, it’s simply not possible. But – and I fully agree – he believes that there is a room and a need for many more Herrmannsdörfer and that every little step counts, be it the little planter box in your backyard or an other large scale operation. Luckily we see more and more of this here in the US too. Support your local farms, ranches and fisheries, buy locally and buy organic where you can!

Mr. Schweisfurth is also a supporter of art, there is a hiking trail that leads past an interesting collection of modern art, most of which I have yet to explore. There was simply not enough time this year. But then, I will be back, no doubt! Many, many times.

Here are just a couple more photos of the many I took there:

Pigs being fed - whey I think in this case

Pigs being fed - whey I think in this case

What ever it is, it's tasty!

What ever it is, it's tasty!

A happy pig greets the shopper at the Hof Markt

A happy pig greets the shopper at the Hof Markt

The fresh baked breads

The fresh baked breads

A selection of the sausages, most made right there

A selection of the sausages, most made right there

Some of the wonderful cheeses, many of which are made on location

Some of the wonderful cheeses, many of which are made on location

Butchering meat; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

Butchering meat; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

A very big thank you to Herrmannsdorfer Landwerkstätten for allowing me to use some photos off their website, credited with “Foto: Herrmannsdorfer”

Next we’ll make a quick stop in Austria, which will most likely be the last chapter of this little travel album.

Karl and Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

Karl and Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

Caring for ripening cheese; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

Caring for ripening cheese; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

Bread with the Herrmannsdorfer clover insignia; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

Bread with the Herrmannsdorfer clover insignia; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer

Categories: Germany, Travel Tags: