Laugengebäck is the broader term for any baked goods containing lye. We Swiss eat a lot of lye products – small soft breads such as pretzels, bread rolls, croissants, Zöpfli (small plaited buns) and the salty, crunchy snacks such as small pretzels, Salzstengeli (pretzel sticks) and the Kambly Fischli (little fish). And as with everything, homemade is often so much better than shop bought. It’s not even that much work; the dough is an enriched, Zopf-like dough containing milk and butter. The only additional step is dipping the breads into the lye before baking. That’s really all that’s needed. And they’re so versatile – you can make pretzels, bread rolls, plaited buns or any other shape and you can sprinkle them just with salt, or add any seeds you like. For mine I used a seed mix I bought in Coop, containing pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, various tiny seeds and buckwheat. Then you put them into the oven and can watch how they magically turn brown. It’s so much fun!
I like my Laugengebäck the best with a generous layer of good quality butter, there’s really nothing else needed. But of course, you can always add sliced cheese or some ham, salami or Fleischkäse and a few lettuce leaves for a tasty sandwich.
Note: I forgot to brush this batch here with milk after baking which is why they look less shiny than the bought ones. Just brush them with a little water according to the below recipe and they will look nice and shiny.
Recipe for 6-8 soft pretzels
- 500g (4 cups) plain flour or Zopf flour
- 3dl (10 fl oz) water, room temperature
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 60g (2.1 oz) butter, soft
- 2 tsp instant yeast (or 1 Swiss packet of instant yeast)
- 2 tbsps oil
- coarse salt
- seeds (optional)
- 100g (3.5 oz) soda lye (German: Natronlauge, available in Migros and Coop)
Add flour, sugar and salt to a bowl and mix.
Add the yeast, butter and water and stir until combined. Then knead for 10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes with an electric mixer. Add a little more water if the dough isn’t smooth.
Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with clingfilm and let it rest until doubled in size. This will take 1.5 to 2 hours.
Place the dough onto a flat surface and knock out the air with your hands. Cut the dough into 6-8 pieces and form pretzels according to the the below instructions, or make rolls or any other shapes.
Slightly grease a baking parchment and place the pretzels onto it. Cover them with a towel and let them prove for another 30 minutes.
In a pan, bring 1 litre (33 fl oz) of water with the soda lye to the boil and remove pan from the stove. Using a large spoon or ladle, dip each pretzel or bread roll into the water, drain it well and place back onto the baking parchment. Sprinkle with salt and seeds if desired. Repeat with the remaining breads and bake immediately at 200 C (390 F) for about 20 minutes. You know the breads are fully baked when they sound hollow if you knock their bottom side with your finger.
Brush them with milk while still hot for a shiny surface.
Handling soda lye
- Soda lye is highly caustic, so make sure you don’t touch the soda lye water with your skin and keep children away from it.
- It can be used 3-4 times and can be stored in an airtight glass jar for up to a month in the fridge.
- To dispose of the soda lye, bring it to a pharmacy or to a municipal recycling point where such substances are accepted (Switzerland).