Pretzels most likely originated among monasteries in Europe, and their distinct shape is said to represent hands in prayer. Then in the 18th Century, German and Swiss immigrants introduced them to the US, and it soon became part of their cuisine.
Anyway. There doesn't seem to be much literature online on the differences between American and German pretzels, but by looking at different recipes, I've found that:
1. American recipes usually ask for all purpose flour, i.e. low gluten flour, whereas German pretzel recipes ask for bread flour.
2. American recipes say it's fine to just dunk the pretzels in a bicarbonate of soda solution water before baking, but the German ones strongly recommend the sodium hydroxide that's actually quite difficult to acquire.
And the difference in results? Color - the sodium hydroxide gives German pretzels their distinct dark color, but as you can see, with sodium bicarbonate you just get a golden brown. Then it's texture: German ones are very chewy whereas these are soft and buttery, like dinner rolls.
So I made them following an American recipe, and they turned out great, aside fro the fact that they were burnt since I had left them in the oven for too long... They still tasted great though!
makes a dozen pretzels
recipe adapted from All Recipes
4 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 1/4 cup warm water
5 cups plain flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup baking soda
4 cups hot water
coarse salt, for sprinkling
speculoos spread, or nutella or jam.
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in 1 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center; add the oil and yeast mixture. Mix and form into a dough. If the mixture is dry, add one or two more tablespoons of water. Knead the dough until smooth, about 7 to 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Grease 2 baking sheets.
In a large bowl, dissolve baking soda in 4 cups hot water; set aside. When risen, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces.
Roll each piece into a log, not too long, perhaps 20cm, and press down so that it forms a rectangle. Spread the spread right down the middle of the rectangle and pinch the sides together, making sure everything's enclosed. Roll it into a rope and twist into a pretzel shape.
Once all of the dough is shaped, dip each pretzel into the baking soda-hot water solution and place pretzels on baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake in preheated oven until browned, about 10 minutes.