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Sourdough Soft Pretzels with Obatzda Cheese Dip Recipe

Sourdough Soft Pretzels with Obatzda Cheese Dip

Warm, salty and satisfying, soft pretzels, or Brezn as they’re known in Bavaria, are one of life’s simple pleasures — and even more so when enjoyed fresh from the oven. They’re actually also incredibly rewarding to make. 

Pretzels have a long and complex history dating back 1500 years or more. Many of the theories about its origins tie into Christian symbolism: Some say the shape is reminiscent of arms crossed in prayer, or that the three holes represent the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit. One popular legend has it that a monk created the baked treat to reward his students for learning their prayers; pretiola means “little rewards” in Latin. Regardless of whether any of these theories are true, pretzels have earned a distinctive place in snack history beginning in Europe and later, across the world.

This recipe is an ode to the German archetype. We tapped German sourdough bread blogger Hendrick Kleinwaechter to fine tune this flame-cooked approach, using his experience to bring rich flavor and natural leavening to the dough. Because this recipe relies on a sourdough starter, be sure to begin preparing well in advance.

As for the dip, Obatzda is a popular dish to serve alongside soft pretzels in Bavaria. This Camembert and cream cheese dip takes its distinctive hue from paprika, then gets additional depth of flavor from finely diced onions and dark beer. The creamy, sharp profile of Obatzda is the perfect accessory to a soft, salty pretzel, and both go down swimmingly with a stein of good German beer. 

Notes:
You’ll need a mature sourdough starter for this recipe. Feed your stiff sourdough starter 24 to 48 hours before you want to prep your dough. Let it increase in size one and a half times (about 2 hours) before returning it to the fridge. (If you’re new to sourdough, a stiff starter is one that is two parts flour to one part water.)

Pretzels are often dipped in a food-safe lye solution just before baking, which gives this snack its shiny coat and picture-perfect scores. This process can be a bit intimidating, so we’re using an alternative solution of baking soda, salt, and boiling water, then finishing with a simple egg wash to achieve a similar effect. 

Yield
Makes 6 large pretzels

Time
1 to 2 hours active time; 3 to 4 hours total, excluding sourdough preparation

Equipment 
digital scale 
bench scraper 
cooling rack
pastry brush
Ooni pizza oven
Ooni Infrared Thermometer

Ingredients
For the pretzels
2 tablespoons (50 grams) stiff sourdough starter
1 ⅓ cups (300 grams) water
2 ¼ cups (500 grams) ‘00’ flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tablespoon (25 grams) butter
1 ¾ teaspoons (10 grams) salt
fine semolina flour, for dusting the peel

For the “lye” solution
2 ¼ cups (500 grams) water
1 ¾ teaspoons (10 grams) baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) salt

For the egg wash
1 egg
1 teaspoon (5 grams) water
pinch of salt for sprinkling (Pretzel salt is best, but coarse sea salt will work, too.)

For the Obatzda dip
9 ounces (250 grams) ripe Camembert, between 20 and 35 days before the use-by date
4 ½ ounces (125 grams) cream cheese 
½ white onion, finely chopped
2 ½ tablespoons (60 grams) butter
1 tablespoon paprika, sweet or spicy
salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces (60 grams) dark German beer
½ red onion, cut into rings
small bunch chives, finely chopped

Method
If mixing by hand: Dissolve the sourdough starter into the water. Add the flour, butter, and salt, then knead in the bowl for 5 minutes. Rest for 5 minutes, then repeat. Check the dough strength using the windowpane test: Stretch the dough carefully between your fingers, holding it up to the light. If you can see light through the dough, the gluten structure is strong. If the dough tears, rest it for 5 minutes, then knead for another 5 minutes. 

If mixing with a machine: In the bowl of your stand mixer, add the water, starter, flour, butter, and salt. Mix at medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough will be stiff, so it won't require much kneading. Perform a windowpane test; if the dough tears, rest it for 5 minutes, then knead for 5 minutes. 

Cover the dough with a damp towel and leave it to proof until it doubles in size. 

Punch the dough down to remove excess air, then transfer to a lightly floured kitchen counter or other  flat work surface. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough into 6 equal pieces.  (Use a digital scale if you want to ensure even sizing.) Roll each piece into a long rope. The dough will spring back, so just cover the dough with a damp cloth and check it every 10 minutes until the ‘rope’ is roughly 20 inches (50 centimeters) long.

To shape the pretzels, first form a horseshoe with the dough. Cross the two ropes over one another about two-thirds of the way up, then twist them once more, leaving an inch or two of the ends free. Pull the ends up and over the top of the horseshoe, pinching down on the thickest part of the dough to secure. Flip the pretzel over and set aside while you shape the remaining ropes. Cover and rest the pretzels for 15 minutes while you prepare the water solution.

In a large saucepan, prepare the “lye” solution: Bring the water, baking soda and salt to a boil. While you wait, prepare a simple egg wash. Mix an egg and one teaspoon of water in a small bowl and set it aside.

Prepare a cooling rack before gently submerging the first pretzel in the boiling solution. Cook for 30 seconds, flip, and then cook for 30 more seconds. Remove the pretzel with a slotted spatula and transfer to the rack. Repeat with the remaining pretzels. 

Use a pastry brush to lightly coat each pretzel with egg wash. Once you’ve brushed each pretzel, return to the first pretzel and repeat with another coat of wash. Sprinkle a good amount of coarse salt over the top of each one.

Fire up your Ooni oven, aiming for 480° F (250° C) on the stone baking board inside. 

When the oven is fully heated, carefully move one or two pretzels to a wooden peel lightly dusted with semolina. Slide the pretzels off the peel and into your oven. 

After 5 minutes, rotate the pretzels. Bake until the pretzels turn a deep golden brown on top, and have split at the thickest parts (about 20 minutes). To achieve a deeper color, you can increase the flame slightly for the last few minutes. Remove to the cooling rack and repeat with the remaining pretzels.

Allow the pretzels to cool briefly while you prepare the Obatzda dip. 

In a small bowl, gently mash the Camembert with a fork. Add the cream cheese, onions, butter, paprika, salt and pepper. Slowly add the beer, stirring gently to avoid splashing. Garnish with chopped chives and onion rings. 

Enjoy the warm pretzels and Obatzda together. Yum! 

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