It’s true. We are delighted to finally having cracked it, and so is the local mini-community of German expats. The key is quite simply to use the correct lye, not an improvised substitute. It takes proper Bretzellauge (caustic soda) in a solution of 35..40g sodium hydroxide on one litre of water. Everything else is easy-peasy, really:
20g fresh yeast
400g white wheat flour
1 tablespoon of soft butter
225ml water (or replace half the water with milk)
Knead. Knead thoroughly for gluten-rich hearty results, knead quickly for the brioche-like more fluffy variety (the one using milk and water). Form pretzels or rolls right away, then let sit and rise for 10 minutes.
Then on with the goggles and protective gloves, and dip the dough pieces into the lye, simply in and straight out again. Place on a tray and let rise for another 30min, sprinkle with course salt, make small nice cuts and bake at 200C for 20min.
Meanwhile, use a funnel to return the lye to a glass bottle, as you can use it over and over again.
(The picture shows the very first attempt, so please ignore the not so perfect pretzel shape. I’m learning. I’m also still working on the support, baking parchment is less than ideal given that the dough pieces are wet, soaking through the paper.)