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A local bakery is going out of business and they sell the most delicious bread. The pretzel bread is my favorite. All of their loaves tend to be heavy and dense, they stand up well to slicing, and the bread is soft and chewy when you bite into it. Any advice on how to try and duplicate it? The owner told me that the bread is made completely by hand, that was the only thing he would give away. The loaf of pretzel bread that I bought today weighs 1 pound 12 ounces.

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    I wonder if the baker being the kind of person who won't share baking tips with fans of their work is related to them going out of business. – Preston Jun 27 '15 at 22:58
  • @Preston- I was a little annoyed when I offered to pay for a recipe and the baker acted like he was insulted as he flamboyantly waved his arms and said "No! Nooooo, noooo, no! No way! Those are my personal recipes. That's my business!". I really had to stop myself from saying "yeah, and your business has failed!". Instead I just explained to him that I understood, but I just really wanted to duplicate the bread at home, because nobody in the area has bread that good. – Kris Jun 28 '15 at 13:12
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    The store used to be a Breadsmith franchise and then suddenly one day I noticed that the "mith" had been knocked off of the store front, so it read "Breads". I was just looking at the Breadsmith website and every bread that the store sells is listed on their website. I'm beginning to think that those are not the owners personal recipes that he came up with on his own, like he claims them to be. – Kris Jun 28 '15 at 13:16
  • The "going out of business owner" sounds like a real horse's posterior (probably somewhat related) - I'd be leery of taking anything the guy says at face value, from what you have reported so far (ie, he's probably fibbed in what he has told you and other customers) - you've already found the fib in the "personal" recipes, odds are good that "all handmade" and "no fats/oils" may also not be true. At the least, be skeptical. – Ecnerwal Jun 28 '15 at 20:28
  • Breadsmith is a kosher bakery and, as such, are completely non-dairy (everything is pareve). Therefore, it is very likely that this recipe is dairy-free. It might have oils, though, but pretzels typically don't, so I would guess that it is in fact fat free. – ESultanik Oct 22 '15 at 14:06
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If it's pretzel bread, it may be dipped in a hot soda solution before baking, or lye for the brave and very, very careful. That would mostly be about the crust, rather than the density.

Several sources suggest baking baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to convert it to (food grade) sodium carbonate for a stronger (than bicarbonate) alkali without needing to find (or handle) food grade lye (sodium hydroxide.) What is easily available varies by region, what you are comfortable using varies by person and over time. Washing soda is sodium carbonate, but is not food grade.

There are many ways to get dense bread:

  • Adding low-gluten or non-gluten flours (rye, oats, rice, barley, masa harina, bean flours, (or non-flour items, such as boiled or baked potatoes rather than "potato flour" or instant mashed potatoes, cooked & mashed beans rather than bean flour.)
  • Not letting it rise as long. Letting it rise too long. The former is preferable.
  • Putting in more flour, especially if you tend to the "super-soggy dough" end of the spectrum. Of course, if you are starting your baking efforts with trying to replicate this, you may not have a place that you tend yet. Aim for a firm dough that does not stick to your hands when working it, which is considerably drier than most baking instruction [which is chasing the elusive baguette] tends to want you to go.
  • Cook a bit cooler for a longer time.
  • He also told the other customer that there are no fats or oils in the breads. – Kris Jun 27 '15 at 22:05
  • You can also get dense bread by using a high gluten flour (like bagels)! Oh, the complexity of bread! – SourDoh Oct 23 '15 at 4:04
  • @SourDoh - the suggestions are not cumulative (that is, every point other than the first will work with high-gluten flour, and the "putting in more flour" one is particularly applicable to bagels. I rather like that pretty much whatever you do, it comes out bread [I just made a batch with mostly cake and pastry flour, which some fool (not, for once, me) had stuck into the "bread flour" container. A bit different, to be sure. But not "ruined" and not "not bread" - just different.] – Ecnerwal Oct 23 '15 at 19:23
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This has the looks of a heavily enriched bread. Being dense is only a side effect of this. The taste people like in enriched bread doesn't come from being dense, and if you tried any other method of making it dense (e.g. using whole flours), you'd be disappointed.

Look for recipes which use sufficient milk, fat and eggs, and try these. Although lots of fat will make it tender, not chewy. But maybe you didn't mean "chewy" as in gluten-chewy (typical for bread, gets reduced with fat) but as in doughy (turns slightly sticky when compressed).

From the looks of that loaf, most of its enrichment comes from milk, with some egg, but not too egg-heavy (will be easier to tell if you say the picture was correctly white balanced). It possibly has sugar too, but not very much of it. I'd have to touch and eat it to know if it has more fat added than what comes from whole milk. Try a standard milky recipe, or maybe a Rosinenkranz without the raisins and 1/3 of the sugar.

If you like the crust's chewiness, that indeed comes from the lye in a pretzel bread. I don't find soda to be an adequate substitute, you need much higher pH than that. It may be easier to first try to replicate the crumb properly and once you're OK with that, start experimenting with bathing the crust.

If you are a novice baker, you should 1) also learn the correct process of breadmaking (to spot bad recipes which cut corners and can't replicate properly made bread) and 2) learn correct yeast ratios. Most home recipes use awful amounts of yeast. Especially with the kind of crumb you want, too much yeast won't work well. 2% fresh or 0.7% dry is plenty (that's baker's percentages, 2% means 2 g per 100 g flour, not per 100 g dough), lower goes too. Enriched bread can take some more, but I wouldn't suggest it for dense crumb. If the recipe wants more, still use only 2% and disregard their proofing time suggestion, proofing until it has doubled its volume in each phase.

The one thing which has me somewhat puzzled, as mentioned above, is that this results in a bread which is very tasty and has the look you photographed, but is not what I'd call chewy - as Stephie called it in a comment, "Muerbes Brot", which is an adjective normally connected with shortbread pastry crusts which fall apart in the mouth. If you find it insufficiently chewy, but everything else is all right, try with with somewhat stronger flour (I assume you are from the US based on the way you use the term "pretzel", so you should have access to various strengths of bread flour), maybe even bagel flour, or add gluten to your flour. But I'd start with standard bread flour (~12% gluten), that will already make it chewier than the European versions, they use AP flour.


Update I baked the Butterlaible Stephie suggested in the comments. I wish I could share with her the rep I'd get from this answer. It's a visual match at least. It's certainly dense, and while not "chewy" by my standards, it's also not as tender as some other enriched breads.

Butterlaible cut

A few notes:

  • I didn't use lye, this is an egg wash, so not Laugenbrot/pretzel in my case
  • I made it without malt, with less yeast (1.7 g for 250 g flour), left out the sugar for the sponge
  • the crumb is surprisingly yellowish, even though it contains no eggs. The recipe author mentions she used a yellow wheat too, if your baker has a yellower crumb, it might be caused by this wheat or be colored additionally with beta carotenes

Verdict: it's certainly a good place to start and see how well it matches. If it is a good overall match but missing some detail, you might want to ask another question for this one specifically.

  • @Stephie I find that "Laugenbroetchen + Salz" is a typical German combination, just like "chocolate and peanut butter" is a typical American one. Sure, it tastes good, but somebody from another country wouldn't feel that something is missing if a lye-dipped bread is not heavily salted. And breads from the brioche family tend to be sweet, so in this case, I'd go for slightly sweet, not slightly salty. Else, I agree that a Hefezopf recipe will be a good start. Something in the look of the bottom crust makes me think the tenderness in this loaf is more due to high lactose than to high fat. – rumtscho Jun 27 '15 at 9:58
  • @Stephie I had not encountered this specific bread type, but I assumed that the average eater will connect it with the standard meaning of mürbe, which I'd translate as "tender", or the opposite of "chewy". So, it is possible that the picture looks similar to the type of bread you describe, it's just that I'm a bit confused to whether the bakery's bread is "chewy" in the sense I would use, or if the OP is describing some other quality with that word. Also, this discussion makes me want to look up a recipe for Mürbes Brot and bake it, out of curiosity and also for having a treat. – rumtscho Jun 27 '15 at 14:34
  • @Stephie thank you, that's the link I found in a search a few hours earlier. It's undergoing first proofing as I type (but no malt, and with more gluten). I'll post results when it's ready. – rumtscho Jun 27 '15 at 16:58
  • Thank you for your suggestions! I overhead the baker today telling a customer that it's a traditional German soft pretzel dough. – Kris Jun 27 '15 at 22:00
  • @Kris look at my update, this might indeed be your bread, or at least a good approximation to start from – rumtscho Jun 28 '15 at 11:32
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You mentioned in the comments that the bakery used to be a Breadsmith franchise, and it is likely that the owner simply continued using Breadsmith's recipe. Here are the ingredients for the pretzel bread listed on an old (Google-cached) version of Breadsmith's website:

  1. unbleached, unbromated wheat flour;
  2. water;
  3. canola oil;
  4. sugar;
  5. barley malt;
  6. salt; and
  7. yeast.

Here is a recipe that I found that has most of the same ingredients in similar ordinal proportions:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/recipes/pretzels

The only difference is that this recipe contains milk instead of water, canola oil, and sugar. If you are fine using milk, then I would suggest trying that recipe. If not, here is a rough approximation of water/canola oil/sugar proportions to match the water/fat/sugar content of a cup of whole milk:

  • 200 mL water
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp sugar

I would also recommend warming the water, dissolving the sugar in it, and then blooming the yeast in it. The sugar will help feed the yeast.

That recipe doesn't include dipping the bread in an alkaline solution, though. Here is a good recipe that explains how to do it.

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