In Germany, and especially in the Schwäbisch region, for over 300 years, it is a tradition to give and eat a Neujahrsbrezel (New Year’s pretzel) on the first day of the year. This pretzel symbolizes the bond and connection to others and it is supposed to bring love and good fortune to the coming year.
This pretzel is wonderful, buttery and ever so lightly sweet. It is similar to a brioche. It is available in every bakery in Germany and it can be enormous in size!
One of my father’s best friends was a baker. He was never able to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, he was a baker! But he often brought us a wonderful and fresh Neujahrsbrezel in the early morning on the first of the year.
4 cups all purpose flour (500 g)
1 packet of dry or fresh yeast
a scant 1/2 cup sugar (80 g)
1 egg at room temperature
3/4 cup milk (180 ml)
1 stick of butter (100 g) cut into cubes
zest of half a lemon
a pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon of heavy cream
Dissolve the dry yeast in a bit of warm water to activate it. Or, if you are using fresh yeast, sift the flour into your mixing bowl, press a little hole into the top of the flour, crumble the yeast into the hole and sprinkle the yeast with a little sugar to activate it. Let stand for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, heat the milk together with the butter in a heavy saucepan to lukewarm, just until the butter is melted. Add the flour to a mixing bowl together with the sugar, egg, lemon zest and salt. Add the activated yeast. I use my electric mixer for this dough, fitted with the pastry hook. I set the mixer on low speed and add the milk in a slow stream until the dough is well combined. Then I set the speed of the mixer to medium high and let the machine work the dough for a couple of minutes. If you do not have an electric mixer I recommend that you use a wooden spoon to combine this dough, work it well! Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
Use a little over 2 thirds of the dough to form a pretzel. Set it on a parchment lined baking sheet, or just line your oven rack with two sheets of parchment paper, since this pretzel is pretty big and might not fit onto your baking sheet.
Divide the other third of the dough into 3 equal portions, roll them to about 12" long and create a braid. Brush the braid with a little water on the underside and stick it to the pretzel. Traditionally, the Neujahrsbrezel is decorated with one braid on the bottom curve of the pretzel. You can also decorate your pretzel with hearts, swirls or the date of the new year. Let the pretzel rise for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Mix the egg yolk with the heavy cream and brush the pretzel with the mixture. Bake for 30 minutes.
Let the pretzel cool completely before cutting.
Happy New Year und ein gutes neues Jahr!
SOURCE: ADAPTED FROM A FAMILY RECIPE
PUBLISHED ON DECEMBER 31st, 2014