A guy walks onto a train carrying a suitcase full of beer, sausage and a big pretzel.

Sounds like the opening line of a joke. But it's actually a scene that inspired Andrea Slonecker's passion for Bavarian soft pretzels.

"I was on a train in Germany, and this man in a suit opened his suitcase and that was his breakfast," she says. Curiosity and lots of tinkering led her to write Pretzel Making at Home ($17).


We're a little obsessed, too--especially with the idea that you can make mahogany-hued perfect pretzels at home: warm, chewy, crunchy and covered with flaky sea salt.

Although she showed us how to dip the pretzels in a traditional lye bath that gives a pretzel its distinctive sheen and crunch, working with lye can be complicated. Slonecker's pro-tzel tips include replacing it with baked baking soda (see the recipe). She also advises rolling the dough into logs that are thicker in the middle and thinner at the ends so you get two different textures in the finished pretzel.

Intimidated? Fear not the knot. "The dough is very forgiving," Slonecker promises. "It will be perfect when it comes out of the oven."

And when it does, skip the briefcase and German train. Slonecker suggests eating them hot with only a pat of cold butter. It's a classic that doesn't need a twist.