Good Bread

Stories about the loaves we love.

New York's Best Pretzel is Made by an Italian in the Bronx

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee, unless otherwise noted]

Sometimes good bread happens in circuitous ways. Alexis Faraci has roots in the Bronx and Italy, not Germany, but she has built the city's best pretzel bakery.

Here's how it happened: She loved baking and wanted to open her own business, a bakery in the Bronx. She didn't want to overlap with any other bakery's trade, so she thought, "How about pretzels?" She baked a batch from a recipe and gave one to a German friend, who said, "Pretty good." A promising start.

She kept working and began an e-mail correspondence with a baker in Germany who guided her step-by-step through the pretzel-baking process. After months of testing, she arrived at the perfect pretzel recipe, one that met the full approval of her German friends.

Alexis found ovens for her Bronx Baking Co. on City Island and began to pitch her product around town. What really got the business off the ground, however, was her invention of the Bacon Pretzel. She loves to play with pretzel dough—she also invented the Pretzel Calzone—so wrapping the arms of a pretzel with bacon seemed like a natural choice.

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Today her Bronx pretzels and pretzel rolls are sold at Gourmet Garage stores and shops like Green Grape in Brooklyn. The bacon pretzel is only available at Dive Bar and at the Bronx Baking Co. stand at Smorgasburg. (More vendors here.)

The basic dough for Bronx Baking Co. pretzels is made from a mixture of high gluten flour, salt, sugar, butter, water, and yeast. What makes pretzels different from other breads is that the twisted dough is dipped into an aqueous solution of 4% lye. This gives the finished product its distinctive brown color and also its salty, slightly bitter taste. Without lye, a product would taste like any old white bread.

The basic Bronx Baking Co. Pretzel ($3) adheres very closely to the classic German model. Colored a deep brown, it's a loop of dough that has been twisted back on itself. Unlike those puffy and oversized street pretzels, this is divided into distinct sections for different textures. At the bottom of the loop you find a bulge, scored and sprinkled with salt, that's the softest part of the bread. Splaying out from the twist, the ends are much thinner and crisper, for those that prefer their pretzels crunchy. Wherever you bite, the pretzel has a thin and slightly leathery crust covering a dense but buttery crumb. All you need is some mustard and a stein of beer.

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Bacon pretzel. [Photograph: Andrew Coe]

The bakery's Bacon Pretzel ($4) is simply a regular pretzel with a slice or two of bacon wrapped around the pretzel's bulge. It comes out of the oven with both bacon and pretzel perfectly cooked. The two go so well together one wonders why it hasn't been marketed much before, a noteworthy thing considering the pretzel's thousand-year baking history. Bronx Baking Co. also makes excellent chocolate pretzels and a wide range of pretzel-based novelties, including pretzel tacos and pretzel pitas.

About the author: Andrew Coe is the only reporter covering the city's bread beat.

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