Warm, fresh pretzels and German beer gardens have always gone hand-in-hand, says Andrea Slonecker, author of "Pretzel Making at Home" (Chronicle Books, $16.95, 128 pages), but a new wave of beer gardens from Oregon and California to New York is elevating German cuisine.

"All over the East Coast and Northwest we're seeing these beer gardens," she says. "They grill German style sausages and hamburgers and make their own pretzels. There are also so many great bakeries that beer gardens and bars are buying them locally."

Unlike the wimpy, concession-style pretzels, many of these pretzels -- and Slonecker's homemade versions -- are dark-crusted creations made with beer or "liquid bread." The pretzels' flavors complement the complex craft brews sweeping the nation. Here are her tips to achieve the top quality effect at home:

1. Make your dough a day in advance so it can rise slowly in the refrigerator. In a cold environment, the activity of the yeast is slowed, allowing the flavor and structure of the dough to develop gradually.

2. To get the all-important dark, leathery crust, dip them in a food-grade lye solution -- or baked baking soda solution -- before baking.

3. Bake the pretzels immediately after dipping. Don't wait -- and don't forget to rotate your pans for even baking.



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