At Brot Bakehouse in Fairfax, Heike Meyer stores and shares German recipes | Food and drink

At Brot Bakehouse in Fairfax, Heike Meyer stores and shares German recipes |  Food and drink

FAIRFAX — Every year, Heike Meyer dedicates the first weekend of October to making pretzels.

Bee Brot Bakhuis, the school and kitchen she started in Fairfax in 2008, Meyer bakes more than 100 pretzels for a special Oktoberfest dinner at Burlington and her Fairfax neighbors.

“It’s great fun, because it’s a bit like the beginning of autumn,” she said, sipping a strong cappuccino in her kitchen.

Born in Berlin and raised in northern Germany, Meyer knows how to twist her dough into the right shape before putting the pretzels on sheets of parchment paper. They rest in the barn fridge before being baked in her German made oven for 10-12 minutes or when they turn a perfect brown color.

“When we lived in New York, I bought [a pretzel] in Central Park, from one of the vendors, and it was so awful. I couldn’t eat it,” she said Friday.

Hair with a yellow headscarf pulled from her face, Meyer leaned against her butcher’s island, set with a slice of good cheese, a pitcher of lemon water, butter in a ceramic bowl, and fresh flowers. A batch of pretzels cooled on a baking rack.

“I’m normally not that picky about recipes, but pretzels are a bit of an exception because they can be slaughtered in such a way that they don’t really look like anything from the original. I try to keep the original recipes that came from Europe,” she said.

Freshly baked pretzels and pretzel rolls in the Bavarian and Swabian tradition cool in the Brot kitchen. Meyer baked about 100 pretzels on Friday to serve at an authentic Oktoberfest dinner.

Meyer learned the craft of baking at Weichard Brot, the oldest biodynamic bakery in Berlin, and at the German National Baking Academy in Weinheim.

She has traveled extensively and shared her love of all things bread with some of the best bakers in the world such as Nicolas Supiot at Les jardins de Siloé in France, Chad Robertson at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco and Jeffrey Hamelman at King Arthur Baking in Vermont.

After a five-year stint in New York City, Meyer and her husband, Jens, bought land off Meade Road in Fairfax. Complete with a barn, ridge view and stone main house with a post-and-beam addition, perfect for a professional kitchen, the pair sold on the property’s charms.

“We loved the feeling of living in Vermont,” Meyer said. “I don’t know what it was, but it was something else.”

Open Brot

After a few years of juggling lessons and retail production baking, Meyer decided to focus solely on teaching, a skill she said came naturally to her.

“I get really excited about bread and baking and especially sourdough,” she said.

Brot Bakehouse offers educational workshops most weekends from May to December. The most popular class is Sourdough 101, which guides amateur bakers through the care, storage, and baking of a sourdough culture.

Classes are small, with less than a dozen students gathered around the butcher’s block for hands-on learning. Online registration fills up quickly.

Meyer also opens up the kitchen for private lessons for friends and family, reunions, or corporate bonding activities. This week, a German language class from Milton High School is visiting for a lesson taught partly in German.

In the winter, Brot’s classes will be online as a precaution. Meyer will be joined virtually in several classes this year by guest lecturers such as German pastry chef Thomas Jung and Jeffrey Hamelman of King Arthur.

Heike Meyer's Stollen

Heike Meyer’s Stollen, made in the Dresden tradition, is a holiday bread with raisins and almonds.

Pretzels are not the only German specialty in her repertoire. Meyer is also known for her Dresden-style Stollen, a bread made with raisins and almonds. Plätzchen, delicate German Christmas cookies such as zimtsterne, vanilla kipferl, linzers and rumkugels are also part of its holiday class offerings.

On some summer and fall weekends, Meyer’s whole wheat bread can be found at Hudak Farms in Swanton and on the menu at Misery Loves Co. in Winooski. A selection of her sourdough pastries are available at Onyx Tonics Specialty Coffee in Burlington.

Pretzel Traditions

Pretzels are on the menu in Vermont in the taproom of more than one craft brewery. Sprinkled with salt and served in a basket of mustard or a “beer cheese”, they are an aperitif that goes well with a saison and the summer sun.

But in Germany, pretzels are not a snack. They’re taken seriously, Meyer said, serving as part of a meal alongside sausage and sauerkraut, pickles and other condiments.

Pretzels are especially popular in Bavaria and Swabia, two regions of southern Germany where they are available all year round.

“They are a normal part of your daily diet,” Meyer said. “People sometimes eat two or three pretzels a day, in the morning, at lunch, in the evening.”

Heike Meyer making pretzel

Heike Meyer dips her pretzels in lye before baking. Lye, also known as sodium hydroxide, gives pretzels their glossy, mahogany color.

Made from sourdough and spelled, Meyer’s pretzels have a nutty and savory taste that is true to Swabian tradition. Bavarian pretzels are usually made from wheat.

The two regions also shape their pretzels differently. Swabian pretzels are made all the way around the same thickness, while Bavarian pretzels are thick on the top and thinner on the arms, or where the dough turns inward.

To make Bavarian-style pretzels, Meyer also lightly indents the dough so that it pops open, revealing the softer insides.

German pretzels are also traditionally dipped in a lye solution known as sodium hydroxide, which must be handled with care. Irritant and corrosive, the solution becomes safe to eat after baking, when it neutralizes with heat and gives pretzels a crispy outer crust and their glossy, reddish-brown color.

Meyer wore an apron and her glasses and dipped two at a time in a lye bath before placing them in the oven. Ten minutes later the timer beeped.

“I’m looking for some more color, like this one here,” she said, pointing to a pretzel the color of polished mahogany.

The tray went in for another minute, their smell plagued.

“Here we go,” she said, ripping the hot pretzels off the parchment paper and pulling them onto shared plates. “They’re really good if you just have some cheese on them or a little bit of pickle.”