Zoss’s Bavarian Pretzel

Roll out the barrel. It’s time for music and pretzels and beer.

An Oktoberfest tradition, soft pretzels arguably may be the world’s oldest snack, but they are undeniably one of America’s favorites, especially at this time of year, with a side of ice-cold beer.

Satisfying the quest for authentic soft pretzels to accompany a local brew in any season, artisan baker Kurt Zoss, owner of Zoss the Swiss Baker, specializes in handcrafted Bavarian pretzels at his Cleveland Heights bakery.

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“The secret to authentic Bavarian-style pretzels is the quick application of a lye solution just before the pretzels are baked,” Kurt says. Not to worry about the caustic qualities, however. The substance is neutralized during baking. The result is a pretzel with a glossy, dark brown skin, at once crusty on the outside and incredibly soft on the inside. Sprinkled with just the right amount of crunchy salt, the unique flavor truly reflects a taste of Europe.

From the beginning of September through October, in addition to bakery orders, Zoss supplies brewpubs, bars, and businesses with pretzels as large as 16 ounces. After all, it is the tradition to celebrate Germany’s famous fest with super-size steins of beer and equally immense Bavarian pretzels. “During this time, we bake over 2,000 pretzels a week,” Kurt says.

What to eat with a soft pretzel fresh from the oven? Butter. The pretzels also are sliced to make sandwiches with prosciutto and cheese. Zoss makes pretzels in all shapes and sizes—from traditional twists to braided loaves, rolls, sticks, pretzel bites, and even mice.

Learning the art as a child in his uncle’s bakery in Zurich, Kurt at age 16 became an apprentice in a bakery in the same city. Eventually taking a job at the James Beard award-winning La Brea Bakery in California, Kurt honed his considerable baking talent. By the time he moved back to Zurich with wife, Barbara, he was fully versed in the art of sourdough bread baking.

Barbara grew up in Northeast Ohio. With an opportunity to launch their own business, Kurt and Barbara moved to Cleveland Heights and opened their bakery in 1996. They offer a variety of breads, including sourdough specialties, tarts, pastries, and cookies. However, pretzels remain a signature part of their business year-round.

The bakery wholesales to Market Garden Brewery, Tremont Tap House, Butcher & The Brewer, Hansa Brewery, Heinen’s, and others. Pretzel enthusiasts also will find a stand at Progressive Field. In exchange for spent barley and expired beer for baked goods, they have partnership with Great Lakes Brewing Company.

“Pretzel-making really is an art form,” Barbara says. “When I see an advertisement, I can always identify if our pretzels are in the photo.”

Prost!

Zoss The Swiss Baker is located at 12397 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights. For more information, call 216.368.4055.