Citizens, few things in life are as satisfying and toothsome to your beloved leader as a soft pretzel made in the traditional Bayerischer (Bavarian) style! Add in München (Munich) Oktoberfest, where I first tried these saline delights with a tall stein of Hefeweizen (wheat beer) and you have the makings of true gustatory ecstasy!
A pretzel is a type of baked bread product made from dough most commonly shaped into a twisted knot. Pretzels originated in Europe, possibly among monks in the Early Middle Ages.
The traditional pretzel shape is a distinctive nonsymmetrical form, with the ends of a long strip of dough intertwined and then twisted back into itself in a certain way (“a pretzel loop”).
Salt is the most common seasoning for pretzels, complementing the lye treatment that gives pretzels their traditional “skin” and flavor through the Maillard reaction. True fact – the best pretzels made without lye in the U.S. are found in Philadelphia due to the heavily-chlorinated (and repulsive) tap water found in the city that replicates the effects of lye!
There are several varieties of pretzels, including soft pretzels, which must be eaten shortly after preparation and hard-baked pretzels, which have a long shelf life. .
There are numerous unreliable accounts regarding the origin of pretzels, as well as the origin of the name; most assume that they have Christian backgrounds and were invented by European monks.
According to legend, as cited by several sources, including The History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans, in 610 AD “…[a]n Italian monk invents pretzels as a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, ‘pretiola’ (“little reward[s]”)”. However, there is no known historical evidence to verify this claim.
Another source locates the invention in a monastery in southern France.
The looped pretzel may also be related to a Greek ring bread, derived from communion bread used in monasteries a thousand years ago.
In Germany, there are stories that pretzels were the invention of desperate bakers held hostage by local Dignitaries. Meyers Konversations-Lexikon from 1905 suspects the origin of pretzels in a ban of heathen baking traditions, such as in the form of a sun cross, at the Synod of Estinnes in the year 743. The pretzel may have emerged as a substitute.
The German name “Brezel” may derive also from Latin bracellus (a medieval term for “bracelet”), or bracchiola (“little arms”).
The pretzel has been in use as an emblem of bakers and formerly their guilds in southern German areas since at least the 12th century.
A 12th-century illustration in the Hortus deliciarum from the southwest German Alsace region (today France) may contain the earliest depiction of a pretzel.
Within the Christian Church, pretzels were regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape. The knot shape has been claimed to represent hands in prayer.
Moreover, the three holes within the pretzel represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Pretzels made with a simple recipe using only flour and water could be eaten during Lent when Christians were forbidden to eat eggs, lard, or dairy products such as milk and butter.
As time passed, pretzels became associated with both Lent and Easter. Pretzels were hidden on Easter morning just as eggs are hidden today, and are particularly associated with Lent, fasting, and prayers before Easter.
Like the holes in the hubs of round Swedish flat bread (which let them be hung on strings), the loops in pretzels may have served a practical purpose: bakers could hang them on sticks, for instance, projecting upwards from a central column, as shown in a painting by Job Berckheyde (1630–93) from around 1681.
This recipe was originally from a German bakery – this particular pretzel is great for sandwiches or for spreading in butter. Lye can be a little tricky to find but it will give your pretzels the best color and aroma compared to baking soda.
(IMPORTANT!!! Lye is VERY, VERY caustic so make sure you are wearing rubber gloves and working in a well ventilated room – you might want to wear safety glasses and a nose/mouth mask as well).
Needless to say, you should use pretzel salt for covering these pretzels! Pretzel salt is large flake, soft and compressed – you can buy it here.
The unique TFD tweak to this recipe is to use garlic and spice-laden Svanetian salt from the mighty country of Georgia in the dough! You can just use regular pretzel salt for the classic recipe, but I love the flavor this unique salt brings to the final product! The recipe for Svanetian salt may be found here.
Of course, you MUST serve these in the classic fashion with lashings of sweet German mustard! I prefer this brand.
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- 200 ml water (40°C)
- 5 g dry yeast
- 100 ml whole milk
- 5 g kosher salt
- 5 g sugar
- 40 g top-quality butter
- 500 g bread flour (strong flour)
- 500 ml water
- 15 g lye
- Pretzel salt or use TFD’s strong preference of Georgian Svanetian salt instead, made with pretzel salt instead of kosher salt, but go with your personal taste
- In a bowl or small pot, put in the 40 g butter, 100 ml milk, and 5 g salt. Heat on low until the butter just melts and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, add 200 ml warm water and 5 g sugar. Mix and add 5 g dry yeast. Mix well and wait for 10-15 minutes until the yeast bubbles up.
- Add the 500 g flour to a large bowl. Make a ‘crater’ in the middle of the flour and pour in the butter/milk mix. Toss some flour over the butter/milk and then pour in the yeast water around the outside of the crater.
- Gradually mix the flour into the liquid with your fingers. When the flour starts to absorb some of the liquid, start bringing together the flour with your hands until you can form a ball.
- When you can bring together into a ball, remove from bowl and knead until the dough is smooth – about 10 minutes.
- Return dough to bowl and cover. Let rise for 40 minutes in a warm place or until about doubled in size.
- Divide dough into 10 equal pieces (it’s about 80 g each if you’re weighing). Gently roll each piece into a short cylinder/log shape.
- Next, take each dough ‘log’ and roll out the ends – leave the very center of the ‘log’ untouched (so it doesn’t lose its air) and roll out the right and left sides until long, thin and tapered.
- Twist the long ends around each other and press the tapered tips into the fat part of the pretzel.
- In a medium bowl, put in water first then mix in the lye until the lye is dissolved. (Be very careful with lye! Make sure your room is ventilated and you’re wearing rubber gloves and even consider safety glasses).
- Still wearing your gloves and glasses, grab each pretzel at the top where the tips are pressed into the fat part. Dip it into the lye solution, making sure every part gets covered in some liquid. Lift out, let drain and arrange onto baking sheets in preparation to bake.
- Sprinkle with pretzel salt while still wet. Traditionally, Germans would only salt the “fat” part of the pretzel.
- Bake at 240°C (no steam) for 15 minutes.
- The pretzels should be nice and dark brown when removed. You can also serve these with softened top-quality butter or use them for sandwiches! Slice open the fat part of the pretzels and stuff with your favorite fillings – butter, ham, pickles, lettuce, cheese, etc.
- For a true süd deutsch (south German) feast, serve pretzels with Weißwurst, real German sweet Senf (mustard) and your best Bavarian Beer!
- Category: Recipes
- Calories: 553.34 kcal
- Sugar: 2.98 g
- Sodium: 525.41 mg
- Fat: 11.16 g
- Saturated Fat: 5.94 g
- Trans Fat: 0.33 g
- Carbohydrates: 94.88 g
- Fiber: 3.39 g
- Protein: 16.53 g
- Cholesterol: 24.08 mg
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