History of the Pretzel
Per todayifoundout.com, A common origin story of pretzels is that they were created by a monk around 610 in Italy. According to The History of Science and Technology, the monk baked strips of dough that he folded into a shape resembling a child crossing its arms in prayer. He would give these treats, which he called “pretiolas” or “little rewards,” to children who had memorized their prayers. Unfortunately- and not surprisingly- there’s no documented evidence from the 600s to confirm this story. Other similar stories star a monk from France and bakers held hostage in Germany.
While any one of these stories might have some modicum of merit, what we do know for certain is that the earliest recorded evidence of pretzels appeared in the crest of German bakers’ guilds in 1111. Later, in 1185, an illustration of pretzels appeared in the Hortus Delicarum. The manuscript was compiled by Herrad of Landsberg at an abbey in Alsace, then a region of Germany. However, it’s very likely that pretzels existed long before either of these instances.
In a prayer book used by Catherine of Cleves in 1440, there was a picture of St. Bartholomew surrounded by pretzels. By this time, pretzels were considered a sign of good luck and spiritual wholeness—possibly due to the three holes in the common pretzel shape touted to represent the Holy Trinity at this point. The “good luck” connotation carried the pretzel to other holidays, including New Year’s Day, when in Germany children hung pretzels around their necks; pretzels hung on Christmas trees in Austria in the 16th century; and parents hid little pretzels on Easter for children to find, an early version of an Easter egg hunt. In Switzerland, the pretzel shape was used as a marriage knot, and couples would each pull on a side of the pretzel on their wedding day. The larger half brought prosperity to the marriage—it was kind of like a doughy wishbone tradition.
Today, pretzels are most popular in American and in Germany, where they are featured at Oktoberfest. In America, besides covered in salt, hard pretzels commonly come dipped in chocolate or yoghurt, while soft pretzels are served with mustard or liquid cheese. Different flavours are available all over the world, featuring nuts, seeds, and glazes—a long way from the simple dough pretzels that were commonly served religious purposes so many years ago.
I love a good soft pretzel at the mall or a baseball game at the local stadium. Its one of the first foods my daughter ate when she was an infant. I have made them so many times, its one of the recipes thats ingrained in my memory. Below is my recipe that i’ve honed over the years.
2 cups hot water, about 110 degrees
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 Pour 2 cups hot water into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Check water with instant-read thermometer to register about 110 degrees. Add sugar, stir to dissolve. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 5 minutes; yeast should bubble.
2 Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and beat on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about 10 times, or until smooth.
3 Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
4 Heat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly spray 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each), and wrap in plastic.
5 Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; 8 will fit on each sheet. Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
6 Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda. Reduce to a simmer; transfer 3 to 4 pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
7 Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for 2 days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.
Until next time, Happy Baking!