There appears to be wide contention over the origin of the pretzel as well as where this biscuit draws its name. The more widespread explanation is that the pretzel draws its name from the German word – Brezel extensively deriving also from the Latin word – Bracellus (Medieval Latin for ‘bracelet’) or Bracchium (meaning ‘little arms’). The biscuit has the appearance of folded arms and this might have been what influenced its naming.
The origin of the pretzel itself is linked to the Christian Lent period, which is normally one of repentance and prayer. In fact, this German invention has been said to hail from German monks. Its association with lent is probably because of the fact that pretzels have a very basic recipe making use of just water and flour at the most basic. Besides this, it could also be attributed to ‘folded arms’ appearance of the biscuit. Though it should be remembered that all this is mere speculation; no one conclusion has been made, as there is no documented proof explaining the exact origin of pretzels.
Country of Origin and Usage
The pretzel hailed from the Germans, despite the fact that one legend attempts to accredit the invention of this biscuit to an Italian monk who would give the salty treat to children who learned their prayers. A German legend links the same to desperate bakers held captive by dignitaries, and they would therefore bake the treats to seek pardon and release from being hostage. The earliest delineation of pretzels dates back to the 12th century.
Without any variations, the salty treat may be eaten accompanied with a beverage, or taken during high tea, or taken as finger food during parties.
• ½ cup of warm water
• 1 tablespoonful of barley malt syrup or 1 tablespoonful of packed brown sugar
• 2 tablespoonful of active dry yeast
• 3 cups of unbleached bread flour
• ½ cup of lager beer
• 2 tablespoonfuls of softened butter, cubed
• 2 tablespoonfuls of kosher salt
• 2 tablespoonfuls of food-grade lye
• Coarse salt
1. Mix the water and barley malt syrup / sugar together in a bowl.
2. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let this sit for about 5 minutes or until it gets foamy.
3. Switch the mixer on to the dough hook attachment and working at low speed, mix in the flour, beer, butter and kosher salt.
4. Once the ingredients have been properly combined, increase the mixer speed and knead until the dough forms a ball and breaks away from the edges of the bowl. The dough should be form and tacky, not sticky or dry. If this is not the case, add either water or flour as needed until the desired result is achieved.
5. Transfer the Pretzel dough to a large lightly greased/oiled bowl. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for around 8 hours or even overnight – more preferably. The dough shall double in size due to the yeast present.
6. Preheat oven to 500⁰F, line baking sheets with parchment paper, brush paper surface with vegetable oil and set aside.
7. The dough mixture is worked by hand on a smooth surface and dividing it into small workable portions, the dough is formed into long ribbon shapes tapering at the ends.
8. The ribbons are twisted into the characteristic pretzel shape and put aside ready for glazing
9. Next, the alkaline mixture is prepared by combining the lye with 6 cups of water and bringing it to boil. Once it gives off a wisp of steam, the solution is ready for use. Cool it just until the steam lessens.
10. Dip the pretzels into the solution one at a time and ensuring the lye completely covers the pretzel on all sides. Soak for around 20 minutes.
11. Transfer pretzel to baking sheet, sprinkle with coarse salt and bake for around 12 minutes, or until a deep mahogany colour is achieved.
12. Cool and serve while still warm as this optimizes on texture and flavour.
In the absence of lye, ¼ cup of baked baking soda may be used; which is achieved by placing on a small baking dish, spread out, then baking for 1 hour in a 250⁰F oven. In this case, the dipped pretzels with have to be glazed with egg wash, to give it a glowing glaze. An egg wash is basically an egg yolk whisked together with 1 tbsp water; as per the quantities used in the above sample recipe.
Pretzel National Holiday
Every 26th April, the Americans commemorate the Pretzel National Holiday, a day set I honour to mark the pretzel seeing as it has immense importance especially in the state of Philadelphia. Besides the national holiday, there is a pretzel museum in Philadelphia and though privately-run, it still speaks volumes about the attachment Americans have with the pretzel.
Largest Brands and Manufacturers
Popular Pretzel brands are:
• Rold Gold – by Frito-Lay Company. The brand prides in making pretzels of 13 different kinds, utilizing the old-fashioned pretzel recipe.
• Utz. Popularly known for its extremely low-fat pretzels
• Snyder’s of Hangover
Annual pretzel sales have stood at being in excess of £116 million.