Homemade Soft Pretzel
The History of the Humble Pretzel
America got her first taste of the chewy, salty bread
known as the soft pretzel in 1861, when two German bakers,
Julius Sturgis and Ambrose Rauch, opened up their
commercial bakery in Lititz, a small village located within
the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch (Deitsch) country.
Widely appreciated in Europe, the soft and chewy
bread with the crisscross shape was an instant hit
with the American people, their popularity
eventually spreading from coast to coast and
everywhere in between.
Pretzels had been baking in ovens across Europe
since the Middle Ages. Older recipes which have survived
the march of time often describe them as deliciously moist
and chewy, rather than the firm, crisp snack foods sold in
stores today, however, whether eaten as a big soft bread,
or crisp and salty snack, the defining characteristic of
the pretzel has long been its knotted, or crisscross shape.
According to legend, pretzels were first baked in northern Italy
by a 7th century monk who gave them to devout children.
He would twist the thin strips of bread dough together
to resemble the folded arms of a child at prayer.
Infact, the word, pretzel, comes from the Latin, "pretiole"
meaning "little gift" and later from the Italian word,
"bracciatelli" meaning "little arms".
It was in the 13th century that the recipe for pretzels
traveled north to Germany. Two hundred years later, the
pretzel would play a major role in European military history.
During the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks, their scheme to
tunnel beneath the walls of the Austrian capital was foiled by
the city's pretzel bakers, who always did their baking
at night to ensure a fresh supply of hot pretzels in the morning.
The wee hour bakers heard the enemy forces digging and
alerted the defenders of the city. Thus, these attentive
bakers were rewarded with their own official
coat of arms, which featured the unique crisscross
shape of a pretzel!
Big Soft Pretzels
These homemade pretzels are really delicious,
but mine came out of the oven with a texture more
like a dinner roll than a traditional soft pretzel!
I'm not sure how old this recipe is, but, it
does not include the process of dipping the pretzels in
boiling water to which baking soda has been
added, before baking them.
I think this added step would have made
the pretzels softer and chewier, much like
the soft pretzels we eat today.
Anyway, spread some butter on these crisp,
golden beauties right out of the oven and enjoy!
11/4 cup warm water
1 package of dry active yeast
(1 scant tablespoon)
2 teaspoons sugar
31/2 to 4 cups flour
11/2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons oil
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk for glaze
Coarse salt for topping
Place 1/4 cup water in a large bowl and sprinkle
with yeast and sugar. Stir to dissolve and let yeast proof
until bubbly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add remaining cup
water, 31/2 cups of flour, salt, and oil; stir to combine well.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until
smooth and elastic, adding the remaining 1/2 cup of flour
as needed to prevent sticking. Lightly grease 2 heavy baking
sheets with shortening. Divide dough into 24 pieces and
roll each into a thin strip about 10 inches long.
Shape into pretzels and placed on prepared baking sheets.
Cover pretzels loosely with towels and let them rest
in a warm place until puffy, about 15 minutes.
Lightly brush egg-milk glaze over pretzels and
sprinkle with salt. Bake at 425 for about
15 to 20 minutes, until lightly colored.
Makes 24 pretzels
The recipe for Big Soft Pretzels above was
taken from The Old Farmer's Almanac
Hearth and Home 1995 Calendar
Yankee Publishing Inc.