Mar 1, 2011

The History (and Recipe) For Pretzels

The history of the pretzel dates back to 600 AD when a monk in the area between France and Italy was playing with dough left over from the daily baking. While he was playing he came up with a unique twist that looked like arms crossed in prayer. This baked "pretiola" was given to children as a reward for their reverence.

This treat gained in popularity, and as was the culture of the time, spread to other monasteries over the Alps into Austria and Germany where it came to be known as the "pretzel". It became more popular with time becoming a symbol in marriage (broken like a wishbone at the ceremony), saving a city (pretzel bakers heard the Turks burrowing under the walls of Vienna in 1510 A.D. and called out the alarm and saved the city), and becoming a religious symbol (a page in the prayer book used by Catharine of Cleves depicts St. Bartholomew surrounded by pretzels which were thought to bring good luck, prosperity and spiritual wholeness.)

The pretzel first appears in America in the record of, what else, a court case. It seems a baker named Carl Carmer and his wife in 1652 were charged with selling Pretzels to the Indians. The problem wasn't that the Indians were eating pretzels (which they loved), but that the pretzels were made from the good flour from milling while the bread sold to the good people of Beverwyck, New York was made from the left-overs. As recorded in the town's history "The heathen were eating flour while the Christians were eating bran."

The Pennsylvania Dutch Hard Pretzel was made and sold as a side-line by bakers in the Lancaster area since the early 1800's. The first American pretzel bakery supposedly start with a tale of altruism. It seems that a baker in Lititz gave a drifter a free meal in the 1850's - in return for his kindness the tramp gave the baker a recipe for pretzels that eventually became the recipe of the baker's apprentice - Julius Sturgis. This style of Pretzel became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch Hard Pretzel.

So without further ado... Here is the Blue Ribbon Bread For Today... Pretzels.

Using the recipe I found HERE by Alton Brown, TV Food Networks Chemistry Food Guru, I set out to make, what I hoped would be, the best soft pretzels around.

This recipe starts out with 4 simple ingredients; salt, sugar, yeast and water.

Salt, Sugar, Yeast & Water

As with most recipes, it is crucial to the yeast to have it at the proper temperature which was 110 degrees today.

Must get the water temperature correct.

I must confess, I usually don't put the salt into the water with the yeast because I've heard that yeast doesn't like it. But because this was Alton Brown's recipe and he has already tested it, I went exactly with the recipe.

The Water, Sugar, Yeast, Salt Mixture Before The Bloom

And 5 minutes later, I was blessed with "The Bloom".

My Blooming Yeast

At this point, I needed to add in some melted butter...

Melted Butter

And the AP, or All Purpose Flour (I just found out today that AP was All Purpose).

All Purpose Flour

Mix all the ingredients up with whatever tool you have. Kitchen-Aid is my "best friend" when it comes to kneading the dough. I can turn it on at the correct speed and basically walk away with the timer.


Yup, 6 minutes was just about right.

After 6 Minutes of Kneading

The next step calls for the bowl and dough to be oiled just a bit, cover with damp towel and then left to rest for an hour.

After Kneading

It was rather cold in my kitchen today so I went for the warmed oven. Turn on your oven set to 350 degrees for just 3 minutes then shut it off. Check to see how warm that made it because you don't want it to be too hot. I left a stoneware pizza plate inside my oven to try to absorb some of the heat and let it out slowly over the hour.

The Rise

Now here's the great thing about bread dough. I had errands to run. More than an hour's worth. The dough was put into the oven at 11:11 am and I did not get back to it until 4:00! And when I did get home, the dough was absolutely perfect!

Let Rise For An Hour

The next steps are to form the pretzels, boil them for a short 30 seconds in water that has backing soda in it take out to a parchment paper lined pan, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. It sounds like a lot of things to do at so I just got EVERYTHING ready. I started the water boiling...

Putting the Baking Soda Into the 10 Cups of Water

Made up an egg wash (one egg yolk beaten with 1 Tbsp. of water) and even a little extra flour just in case they stuck to my board.

The Egg Wash and Flour For The Work Surface

I got this all ready and then didn't even wind up using it. It rolled around too much and the dough was easier to work with right in my hands.

Flour Your Work Surface

Once the parchment paper is in the pan, you want to spray it with a little Pam or oil.

Get Your Parchment Paper Ready

The recipe says it makes 8 large pretzels so I took out the rounded dough and simply cut it into 8 equal parts.

Cut Into 8 Large Pieces

Soak in the baking soda water for 30 sec.

The Water Bath

Here's what they look like right out of the water.

Shaped & Boiled

Here it the pretzel brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with salt ready for the oven.

Oven Ready

Then placed in the oven at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.

Into The Oven

Aren't they beautiful!! They tasted so good! But then every recipe needs a bunch of victims... I mean taste testers to know if they were really good.

The Finished Pretzels

Enter my grandsons, Danny and Scott, my daughter, Rebecca and my husband, Wes. "So you guys.... how are they?"

My Victims... I mean Taste Testers!

A BIG 4 thumbs up!

Results of Taste Test? A Big Thumbs Up!

You HAVE to try this recipe. It's so EASY and quick and your taste buds will thank you for the fresh, soft, homey taste of these pretzels. We tried them dipped in a Nacho Cheese sauce like they do at the movies, but they were so good, they really didn't need anything else.

Stay tuned for our next little history lesson and a trip to Italy.....

Later during the day I wrote this....
I made an egg salad sandwich with the soft pretzel and it was THE BEST! The salt on the pretzel was the perfect compliment to the egg! This is definitely a MUST TRY recipe! To see what others are cooking this week, head on over to YeastSpotting.

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