I always used to see pretzels here and there, in Instagram or magazines and always knew they were called pretzels, but, I never got the chance to try them until a few days ago when I spent about two months in Munich, one of the most beautiful cities I ever visited. Pretzels were everywhere from breakfast to dinner, in the hotel, in the street markets at the Christmas market in Marienplatz and you had the chance to choose from plain ones to savory and sweets.
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 non symmetrical form, with the ends of a long strip of dough intertwined and then twisted back into itself in a certain way (“a pretzel loop”). In the 2010s, pretzels come in a range of different shapes. Salt is the most common seasoning for pretzels, complementing the washing soda or lye treatment that gives pretzels their traditional “skin” and flavor through the Maillard reaction; other seasonings include various cheeses, sugars, chocolate, glazes, seeds, or nuts. 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. In Germany, there are stories that pretzels were the invention of desperate bakers held hostage by local dignitaries.
The German name “Brezel” may derive also from Latin bracellus (a medieval term for “bracelet” or bracchiola, meaning 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.
Pretzel baking has most firmly taken root in the region of Franconia (modern German states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg) and adjoining Upper German-speaking areas, and pretzels have been an integral part of German baking traditions for centuries. Lye pretzels are popular in southern Germany, Alsace, Austria, and German-speaking Switzerland as a variety of bread, a side dish or a snack, and come in many local varieties.
Almost every region and even city has its own way of baking them. Examples for pretzel names in various Upper-German dialects are Breze, Brezn, Bretzel, Brezzl, Brezgen, Bretzga, Bretzet, Bretschl, Kringel, Silserli, and Sülzerli. Baked for consumption on the same day, they are sold in every bakery and in special booths or stands in downtown streets. Often, they are sliced horizontally, buttered, and sold as Butterbrezel, or come with slices of cold meats or cheese. Sesame, poppy, sunflower, pumpkin, or caraway seeds, melted cheese, and bacon bits are other popular toppings. Some bakeries offer pretzels made of different flours, such as whole wheat, rye or spelt.
In Bavaria, lye pretzels accompany a main dish, such as Weisswurst sausage. The same dough and baking procedure with lye and salt is used to make other kinds of “lye pastry” (Laugengebäck): lye rolls, buns, croissants, and even loaves (Laugenbrötchen, Laugenstangen, Laugencroissants, Laugenbrot). Yet, in some parts of Bavaria, especially in lower Bavaria, unglazed “white” pretzels, sprinkled with salt and caraway seeds are still popular. Basically, with the same ingredients, lye pretzels come in numerous local varieties. Sizes are usually similar; the main differences are the thickness of the dough, the content of fat and the degree of baking. Typical Swabian pretzels, for example, have very thin “arms” and a “fat belly” with a split, and a higher fat content. The thicker part makes it easier to slice them for the use of sandwiches. In Bavarian pretzels, the arms are left thicker so they do not bake to a crisp and contain very little fat.
The pretzel shape is used for a variety of sweet pastries made of different types of dough (flaky, brittle, soft, crispy) with a variety of toppings (icing, nuts, seeds, cinnamon). Around Christmas, they can be made of soft gingerbread (“Lebkuchen“) with chocolate coating. In southern Germany and adjoining German-speaking areas, pretzels have retained their original religious meanings and are still used in various traditions and festivals. In some areas, on January 1, people give each other lightly sweetened yeast pretzels for good luck and good fortune. These “New-Years pretzels” are made in different sizes and can have a width of 50 centimetres (20 in) and more. Sometimes children visit their godparents to fetch their New Years pretzel. On May 1, love-struck boys used to paint a pretzel on the doors of the adored. On the other hand, an upside-down pretzel would have been a sign of disgrace. Especially Catholic areas, such as Austria, Bavaria, or some parts of Swabia, the “Palm pretzel” is made for Palm Sunday celebrations. Sizes can range from 30 cm (1 ft) up to 1 m (3 ft 3 in) and they can weigh up to 2.5 kg (6 lbs). An old tradition on Palm Sunday dating back to 1533 is the outdoor pretzel market (Brezgenmarkt) in the Hungerbrunnen Valley near Heldenfingen.
For the Dough:
1 kg Plain White Flour
260 ml semi skimmed milk (lukewarm)
260 ml drinking water (lukewarm)
80 g Unsalted Butter, Softened
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp fast action dried yeast
1 tbsp Salt (unrefined)
For The Finishing Solution:
1 L Water
3 tbsp Baking Soda
- Add the yeast and brown sugar in a small espresso cup and add drinking water (less than ½ cup). Stir well with a small spoon and leave aside until risen well, about double the size and forms a foam. This should take about 10 – 20 minutes, according to room temperature.
- Sieve the flour, about 950grams, in a bowl or mixer bowl. Leave the rest to flour your work space.
- Add the salt, milk, water and melted butter. Mix and kneed the mixture to make a firm dough (around 10 minutes). If you are using a mixer choose low speed and use the kneed tool. When dough is ready cover the bowl with foil and a blanket and place near a warm place. Leave it for approx. 1 hour or until the dough is doubled.
- Choose your clean work space and floured it well. Open your dough and use a big spoon to take a big piece of dough. The dough should feel sticky like a huge chewing gum. On your floured surface roll a small ball, then using both hands roll the dough out to be a long (40 cm) rope with the middle 5cm bulged to a diameter of around 3 cm, tapering to the ends being around 0.75 cm thick. Bring the two ends together about 5 cm in, overlap them, twist, and bring back to go over the main body. Almost like tying a knot. Leave for 30 minutes uncovered in a warm room to rise and develop.
- Once ready place the tray near an open window that feels cold and windy and allow to stand there for 10-15 minutes. This develops a skin on the pretzels which gives that special chewy texture.
- In the meantime, bring the 1.5 litres of water to the boil in a large pot (around 22-24 cm diameter) and add the baking soda. Allow to boil well.
- Once the pretzels are feeling a bit hard, drop one in the boiling solution until it floats (about 5 second), fish out with a fish slice (or similar) and lay on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle with sea salt (lightly at first, you find your own taste preference later) and slash the dough to a depth of around 1cm in the thick part at the top-back. Repeat for all pretzels.
- Add the baking sheets to the 200C oven for around 16 minutes, until a nice deep brown colour is seen on the pretzels. Don’t go for gold or chestnut, go for brown, the flavour goes with it!
“Add the baking sheets to the 200C oven for around 16 minutes, until a nice deep bready brown is seen on the pretzels. Don’t go for gold or chestnut, go for brown, the flavour goes with it!”
All Munich photos, are shot with Leica M10