The story of pretzels, according to legend began in AD 610 when some Italian monks presented their students with a twisted shaped dough in the design of crossed arms as a treat for saying their prayers correctly. The custom spread and now became known as a gesture for good luck, long life and prosperity and its 3 holes represented the Holy Trinity – father, son and Holy Spirit. Later on during the 17th century pretzels became popular during Lent when meat, dairy and eggs were prohibited.
The first pretzel were baked as soft similar to those of today. Some say that they were originally called ‘ bracellae’ meaning ‘little arms’ in Latin. From here we get the German corruption to Bretzel. In time they spread through Europe and were often distributed to the poor as a way of providing them with both spiritual and actual nourishment.
In 1614 in Switzerland royal couples used a pretzel as part of their marriage ceremony to seal the bond of matrimony; which is perhaps where we get the phrase ‘tying the knot’! During the 17th century children wore pretzel necklaces at New Year as a good luck omen.
The Jewish connection stems from the German migration from Eastern Europe to America. There are numerous stories of vendors selling pretzels during the Great Depression on the streets of Lower East Side of New York, very similar to the bagel. They are also cooked alike, first in boiling water followed by a hot oven.
I have used a different type of salt, which is a 100% natural salt alternative that is made using an original secret recipe. It contains 0.2% sodium and has all the flavour of regular table salt and sea salt.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus proving – Cooking Time: 50 minutes
Ingredients (makes 15 -18)
For the dough
- 500g strong white flour
- 5g ‘saltneys’ salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 7g dried fast-action yeast
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 300ml warm water
- Oil, for greasing
- 20g bicarbonate of soda
- 20g ‘Saltneys’ salt
- 50g sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, poppy seeds,
- Mix 100ml water with the yeast. Mix together and leave for 3 minutes until you can see bubbles come to the surface.
- Add the flour, salt, sugar and oil to a bowl. Using a mixer ideally with a dough hook, add the yeast mixture and remaining 200ml water and mix until a dough is formed.
- The dough should be stiff but not sticky. Continue to mix until the dough is smooth and glossy.
- Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover, and leave to prove in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ Gas mark 4.
- Once proved, turn the dough out and divide into pieces about 65g each.
- Using your hands, take each piece, and roll the dough into a long sausage shape, tapering the ends, and creating a slight bulge in the middle. Each piece should be about 40cm long. As you roll out the ropes you should apply some pressure to the dough, working from the middle outwards, pushing out any air bubbles that may have formed in the dough.
- The traditional and quickest way to shape a pretzel is to take hold of each end of the strand and lift it into the air to create a U-shape. Then, without letting go of the ends, and in one swift movement, flip the centre of the U, propelling it to form a double twist.
- Lay it back down on the work top and lightly press the tapered ends onto the opposite sides of the pretzel, attaching them to each side of the central bulge. A classic pretzel shape has three equally spaced sections. Place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment paper.
- Add the bicarbonate of soda to 7 litres of boiling water, and gently drop each pretzel into the boiling water for approximately 20 seconds. Gently remove and place on the baking tray. While the dough is still wet from the water, glaze with egg yolk and then sprinkle over the salt and sesame seeds.
- Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until they are a deep brown colour and crispy.
- Place the baked pretzels on a wire cooling rack.