Who can resist a big, warm, and salty Soft Pretzel? Found in almost all shopping malls, carnivals, and sporting events, April is a month dedicated to these delightful treats.
Not a fan of the soft pretzel? Well no worries there, as April 26 is National Pretzel Day! So we can celebrate this savory snack in both of its forms!
The early pretzels were the “soft” variety. The exact year they were created is not known for certain, but it is widely believed that they were invented by Christian monks in Italy around the year 610 A.D. It is said that Italian monks shaped strips of baked dough to resemble arms crossing the chest as if in prayer, then gave them as treats to children as a way to reward them for learning their prayers. These treats are said to be called “pretiola,” or “little rewards.”
Hard pretzels are a somewhat more of a modern invention. In Lititz, Pennsylvania in the year 1861, Julius Sturgis is credited for having created the first commercial pretzel bakery. This factory is believed to be the first to develop hard pretzels. The salty snacks would last longer in an air tight setting, allowing them to be sold in stores further away from the bakery and stored on shelves for much longer. It is these qualities that allowed their popularity to quickly grow, making the hard pretzel one of the better selling snacks in the United States.
In celebration of this salted, savory treat, we did a little searching and came up with these fascinating pretzel facts:
- The pretzel became the symbol of the baker’s guild in the late 12th century. You could not become a master in the guild until you could bake the perfect pretzel.
- The term “Tying the Knot” comes from 16th century Alsace where the pretzel was a part of the wedding ceremony. The bride and groom would wish upon and break a pretzel like a wishbone, then eat it to signify their oneness.
- Historians believe the pretzel may have first come to America by way of the Mayflower in 1620. It is said early settlers would sell them to the Native Americans, who would pay any price for them.
- Catholic churches once considered the pretzel to have religious significance. Especially during Lent, when lard, dairy products, and eggs were not allowed to be eaten.
- In addition to the religious symbolism involved in the shape of the pretzel, the loops created by the shape of the pretzel may have also been intended for practical purposes. The loops would allow the bakers to hang them on strings and sticks.
- Pretzels were handmade until the late 1930’s. The Reading Pretzel Machinery Company introduced the first automated pretzel machine in 1935. This enabled bakeries to make 245 pretzels per minute, a far cry from the 40 pretzels per minute by workers.
- About 80% of the nation’s pretzel production is in Pennsylvania.
- Annually, more than $550 million worth of pretzels are sold in the United States.
- Pretzels are most popular in the U.S. and Germany.
- Hard pretzels are commonly enjoyed covered in yogurt or chocolate.
- Soft pretzels are enjoyed most with melted cheese or mustard.
Today there are different flavors available, some featuring nuts or seeds, and glazes. Pretzels have come a long way from their humble religious beginnings all of those years ago.
Want to give baking your own homemade soft pretzels a go? Give this recipe from Betty Crocker a try.
Ingredients: (makes 16)
- 3 ¾ cups to 4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 package regular or fast-acting dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
- 1 ½ cups water
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Cooking spray to grease cookie sheets
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- In a large bowl, stir 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast with a wooden spoon until well mixed. In a 1-quart saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups water over medium heat until very warm and an instant-read thermometer reads 120°F to 130°F. Add the warm water and oil to the flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed 1 minute, stopping frequently to scrape batter from side and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat on medium speed 1 minute, stopping frequently to scrape bowl. With a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour, about 1/2 cup at time, until dough is soft, leaves side of bowl and is easy to handle (dough maybe slightly sticky).
- Sprinkle flour lightly on a countertop or large cutting board. Place dough on floured surface. Knead by folding dough toward you, then with the heels of your hands, pushing dough away from you with a short rocking motion. Move dough a quarter turn and repeat. Continue kneading about 5 minutes, sprinkling surface with more flour if dough starts to stick, until dough is smooth and springy. Lightly spray a sheet of plastic wrap with cooking spray; cover the dough loosely with the plastic wrap, sprayed side down. Let rest 10 minutes.
- Move the oven rack to the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 425°F. Spray cookie sheets with the cooking spray. In a shallow bowl, stir 1 cup water and the baking soda to make pretzel “wash.”
- Divide dough into 16 equal pieces. With your hands, roll each piece into a 24-inch rope (dip hands in pretzel wash to make rolling dough easier). To make pretzel shape, form rope into a circle, crossing ends at top. Fold dough so crossed ends rest on bottom of circle. Stir pretzel wash; brush over both sides of pretzel, using a pastry brush. Place pretzel on cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. Reserve remaining pretzel wash. Cover pretzels loosely with plastic wrap. To make thin pretzels, let rest about 5 minutes or until very slightly puffed. To make thicker pretzels, let rise in a warm place 15 to 20 minutes or until puffed.
- Just before baking, brush pretzels with reserved wash; sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake 1 cookie sheet at a time 10 to 13 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from cookie sheets to a cooling rack; cool at least 15 minutes. Serve warm or cooled.