April is National Soft Pretzel Month ~ Soft Pretzel History and Recipe with Pictures

Delicious soft pretzel fresh out of the oven! Yummy!
Delicious soft pretzel fresh out of the oven! Yummy! | Source

What is a Pretzel?

Pretzels have been around for almost 1500 years. During that time they progressed from being a basic bread meeting the religious requirements of the day to an inexpensive snack food that satisfies the need for something salty.

Dictionary.com defines pretzel as, “A crisp, dry biscuit, usually in the form of a knot or stick, salted on the outside; (or) a larger version of this, made of soft, chewy bread dough.” Obviously, the first definition describes a hard pretzel, and the second describes a soft.

Since April is National Soft Pretzel month, we will be looking at how to make a delicious soft pretzel.


Crossing the arms across the chest was a common position used in prayer.
Crossing the arms across the chest was a common position used in prayer. | Source

Who Created the Pretzel?

Many sources indicate that early in the sixth century medieval Italian monks living near the French-Italian border created the first pretzel as the most basic form of bread to be served during the Lenten season. Its unusual shape was said to represent the practice of crossing one’s arms over one’s chest while in prayer, a common practice during that time period. The Italian word for this Lenten bread was “pretioli” which means “little rewards” or “pretoria” which means “reward”.

Other sources indicate the pretzel to have origins in a southern France monastery; and some trace its origins to the Greek ring bread.

Pretzel baking firmly took hold in southern Germany and in neighboring German-speaking areas as early as the 12th century and became widely used as a symbol of German bakers and their guilds calling them Brezel, Bretzel, or Brezzl. They have been an essential part of German baking traditions since that time. In southern Germany and its neighboring German-speaking areas, the pretzel has continued to hold onto its early religious meanings and is still utilized at festivals and in numerous traditions.


Pretzels and the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church considered pretzels to have a religious significance especially during the season of Lent, when eggs, lard and dairy products were not allowed to be eaten.

Eventually pretzels became associated with Easter as well and were hidden just as eggs are hidden today.


Significance of the Pretzel’s Shape

In addition to the religious symbolism involved in the shape of the pretzel – crossing one’s arms over one’s chest while in prayer, the loops created by the shape of the pretzel may have also been intended for practical purposes. These loops allowed bakers to hang them on strings and on sticks.


Books on German Catholic Traditions:

Pretzel Cookbooks:

Pretzels and Traditions

In southern Germany and in neighboring German-speaking areas, the pretzel is an integral part of many festivities and traditions.

On January 1st, “New-Years pretzels” – a lightly sweetened yeast pretzel – is exchanged with wishes of good luck and fortune. This pretzel is made in many different sizes and can be as wide as 20” (50 cm) or more! If you think this is a big pretzel, keep reading! On this day, many children visit their godparents to receive one of these treats.

The “Palm Pretzel” made for Palm Sunday by German Catholics ranged in size from 11.8" - 39.4" (30 cm -1m) and could weigh as much as 6 pounds (2.5 kg)! That is a huge pretzel!

On May 1st, another tradition was for boys to paint a pretzel on the doors of the homes of the girls they cherished. (I see another tradition springing from this one – on May 2nd, boys painting doors to appease the girl’s parents!)

On the 4th Sunday in Lent, the residents of Luxembourg celebrate “Pretzel Sunday”. Rather than painting pretzels on the doors, during this festival the boys gave their sweethearts pretzels and the size of the pretzel is an indication of how much the young man likes her. If the girl wants the boy to step up his attention, on Easter Sunday she will present him with a beautifully decorated egg. On this same Sunday, other communities celebrate with parades where large pretzels are displayed on colorful decorated poles.


Other Types of Pretzels in Germany

Pretzels come in all shapes and sizes. There are big ones and small ones, twisted ones and straight ones; some are hard and some are soft. (Almost sounds like Dr. Seuss!)

  • The “Burger pretzel” with a texture and flavor resembling zwieback has its origins in the small town of Burg. As the story goes, a baker’s family treated the wounds of a Napoleonic soldier in 1975. To show his gratitude, the soldier shared this recipe with them.
  • The “anise pretzel” is used to celebrate “Pretzel weeks” just prior to Lent. This anise-flavored pretzel is served with meat and horseradish.
  • The “lye pretzel” is served at many festivals. The largest pretzel festival is held in Speyer and is called the “Brezelfest”, which also happens to be the largest beer festival in the Upper Rhine area. This huge festival attracts approximately 300,000 visitors annually. A parade held during this festival features more than 100 bands, clubs and floats, and 22,000 pretzels are thrown into the crowds.
  • In 2003 and 2004, UNICEF served “Peace Pretzels”, shaped in the shape of a “peace symbol”, at charity events held in Munich.


Pretzels in the United States

It was not until the 19th century that pretzels were brought to the United States by German and Swiss German immigrants, who later became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Handmade pretzel bakeries popped up over much of the area.

In the 20th century, the soft pretzel’s popularity soon spread to cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The industrial age allowed for mass production of the pretzel. Pretzels, whose distribution was once limited to vendors selling on street corners, soon became available at schools, grocery stores, movie theaters, concert halls, sport stadiums, and arenas.

Pennsylvania, producing 80% of the nation’s pretzels, is still the hub for American pretzel production. The pretzel in now recognized as a cuisine of Philadelphia; and it has been reported that the average Philadelphian eats twelve times more pretzels than the national average. The national average is 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) per person consumed annually! In 2003, April 26th was declared to be “National Pretzel Day” by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Philadelphians prefer their pretzels to be soft, chewy, and topped with mustard.

It is believed that hard pretzels originated accidentally in 1850 in Lititz, Pennsylvania. There is some thought that all pretzels were intended to be soft until a pretzel baker fell asleep, and the pretzels that were being prepared had all the moisture cooked out of them. The hard pretzel was born! They quickly became a popular snack food.

Soft Pretzel Recipe

Let’s look at how to create our own delicious soft pretzel. My husband has made these pretzels twice now and we have enjoyed them both times. I am sure you will too. Because the pretzel dough is a yeast dough and must be given time to rise, this recipe takes approximately 2 hours and 20 mins. The recipe below makes 6 large soft pretzels, but can easily be doubled.

Gather together your ingredients.
Gather together your ingredients. | Source

Ingredients:

  • 2 t. active dry yeast
  • ½ t. white sugar
  • 5/8 c. warm water (110°F or 45°C)
  • 2 ½ c. all-purpose flour
  • ¼ c. white sugar
  • ½ t. salt, plus a pinch
  • 1 ½ T. vegetable oil
  • ¼ c. baking soda
  • 2 c. hot water
  • 1/8 c. kosher salt, for topping


Adding warm water to yeast mixture.
Adding warm water to yeast mixture. | Source

In a measuring cup or small bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Allow to stand approximately 10 minutes. Appearance will be creamy.


Pouring yeast mixture into depression in flour mixture.
Pouring yeast mixture into depression in flour mixture. | Source


In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt, and sugar. Create an depression in the center. Add the yeast mixture and the vegetable oil. Stir well until mixture forms a soft dough. If mixture is too dry, you may add up to 1 T. of water.


Kneading the dough.
Kneading the dough. | Source


Hand knead the dough until smooth, 7-8 minutes. Lightly oil another large bowl, place the dough in this oiled bowl, turn to coat the dough with the oil to prevent the dough from drying out. Cover the bowl and place in a warm area. Allow to rise until doubled, approximately 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). In a large bowl, stir to dissolve the baking soda in the hot water.

Turn risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 6 equal parts. Roll each part into a rope and twist into the classic pretzel shape.


Rolling dough into long ropes.
Rolling dough into long ropes. | Source


After all are shaped, slide each pretzel onto a pancake turner and dip each pretzel into the baking soda solution, draining slightly, and placing onto lightly greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake until browned, for about 8 minutes.

Nutritional Information per pretzel: 237 calories. 1.7 g total fat, 0mg cholesterol


The classic soft pretzel!
The classic soft pretzel! | Source

Why Dip Them In Hot Water with Baking Soda?

After watching my husband make this recipe, I was curious as to why the pretzel was dipped in the hot water with the baking soda dissolved in it.

I came to the conclusion that it must be for one of two reasons.

The first being that pretzels were often boiled before they were baked and this replaced this step.

The second went back to the principle of using lye in baking. The first use of lye occurred in the 19th century when a baker accidentally dropped a sheet of pretzels ready for baking into a vat of lye that was used for disinfecting and cleaning the baking utensils. He baked the pretzels anyway! The color and the flavor were both more appealing and it became a common practice – with cleaner lye solution one would hope! This baking soda mixture could be used to come close to this practice.


Optional: Baked pretzels can be dipped into or brushed with melted butter, then sprinkled with sugar (powdered or granulated) and cinnamon. If this option is chosen, do not add kosher salt to the pretzels before baking.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about the pretzel and I hope you enjoy making your own. They are both easy to make and taste delicious! Enjoy!



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Comments: "April is National Soft Pretzel Month ~ Soft Pretzel History and Recipe with Pictures" 20 comments

Rolly A Chabot profile image

Rolly A Chabot 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

She writes, she cooks, she gardens, looks after the land... what else does this lady do... voted up and across the board.

Hugs


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago

Great hub Cindy, very detailed and in depth hub on all things pretzel.

I had no idea of the religious connections. Very interesting information.

I prefer the soft pretzel, very tasty. Bookmarking this for a baking day with the grandchildren.

Thanks for sharing the recipe.

Voted up interesting and awesome. SHARING


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

What a fun and informative Hub! So much surprising information on pretzels


Sinea Pies profile image

Sinea Pies 4 years ago from Northeastern United States

I love soft pretzels, dipping in mustard! We used to buy them when we went shopping at the mall. This looks fun and easy to make. I think I might try it. Voted up and interesting.


Kris Heeter profile image

Kris Heeter 4 years ago from Indiana

Ymmm - these look good. I've never tried making pretzels before. I think I'm going to have to now - these are great step by step instructions!


must65gt profile image

must65gt 4 years ago

soft pretzels are my weakness. I love them with mustard and a diet coke. but that may also explain why my doctor is upset with me. great hub and voted......well voted up anyway


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

Rolly - you are so sweet. Thanks so much!

molometer - I hope you and your grandkids enjoy making pretzels together. You will have to come back and let me know how it went. Looking forward to hearing good new!

rebeccamealey - pretzels really were surprising! Thanks so much!

Thanks to all of you for stopping by and commenting.


rjsadowski profile image

rjsadowski 4 years ago

A wealth of information. I enjoyed every twist and turn in your hub.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 4 years ago

I am a big fan of all types of pretzels. Seriously, I eat a lot of pretzels. I see you are one hub away from 200. Congratulations.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

An interesting overview of the pretzel but I was waiting for the recipe and you did not disappoint. I would probably put some garlic powder in that -- in fact, your hub has made me so hungry, I think I'll celebrate by going to Auntie Annie's. Voting this Up and Useful.


mljdgulley354 profile image

mljdgulley354 4 years ago

What a history for pretzels. I love your hubs on such subjects. I am sharing this one with my daughters.


ImKarn23 profile image

ImKarn23 4 years ago

LOL - who knew that april was pretzel month? Certainly not I! Look what you've taught me here homestead - more fun facts on pretzels than i could have ever imagined! They look fun to make too! Thanks


B. A. Williams profile image

B. A. Williams 4 years ago from USA

Yummy, yummy, is all I have to say. I so want to try this recipe out too, seems easy enough for a beginner like me who loves pretzels.

How do malls put that garlic and flavor coating on them, any ideas?

Great article and pictures.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

I cannot go by the Aunt Sally's bakery in the mall without buying one of these! I am so glad that you mentioned it was to be celebrated, now I have an excuse to get one tomorrow. Great history lesson and recipe. I will dream about this tonight.


50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 4 years ago from Arizona

Aye, you hit my soft spot, bread! I was hoping as I read, that on down the recipe would appear, after the story, my being Pennsylvania-Dutch heritage and not knowing this is proof I need to study back, but for now I think I'll just try to make these with butter and sugar Cinnamon. I like to bake and eat bread of all sorts and will take a nice fresh dinner roll over a whole cake a 3 for a pie but would like the whole bakers dozen.

I'll be working this into the routine this week coming and let you know how it comes out!

Thanks,

Dusty


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

Sinea Pies - It is not quite the same as the ones at the mall, but it is pretty darn close. My husband likes to eat them with mustard also. I hope you do get a chance to try them and you like them.

Kris Heeter - We had never made pretzels before this either. It was amazingly easy. I think the hardest part is rolling the ropes.

Must65gt - We really like soft pretzels as well.

rjsadowski - I am so glad you enjoyed this twisted tale.

FloraBreenRobison - I hope you get a chance to try this recipe if you like pretzels you will like this one. Thanks for the congrats.

alocsin - I think the garlic powder would be good. Even dipped in butter and sprinkled on top would be very good. Seems like Auntie Annie's is the winner here, and you as well.

mjdgulley354 - I am pleased that you enjoyed this one. I hope your daughters do as well.

ImKarn23 - Pretzels really did have some fun facts. Let me know if you have a chance to make them.

Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts.


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

B.A. Williams - I would think that you could add garlic powder to the recipe to give it a garlic flavor that you would enjoy. Dipping it in butter or brushing with butter after baking and then you can sprinkle anything on and it should stick. Come back and let me know how it worked out for you.

teaches12345 - I won't tell you it is to be celebrated in April until after tomorrow then. So you can enjoy one tomorrow as well as several times in April.

50 Caliber - they sound great with butter and cinnamon sugar. looking forward to hearing how you enjoyed this.

Thank all of you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on this.


kelleyward 4 years ago

So glad I found this hub. I'm in the process of writing my own pretzel hub. I'll definitely include your hub in mine. Voted up, useful, and shared! take care, Kelley


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

Wow, I have learned much more about pretzels than I knew, which apparently was nothing. I didn't know they were German, or religious. Thanks for the recipe (love the fact that it is vegan!). If your husband really loved you, he would have made you a bigger pretzel! LOL


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

kelley - thanks for the include on your hub! I look forward to seeing yours!

Millionaire Tips - pretzels do have a very fascinating history. Fortunately I know that my husband loves me no matter what size of pretzel he makes! lol

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