Soft Pretzels



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There are many stories as to the origin of both the pretzel and its name.  It is claimed that it originated as early as 300 AD and as late as the 1600’s.  Northern Italy, Southern France and Germany all lay claim to its origins.

            Detail  from
       The Book of Hours  of
        Catherine of Cleves
One story is that in its earliest form, sometime between 300 and 600 AD it was baked during Lent and that the shape representing the arms of a person crossed in prayer, (there was a time when the arms were crossed over the chest while praying) , thus reminding people that Lent was a time for worship and contemplation.  The name may have developed out of “bracchiola,” Latin for “little arms.”

Another story claims that in northern Italy, monks would turn the scraps of dough from baking bread into these small strangely shaped loaves as special treats for children who had dutifully learned their prayers.  The shape represented the crossed arms of a child in prayer.  They were called “pretiola,” which means little rewards. 

There is also a theory that the breads were first baked in Germany and called “bracellus,” Latin for bracelet.  Bracellus became Brezrl which became pretzel.  Another theory is that the shape originated with the Greek breads that were baked in a circle and yet another that it grew out of the Pagan tradition of baking bread into circles with a cross in the center to represent the sun; “Sun Wheels.”

In that case the four holes produced by the cross are said to represent the four elements.  In the Christian, crossed arm version, the three holes produced are said to represent the holy trinity. 


Whatever the origin, by the late 12th century the pretzel had become the symbol of the baker’s guild and you could not become a master in the guild until you could bake a perfect pretzel.  Master Lyn the Baker, who was the fourth Laurel created in AS III by Henrik and Leanne felt that at that time the award was premature since he had never made a pretzel.

In the 16th century in Alsace the pretzel was a part of the wedding ceremony.  The couple wished upon and broke a pretzel like a wishbone, then ate it to signify their oneness. This is where the expression, “Tying the Knot,” comes from.  The pretzel was thought to represent spiritual prosperity and wellbeing.


Pieter Breugel – 1559
Detail from “Carnavel vrs Lent”


1 recipe Basic White Bread  or Basic Wild Yeast Dough

Follow the directions for either recipe to make your dough.  When the dough has risen for the second time, punch it down and knead very lightly.  Then pinch off pieces and roll each into a rope that is about as thick as your thumb and about 14 inches long.  When these have been formed, use them to make the traditional pretzel shape.  Best thing is to look at a pretzel.  There is no way I can put the method into the written word.  Place the formed pretzels of a sheet of bakers parchment that has been sprinkled with cornmeal to prevent sticking.  Cover lightly with a clean cloth and allow to rise until nearly double in bulk.



Preheat the oven to 350°.  When the pretzels have risen, bring a pot of water to the boil.  Place a tablespoon of baking soda in the water.  Traditionally lye or caustic soda is used, but for liability reasons I don’t dare suggest it.  When the water is boiling gently, carefully place 2 or 3 of the risen pretzels in it and poach for about 30 seconds on each side, then transfer to a wire rack.  When all the pretzels have been poached, place them on a baking sheet lined with baker’s parchment.  Paint with an egg wash, (1 egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of cold water) and sprinkle with coarse salt, not rock salt.  Place in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. 

AND... what's a pretzel without Mustard?






The English Country Kitchen


        Copyright © 2008 - Geraldine Duncann