Preparation time: 20 minutes
Rising time for starter: 1 hour
Rising time for dough: 50 + 10 minutes
Baking time: 6-7 minutes
Fastenwähe are a kind of pretzel sprinkled with cumin. For a long time known only in the Basel region, they have now become a staple in many parts of Switzerland. Originally they were eaten only during Lent, thus the preparation and sale of Fastenwähe were limited to a very specific period beginning on the Monday before Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday. In fact, it was forbidden under threat of sanctions to sell them after Easter!
The Fastenwähe tradition is very ancient. Mention is first made of them in 1554 in a document found in the civil archives of Rheinfelden. In Basel, they show up as far back as the 17th century in the records of the St. Clare cloister. However, we do not have the recipe from this era: the exact moment of their invention remains a mystery.
The closest relative of Fastenwähe is the pretzel which was also originally a Lenten bread. The shape of the carnival fritter also gives us a further glimpse of this relationship. Unlike numerous other Mardi Gras season specialties, the cumin pretzel was not cooked in oil, but rather baked.
Andrés Rebón and his wife run Basel's oldest bakery, the Riehentor bakery and pastry shop, where these renowned cumin pretzels have been made since 1726. He still prepares them today in the traditional artisanal manner, noting that the process requires time and patience. You'll find some of his comments throughout the recipe.
- In a bowl, combine the flour, yeast and milk. Set the starter aside in a cool place and let rise for one hour.
- Dissolve the salt and malt syrup in the cold milk; mix in the starter and gradually incorporate the flour to form a smooth elastic dough. Do not add the butter until the dough is already well formed.
- Let rest for about 50 minutes in the refrigerator.
Second rising and baking
- Divide the dough into 60-70 g pieces. Form each piece into a ball and then shape into a spindle shape, making the ends very tapered.
- Place the pretzels on a floured surface, cover with a warm damp cloth and leave to rise for about 10 minutes.
- Roll out the dough and stretch so it takes on a spindle shape. The dough should be elastic enough that it doesn't tear when stretched. You should almost be able to see through it.
- Form the holes on each pretzel with the special punch (Yyseli) or with a knife or the edge of a metal spatula, then brush twice with the egg wash (lightly beaten whole egg and egg yolk). Finally, sprinkle with cumin.
- Place the pretzels on baking sheets.
- Bake for 6-7 minutes in a 230 °C / 460 °F oven until golden and crispy. They are cooked once the edges of the cross in the centre are still a bit soft, so you know that they have not dried out too much.
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