Prep. time: 20 minutes
Waiting time: 2 hours for the dough to rise
Oven temperature: 180° C (350° F)
Baking time: 10-15 minutes
Found in every brasserie of Alsace and Germany, the salted pretzel is shaped like a large knot, something a child might fashion out of pottery clay. But was it designed just to represent a simple bow, or is it a mysterious symbol reaching back into the mists of time? Whatever the answer, one of life's little pleasures is a fresh golden pretzel, generously adorned with even little salt crystals, intended - as the dictionary puts it - "to encourage thirst and to be served with beer." As for the beer, choose a foamy variety, either light or dark.
The dictionary tells us that the name for this crisp savoury biscuit comes from the German "brezel," derived in turn from the medieval Latin "bracellus," meaning bracelet, ultimately from the Latin word for arm.
Its origins seem to go all the way back to the Celtic period, when the planets and seasons were symbolized by the shapes of pastries. For instance, the ring-shaped bread called Jula (early February) kept until the harvest; it was then crushed into bread crumbs to be mixed with the next season's seed. In Alsace the ring was decorated with four dough spokes, that were crushed later on. Charles Gérard, in l'Ancienne Alsace à Table, seems to think that the Romans introduced the pretzel to that region under the name "panis tordus."
The traditional method for making pretzels involves several steps: first, water, flour, salt, yeast and malt extract are carefully kneaded, either manually or mechanically, to form a sticky dough. After considerable manipulation, the dough is cut into lengths about 15 cm (6") long that the baker rolls under his hands, one at a time, to create slender dough "sausages." Each one is then knotted into a pretzel shape, with the tapered ends folded back over the pretzel's thicker central part (this makes an important difference to the final taste). Then the pretzels are placed, four at a time, on racks and left to rise for 2 hours, after which they are placed by twos or fours into a boiling water bath containing baking soda or a salt brine and left until they float to the surface. As they come up, the baker places them on a wooden peel, sprinkles them with coarse salt and puts them into the oven until they are golden brown; they can be eaten an hour after they are baked. In fact, pretzels must be eaten fresh on the day they are made and so are delivered immediately. One day later they begin to dry out and harden.
- Make a firm dough with the flour, warm water and yeast;
- let rise in a draft-free place, covered with a cloth, until the dough has doubled in volume;
- cut the dough into strips and form into knot shapes;
- drop the pretzels, two at a time, into boiling water to which you have added the baking soda. When they float to the surface, drain them and place on an oiled baking sheet.
- Brush with egg white and sprinkle with coarse salt and cumin.
- Bake in the oven until nicely browned and dried. Enjoy the fresh pretzels with a mug of beer.
With the assistance of Mr. Doerflinger for the pretzel history
Photo : 32616354 / Darius Dzinnik / pour MSCOMM
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