Thursday, September 29, 2011

October is National Pretzel Month!

Who doesn’t love pretzels? Can you believe that October is National Pretzel Month? Pretzels come in so many varieties, sticks, loops, long, short, braids, hard, soft, thin and thick. Hard pretzels originated in the United States in 1850 at the Sturgis Bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania. In Europe, snack pretzels are sprinkled with salt, sesame and poppy seeds, or with cheese. In the U.S., they come in a variety of flavors and with different coatings, such as yogurt, chocolate, strawberry, cheese, mustard, nuts, sugar glazes and many others. Pretzels can be crumbled and used as a topping for ice cream, which eventually led to the development of an ice cream cone tasting like a pretzel.

Italian Taralli

A pretzel is known by different names in other countries. In Germany, pretzels are called Brezel, in Polish it is known as Precel, the Norwegian and the Danish people call it Kringle, and the French, Spanish, and the Italians call it Pretzel, Bretzel, or Brezel. In Italy, the Taralli is an Italian snack food that is similar in texture to a pretzel. Taralli can either be sweet or savory. Sometimes they are glazed with sugar, may be flavored with onion, garlic, seeds, pepper, fennel, or just salt. The sweet and plain Taralli are often dunked in wine. The Taralli shape are classically formed into small rings or ovals. They are boiled then baked, or deep fried.

 Most people agree that the pretzels were invented by monks and have a Christian background. According to history, in 610 AD, an Italian monk invented pretzels as a reward to children who learned their prayers. He called the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, ’pretiola’. (little rewards) However, there is no source cited to back up these details. Another source locates the invention in a monastery in southern France. In Germany there are stories that pretzels were the invention of their bakers. In Greece, a ringed bread, derived from communion bread used in monasteries a thousand years ago, may also be related to the invention of the looped pretzel.

Within the Catholic church, pretzels were regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape. Pretzels made with a simple recipe using only flour and water could be eaten during Lent, when Christians were forbidden to eat eggs, lard, or dairy products such as milk and butter. As time passed, pretzels became associated with both Lent and Easter.

In the 19th century, southern German and Swiss German immigrants introduced the pretzel to North America. These immigrants became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Many handmade pretzel bakeries populated the central Pennsylvania countryside, and the pretzel‘s popularity spread. In the 20th century, soft pretzels became extremely popular in other regions of the United States. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York, became famous for their soft pretzels. With increased popularity due to mass production, pretzels were distributed at schools, grocery stores, movie theaters, sports stadiums, arenas, and street vendors selling pretzels on street corners in wooden glass enclosed cases.

From left: my aunt Sophie, my Mom, my son Paul,
myself, & my brother Chris, in N.Y.C. 

As a young child, I remember when I would go to N.Y.C. with my family, the hot soft pretzels were always a treat. We would be walking along 5th Ave, near all the famous department stores, like Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, and low and behold we would see one, a vendor selling hot soft pretzels on the corner. You could smell the baked dough and the mustard as you were getting closer to the stand that sold them. It was wrapped in waxed paper and placed in a brown paper bag. To me, the best time to eat them was in the winter when the weather was cold outside. The hot bag filled with pretzels would warm your hands. Then as we continued walking, I would pull apart a piece of the hot pretzel and leave the rest in the bag to keep warm. All the salt would be the first thing that I would lick off. The hot soft dough would just melt in your mouth and it always seemed to warm up your stomach. At that time you could get 3 pretzels for $1.00, and what would be left, was an empty bag with some salt crystals left at the bottom. What a delicious memory to have with my family.

NYC Pretzel Vendor

Today, Pennsylvania is the center of the American pretzel production for the hard crispy and the soft bread types of pretzels. Pennsylvania with its large German background produces 80% of the nation’s pretzels. In 1963 the largest pretzel of it’s time weighing 40 pounds and measuring 5 feet across was baked by Joseph Nacchio of the Federal Pretzel Baking Company. In 1993 the Pretzel Museum opened in Philadelphia, operated by the Nacchio family.

My recipe this week is called “Home Made Soft Pretzels” I have made these before and I usually have my family knocking on my door, for more. The soft dough, is so light and the honey butter mix melted on the top of each pretzel reminds me that I’m back on the corner of 5th Ave, reliving my childhood all over again. Memories never tasted so good. So enjoy, whether you like the sticks, chocolate covered or the big soft ones with mustard on top, celebrate pretzels with a bag today.

Home Made Soft Pretzels

Total Time: 1 hr 55 minutes
Prep: 25 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons yeast
2 cups of warm water
6 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tablespoon of salt
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 /4 cup of honey
3 eggs beaten
Honey Butter Mix ( recipe follows)
Kosher salt, for sprinkling

“Honey Butter Mix”
1 /2 cup of melted butter
1/ 4 cup of honey
In a small bowl combine melted butter and honey

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large bowl, combine the yeast and warm water, allow to sit for 5 minutes till somewhat foamy. Add the flour, salt, sugar, honey and eggs. Mix thoroughly for about 10 minutes. Let the dough rise about 10 to 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 4-ounce portions and roll out each piece into a long rope shape. Now shape the pretzel dough and pinch the 2 (arms) to maintain them from coming apart. Place on greased cookie sheet or you can use parchment paper and let rise for 1 hour. Brush with Honey Butter Mix and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 20 minutes till light brown. Remove to cool for 5 minutes prior to eating.

Till Next Time…..

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  1. I did not know that October was National Pretzel month! What a great pretzel recipe to try. I've never made pretzels before, so thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Thanks MJ, What a fun way to celebrate with a easy tasty recipe. You have to try it. I promise you will love them. Enjoy and thanks for your comments. :)