Tying the Knot (Pretzels)
East coast idol Philadelphia USA, and the traditional southern city of Munich, Germany – what do these two cities have in common?
They both tie the knot!
I lived in Philadelphia for many years. Known for its grandiose Art Museum, the Liberty Bell, Will Smith, Sylvester Stallone*, Robert Indiana’s LOVE statue, Wooder Ice (“Water Ice” is only for non-locals), the Cheese Steak Wit, Cheese Steak without (yes those are two different things entirely) (oh, and please don’t confuse this with cheese cake), and last but not least, the beloved soft pretzel.
And now I find myself living in the traditional and beautiful Bavarian city of Munich in Southern Germany; associated with dirndl, lederhosen, Oktoberfest, alpine cuteness (mountains, huts, men who yodel, lebkucken (gingerbread) hearts, and plaid patterns) endless supplies of beer, and its noble accompaniment, the Bretzel.
Dating back to about 600 AD, it is believed that a Monk in Italy used left over dough pieces and folded them into a shape resembling arms crossed during prayer. He later used these little breads as rewards for children who recited their prayers and bible verses and they became to be known as the Pretiola meaning little reward, and Brachiola meaning little arms.
This religiously symbolic bread became so popular amongst Monasteries, that it quickly spread across Europe. Centuries later, German immigrants brought the Bretzel to North America; Pennsylvania to be exact, where the Pennsylvania Dutch carried the pretzel making tradition on, making it a Philadelphia staple today.
So what are the odds that two of the cities I have lived in share a twisted tradition and a pretzel passion?
Here’s the recipe:
For the pretzels, you will need:
- 500g of flour. If you are in Germany you can use the 550 type
- 300 ml of whole milk
- 1 Tablespoon of fine salt
- 1 cube of fresh bakers yeast (about 40 grams)
- 1 Tablespoon of sugar
- 40g of butter
For the pretzel-making you will need:
- 2 Litres of water
- 6 Tablespoons of baking soda (Natron in Germany)
- some salt to sprinkle on the pretzel. I prefer Maldon salt as it is kinder on the teeth
- slotted metal spoon
- Oven trays that are greased well with butter
- Heat up the milk to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit – or 40 degrees Celsius. Take note that milk that is too hot will kill the active yeast!
- Take a large bowl, and dissolve the sugar in the heated milk
- Crumble the active yeast into the bowl
- Set this aside for at least 15 minutes. It will foam a lot. There is no need to stir it (just make sure the yeast is crumbled)
- Mix the flour, salt, butter and yeast/milk/sugar mixture together in a ball of dough
- Place the dough ball in a slightly oiled (so it doesn’t stick) glass or ceramic bowl. Cover it with a tea towel and set it in a warm place (away from a draft) for at least an hour or two. The yeast needs time to do its business, and the dough should double in size
- After the dough has doubled in size, knead it with your hands for a few minutes and roll it into a sausage shape. Due to the high yeast content it will be somewhat elastic. There should be no need to flour the surface since it should not be sticky after you kneaded it with your hands
- Take off a chunk and roll it with both hands into a long thing sausage shape, at least 30cm or so
- Form the pretzels by creating a U shape, twisting it once at the top, folding it over and bringing it down
- Place the pretzels on a cutting board or flat surface that fits into your fridge
- They need to sit for at least one hour (uncovered) in the fridge to become firm
- After at least an hour (or more) in the fridge, prepare the water by boiling at least 2L of water to 6 tablespoons of baking soda. Depending on how many pretzels you are making, and how big they are, you may need to double this amount. For the recipe above, the 2L to 6 Tablespoons suffices for about 12 small sized pretzels.
- (be careful not to add all the baking soda to the boiling water at once, as it will foam a lot at first)
- While you’re waiting for the water to boil, grease up 2 oven trays with butter and set aside
- Take the pretzels out of the fridge and get your slotted spoon handy
- You will want to boil each pretzel, one by one, for roughly 30 seconds
- Using the slotted spoon, let the water drip off a bit and transfer it to the greased baking tray
- Sprinkle the top with a little maldon salt
- Repeat this, one by one, until all the pretzels are prepared on the baking tray and then,
- Bake them at 220 degrees Celsius until nicely browned (about 15 or 20 minutes)
- Let them cool
- How to enjoy your Soft Pretzel, Philadelphia Style: preferably on the go, with yellow mustard or cheese wiz.
- How to enjoy your Bretzel, the German way: with a Weißwurst and sweet mustard, although it’s probably best if washed down with a Bier, along a lake, near a mountain, in a beer hall, in a tent, you take your pick. Wearing Tracht is optional.
*which reminds me. A small tip if you are ever in Philadelphia and/or talking to a Philadelphian. It’s generally safer never to admit, ever, that you either (a) didn’t see any of the Rocky movies and/or (b) didn’t enjoy any of the Rocky movies. I learnt this the hard way and am still paying for it 10+ years later