BY RICHARD MOOREY
WELL it’s April 26 and for the most part it’s just another Wednesday. We get up, go to work, follow our daily routines, have dinner, maybe watch some TV and head off to bed. But for those of us in the know and following the foodie calendar it’s something else altogether . . . National Pretzel Day.
The humble pretzel has quite a storied and twisted history. There are a few different accounts of the origin of the pretzel. Most people agree that the pretzel does have a Christian background and that they were created using a simple mixture of water, flour and salt and they were an ideal food to consume during Lent, when all types of meat, dairy and eggs were prohibited.
The first pretzels were baked as a soft and supple breads very much like the soft pretzels of today. Some say they were originally called bracellae, the Latin term for little arms from which religious Germans later derived the word bretzel.
The most wide spread legend has it however that in AD 610 an Italian monk invented the pretzel as a reward to children who learned their prayers. He called the strips of baked dough pretiola or little rewards. The folds were said to represent the crossed arms of those in prayer and the three holes were said to represent the holy trinity.
Fast forward about 900 years after the humble pretzel had spread across much of Europe. Legend has it in approximately 1510 Ottoman Turks attempted to invade Vienna by digging tunnels underneath the city’s walls. The story goes that monks baking pretzels in the basement of a monastery heard the Turks and raised the alarm thwarting the attack. As a reward, the Austrian emperor gave the pretzel bakers their own coat of arms.
In the 1600’s pretzels were said to have been used as a symbol of love in wedding ceremonies to seal the bond of matrimony and may have even been where we developed the term tying the knot. We don’t know exactly when early settlers brought the pretzel to the new world but for those of us that love the tasty treat we’re sure glad they did. We do know that German settlers brought them to Pennsylvania when they began settling the area in the 1700’s and in 1861, Julius Sturgis founded the first commercial pretzel bakery in the town of Lititz in Lancaster County, Pa.
Sturgis is also said to have made the first hard pretzels (intentionally at least) for sale as a snack. The hard pretzel allowed for the snack to have a much longer shelf life and to get shipped further and further from the bakeries producing them making them the internationally eaten snack they are today. To this day Pennsylvania still manufactures more pretzels than any other region in the world.
So for the occasional snacker or for the pretzel aficionado National Pretzel Day is the perfect day to find one more recipe and one more reason to love your pretzels even more. Here’s a couple ideas to make your National Pretzel Day 2017 the best one yet.
Soft Pretzel Bites with Aged Cheddar and Stout Spread
- 1 cup warm water (105F)
- 1 envelope active dry yeast
- 3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for work surface
- 1 tbsp. coarse kosher salt
- 2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter, well softened
- Vegetable oil for bowl
For Baking The Pretzels
- 8 cups water
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- Coarse kosher salt
Aged Cheddar Stout Spread
- 12 ounces aged Cheddar cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 6 tbsp. stout beer
Stir together warm water and yeast in a large bowl and let stand until a creamy beige foam develops on the surface, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a smaller bowl, stir together flour, salt, and light brown sugar.
Add flour mixture and butter to yeast mixture, and work it until it forms a dough. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough until it is smooth and elastic dusting with more flour as needed.
Transfer dough to a lightly oiled large bowl and turn over to coat with oil. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise at room temperature until doubled (about three hours).
Punch down dough and divide into quarters. Form each quarter into four balls. Roll each ball into a long rope. Cut each rope into two inch pieces, and transfer to parchment lined baking sheets.
Heat oven to 450F.
In a large saucepan, bring water and baking soda to a boil. Add pretzel bites a dozen at a time and cook 30 seconds then transfer with a slotted spoon back to baking sheets. Quickly sprinkle pretzel bites lightly with kosher salt while still wet. Repeat with remaining pretzel bites, returning water to a boil between batches.
Bake pretzel bites in oven until deep chestnut brown about 10 minute remove and immediately transfer pretzel bites to wire racks to cool.
Aged Cheddar Stout Spread
Pure the cheese with six tablespoons of stout in a food processor fitted with knife blade, stopping and scraping down sides with a spatula occasionally, until mixture is creamy and smooth. Serve immediately.
Richard Moorey (aka Chef House) can be reached with email to firstname.lastname@example.org, through his website at www.evot.ca, or on his Facebook group Evolution of Tastitude. You can follow him on Twitter @House_74.