According to some historians, the pretzel is the world’s oldest snack food.
It was invented by a now-nameless Italian monk-baker in AD 610, who rewarded his students by baking scraps of dough in the shape of the way they prayed—with arms folded across the chest. He called them pretiolas, Latin for “little rewards.” Pretiolas spread throughout Europe and became symbols of good luck, long life, and prosperity. German children wore pretzels tied on strings around their necks at New Year’s and pretzels crowned the tops of Christmas trees.
In 1510, Turkish soldiers tried to invade Vienna, Austria, by digging tunnels underneath the city. The pretzel bakers, working at night, heard them, alarmed the city, and helped fight off the invaders. The grateful Austrian emperor commissioned a special coat of arms for them, still used today: a charging lion and a pretzel.
Until the 1600s, pretzels were soft. The hard pretzel is credited to a nameless seventeenth-century baker who fell asleep and overbaked the soft pretzels.
According to historians, pretzels (and their recipes) came to America on shipboard with the first colonists and were traded with Native Americans.
In 1861, Julius Sturgis opened the first commercial pretzel bakery in America in Lititz, Pennsylvania.
Pretzel Recipes - with pretzel recipe variations
Try Carlyn's basic recipe for pretzels. Then think about the possibility of variations. Here are variations developed by Carlyn Berghoff of the Berghoff Cafe:
Cheese Pretzels: Add 2 cups of grated white Cheddar cheese (8 ounces) with the dry ingredients and proceed with the recipe. Or add 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (4 ounces) to the flour and proceed with the recipe, then sprinkle a second cup of grated Parmesan (4 ounces) on the egg white–brushed pretzels before baking.
Caraway Pretzels: Add 4 teaspoons of caraway seeds to the flour and proceed with the recipe. Top with 1/2 cup of coarse salt before baking.
Bacon Pretzels: Add 1/2 cup of bacon bits (from a jar or package) to the flour and proceed with the recipe. Sprinkle with kosher salt as needed and 1/4 cup of bacon bits before baking.
Chocolate Chip Pretzels: Increase the butter to 1/2 cup and the sugar to ? cup, and prepare the dough according to the recipe. Add to the finished dough 1 cup of chocolate chips, kneading only long enough to incorporate the chips. Dust the baked pretzels with 1 1/2 cups of confectioners’ sugar.
Cinnamon-Raisin Pretzels: Increase the butter to 1/2 cup and the sugar to 1/2 cup, and add
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon. Prepare the dough according to the recipe. Add to the finished dough 1/2 cup of dark raisins cut in half, kneading only long enough to incorporate. Dust the baked pretzels well with 1 1/2 cups of confectioners’ sugar.
Mini-Pretzels: Make half-size versions of any of the above by dividing the dough into 24 equal-size pieces and rolling into 12-inch-long ropes. Then proceed with the rest of the recipe as directed.
Thank you, Carlyn!