The pretzel, in German, brezel, is a type of bread product made from dough that most everyone thinks of as the knot-like shape. Pretzels originated in Europe, most likely among monasteries in the Early Middle Ages.
In Czech the pretzel is known as preclík, in Polish it is precel, in Serbian it is pereca, and in Hungarian it is perec.
Pretzel Bread and Buns
So, how did pretzel buns come to be so popular today and who started this new trend? Let’s first start with where did the pretzel itself come from?
The traditional pretzel shape is a distinctive symmetrical looped form, with the ends of a long strip of dough twisted back into itself in a certain way to make that typical bow. You can find pretzels now in many different shapes and flavorings. Salt is still the most common seasoning for pretzels and made by first boiling in a caustic bath of bicarbonate soda or a lye solution. This gives pretzels their traditional “skin” and flavor.
A few ask why do I include German recipes on a Slavic and American recipe site. Well, the truth of the matter is the historical background of the Germany going back to before the 10th century is complicated.
Although the name ‘Germany’ appears to imply a uniqueness of the German people, the country has always been a gateway for migration and usually from the east to the west. Germans and Norse together are part of what is called Germanic. But, if u look at the history of Germany, you will see that most of Eastern Germany (east of the Elbe River) was once Slavic, so it is reasonable to assume that very many Germans are partly or mostly of Slavic descent.
The best documented wave of migration was that of Eastern Germanic tribes and Slavs, driven by the Huns, that led to the downfall of the Roman Empire. In historic times, two major instances of assimilation of Slavic people into the German nation occurred. Around 950 AD, the German Empire started to put pressure upon the Slavic peoples inhabiting large areas of what was to become later as we know in the mid 20th Century as the German Democratic Republic.
The second major assimilation of people with Slavic ancestry occurred during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. Thousands of people from Eastern Europe migrated to the West to work in the surging industrial areas of Germany. Although they brought their surnames with them, they nevertheless became culturally intermixed and blended quite rapidly by the German majority.
If you want to read more about this you can go to http://anthrocivitas.net to find a small article explaining this.
So, this is why I include German recipes as part of the Slavic information. So, now back to the pretzel background. Such a simple offering of bread has such a history in culture and religion. There are numerous accounts on the origin of pretzels, as well as the origin of the name and most agree that they have Christian backgrounds including that the pretzel was invented by German monks.
In 610 AD “…an Italian monk invents pretzels as a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, ‘pretiola’ (“little rewards”)”. An illustration from the 12th century Hortus deliciarum from Alsace may be the earliest depiction of a pretzel.
12th century Hortus deliciarum – Pretzel depicted at a banquet of Queen Esther and King AhasuerusThe History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans
Another source locates the invention of the pretzel to a monastery in southern France. The looped pretzel may also be related to a Greek ring bread, derived from communion bread which was used in monasteries a thousand years ago. In Germany there are stories that pretzels were the invention of desperate bakers held hostage by local dignitaries.
Meyers Konversations-Lexikon from 1905 suspects the origin of pretzels to a ban of heathen baking traditions. These forms took the shape of a sun cross, at the Synod of Estinnes in the year 743. The pretzel may have emerged as a substitute. The origin of the German name “Brezel” is not exactally known but it may have been derived from the Latin bracellus which is a medieval term for “bracelet”, or bracchiola meaning “little arms”.
The German pretzel has been in use as an emblem of bakers and formerly their guilds in southern German areas since at least the 12th century. Within the Catholic Church, pretzels were regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape.
Pretzels were made with a simple recipe of only flour and water could be eaten during Lent, when Christians were forbidden to eat eggs, lard, and dairy products such as milk and butter. As time passed, pretzels became associated with both Lent and Easter. Pretzels were hidden on Easter morning just as eggs are hidden today, and are particularly associated with Lent, fasting, and prayers before Easter.
Like the holes in the hubs of round Swedish flat bread, which they let them be hung on strings, the loops in pretzels may have served a similar practical purpose. Pretzels could be hung from strings or pegs on a pole to cool as they were made, then sold.
Back to today… the pretzel bun. I tried researching this specifically since this is what the following recipe is about. I just couldn’t find much about the pretzel turned sandwich bread. What I did find was an article from Businessweek.com that has to do with fast-food restaurants changing their menus starting with Wendy’s and followed by Sonic’s. I won’t get into the article but if you want to read more I am including 2 links to their site:
See notes in the recipe about putting salting on the buns when baking. If you are preparing more buns than you intend to use on the first day only add salt on those you intend to consume. If you do want to add salt after, just simply lightly moisten the tops of the unsalted buns with your hand, top with course salt and place in the oven for a few mins (about 5mins) until the top of the bun is dry and re-crisp.
- 0.35oz Active Dry Yeast (1 Tbsp)
- 1/4 cup of warm (100-110° F) water
- 0.21 oz sugar (1 tsp)
- 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- 1 cups warm milk (about 100-110° F)
- 1 1/4 cups warm water (about 100-110° F)
- 0.42oz salt (2 tsp)
- 29.12oz to 35.84 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (6 1/2 - 8 cups)
- Yeast solution from above
- Course Salt for topping
- 3 quarts water
- 0.88 oz sugar (2 Tbsp)
- 1.95 oz baking soda (1/4 cup)
- 1 large egg and 1/2 Tbsp water
- In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast into the warm water and sugar. Set aside for about 10 mins until the solution is foaming.
- In a large bowl, if mixing by hand (or if you are using an electric dough mixer), stir together the
- oil, milk, water and the proofed yeast solution.
- Add the salt and slowly add the flour starting with two cups to make a creamy consistency.
- Add more of the flour gradually until a soft dough is formed
- Knead for about 20 mins (or 3-4 minutes in a mixer).
- You only want to add enough flour until you have a soft dough and it pulls away from the sides of the bowl. It should be slightly more stiff and less sticky than a white bread dough, but definitely still soft and not over floured.
- Transfer to a large bowl has been lightly oiled and coat dough with the oil as well to prevent sticking as it rises.
- LOOSELY cover with plastic and top with a clean dish towel.
- Allow it to rise (1-2 hrs) until doubled. Check every 1/2 so that dough doesn't over-flow the bowl.
- Portion the dough into about 12 - 16 equal portions depending on your desire for the buns (see below)
- Put the dough balls on lightly greased parchment or a lightly floured counter. Make sure the dough balls won't stick! Let them rest for about 20-25 minutes.
- After they rest, carefully remove one ball of dough at a time off the parchment, flip it
- over in your hand, pulling the ball taut, pinch the bottom to form a little pucker, twist and set back on the parchment. You don't want to deflate the dough.
- After the balls of dough are all re-formed, fill a large pot with the 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil.
- After the water boils, add the sugar and then slowly add the baking soda
- Again, carefully remove 2-3 balls of dough at a time and put into the boiling water.
- Allow to boil 20-30 SECONDS on each side and remove with a LARGE slotted spoon or spatula and place back on the parchment paper.
- Continue to do the same with the remainder of the dough balls.
- Preheat the oven to 425° F.
- While waiting for the oven to reach temperature, prepare a cookie sheet and line with a clean parchment paper.
- Place each boiled ball of dough onto the clean parchment paper about 2inches apart.
- After placing all the balls onto the cookie sheets, beat well 1 egg with a 1/2 Tbsp of water and brush each formed dough rolls completely. You can give a 2nd coat if you wish.
- If the over isn't ready cover the dough with a oiled plastic wrap so they don't dry out.
- Just before placing the rolls into the oven, sprinkle with the coarse salt* (see notes). If the tops dried too much re-brush with leftover egg wash or using a bottle water sprayer, lightly moisten the tops and sprinkle with the salt* (see notes).
- The take a very sharp knife or a razor blade and make 2-3 cuts (no more than an 1/8" deep) to the top of each. be careful not to deflate the rolls and don't worry if making your slices that the top wrinkles. It will get corrected as it bakes
- Immediately place each tray into the over on the center rack.
- Bake at 425° F for about 22 to 27 mins or until the tops of the rolls are a golden brown.
- Allow to cool a little (about 20 mins) before using or tasting.
- For the coating of the bowls and parchment paper I use a can of spray vegetable oil.
- If you have a scale, weigh the dough after it is fully risen. Then do your math for making your equal-sized portions and adjust to prevent a small-sized mini bun. For sandwich rolls 6 oz is a perfect size; 4oz is good for 1/4lb sized hamburgers. example: dough weight / 6oz = number of balls of dough to roll.
- Just like most homemade breads, these rolls definitely taste best the same day they are made; The next day just slightly warmed in the microwave for about 20 secs for one roll and it will be fresh again.
- * If you don't plan on serving the all the rolls the same day, only salt the buns you intend to use on the first day. You can always add salt to others if needed (see the next note). Salt will pull the liquid from the air and the bread and make the rolls soggy on top. Or remove the salt before storing.
- These pretzel rolls are awesome even after 1-2 days old. Just cool completely to room temperature and then store the unsalted rolls in a sealed plastic bag. After microwaving to warm the inside, lightly moisten the top of each roll with water and re-sprinkle with course salt. Put in a hot oven for no more than 5 mins or less until the top of roll is dried and lightly crispy again.