No one knows for certain how the pretzel was born. According to one legend, pretzels were given to children as a reward for saying their nighttime prayers. This seems a bit unlikely to me, because surely this would have interfered with the timing of brushing one’s teeth before bed!
Nonetheless, the pretzel is full of sacred symbolism and secular practicality. On the sacred side, the three holes are supposed to represent the Father, Son, and Honly Spirit. And the twisted center of the pretzel is said to represent the crossing of arms across one’s heart during prayer, a practice often depicted in old paintings of saints. On the secular side, the pretzel was the symbol by which the illiterate during the Middle Ages recognized the location of a bakery. To this day, one will often see a symbol of a pretzel hung in front of bakeries throughout Germany.
Sacred or secular, the pretzel rewards its practitioners with the reward of life-long learning. The pretzel is full of process specific challenges ranging from shaping and proofing to the application of lye.
RECIPE FOR 12 PRETZELS
Lye Solution (3.5%)
1000g cold water
35g food grade lye (sodium hydroxide)
Pour the lye into water. Mix well until fully dissolved. Cover air tight. If making pretzels daily, the solution can be used up to three days before losing its potency.
Lye is responsible for a prezel’s unique flavor and color. However, lye is a caustic substance and should not make skin contact. Take precaution by wearing rubber gloves and safety glasses when handling lye. I also recommend labeling your solution so it is not mistaken as water.
232g high-gluten flour
1 pinch of instant yeast
Mix ingredients until no dry ingredients are visible. Cover airtight, and let ripen overnight for 10-12 hours.
All of biga
927g high-gluten flour
2g malted rye powder
6g instant yeast
Mix. Place all ingredients into a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix on slow for 4 minutes, then on fast for 6 minutes until smooth and extensible.
Bulk Fermentation. Transfer dough to a lidded plastic tub. Ferment for approximately 2 hours with one stretch and fold at the mid-way point.
Pre-Shape. Empty dough onto unfloured table. Scale out dough into square pieces weighing 150g each. Roll each piece (start from top working towards you) into a cylinder approximately 8” in length. Cover with plastic wrap and let relax for 20 minutes.
Final Shape. Without touch the center part of the cylinder, extend each log slightly wider than shoulder width (approximately 30”). The strand should be symmetrically tapered from the center (belly) out toward the left and right sides (arms), yet leaving the very tips (hands) untapered.
Lie the strand on the table in front of you like an upside-down letter U. The belly should be farthest from you; the hands should be closest to you. Take hold of the hands, and create the twist by crossing the arms twice, right over left. Then lay the hands over the belly at 10 and 2 o’clock and pinch them gently in place.
Place the pretzel on a sprayed sheet pan. Do not cover, as we want a skin to form on the dough! This is important, because pretzels will later be dipped in a lye solution. The skin prevents the lye solution from penetrating into the dough, keeps the solution on the surface of the pretzel, and allows the caustic properties of the lye solution to be fully baked off in the oven.
Retard. Once a skin has formed (approx. 20 minutes), cover the pretzels with plastic and place in the refrigerator. Allow to retard at least 6 hours and up to 12 hours.
Dip. Remove pretzels from refrigerator and proceed quickly while pretzels are cold. Wearing protective gear, dip pretzels one at a time into lye solution for 5-6 seconds each side. Transfer onto a metal cooling rack with a sheet pan underneath. It is best to use a flat metal spider strainer to flip the pretzels over and to transfer them from the solution to the cooling rack.
Transfer the pretzels from the rack onto a sprayed sheet pan. Score the belly. Sprinkle with pretzel salt.