Pretzels date back to the Middle Ages, according to "Women's Day Encyclopedia" (Fawcett Publications, 1966). Supposedly they were first baked by an Italian monk as a reward for children learning their prayers.
Their popularity spread through Central Europe. Even today, a gilt pretzel hanging over a door in Switzerland or Germany designates the establishment as a baker's shop. Soft pretzels have the oldest history; however, the crisp variety was being produced commercially by a bakery in Lititz, Pa., in 1861. The following recipe is for this latter type, but if a lighter texture is desired, allow the formed pretzels to rise about 20 minutes before baking.
Pretzels are prepared from a simple yeast dough, kneaded until it is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled.
Punch the dough down and divide into 16 equal portions. Roll each between the palms of your hands into a rope about 16 inches long (Step 1).
To form the pretzels, cross the ends of the rope, forming a circle (Step 2). Twist the ends once again (Step 3), then pull up and over to meet the top edge of the circle (Step 4).
Place the shaped pretzels on a foil-lined baking sheet, brush with beaten egg (Step 5) and sprinkle with coarse salt (Step 6) before baking.
Pretzels are a traditional food of Oktoberfest celebrations in Germany and throughout the rest of the world. The homemade variety are best served still warm from the oven, accompanied by mustard and beer.
1 1/2 cups warm (105 to 115 degrees) water
1 package dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs, beaten
Pour water into large mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over surface. Stir until dissolved.
Mix in flour. Form into ball. Turn out onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Place dough in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in warm place free from drafts until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch dough down. Divide into 16 equal portions, about 2-ounces each. Form pretzels. Place about 2 inches apart on greased, foil-lined baking sheets. Brush with beaten eggs and sprinkle with coarse salt.
Bake at 475 degrees 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from baking sheets and cool on wire racks. Makes 16 pretzels.
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