A pretzel is a heavenly delight that comes soft and chewy or crunchy and crispy, shaped in various forms and salted by the gods themselves.
I had no idea that the simple pretzels had so much history. It seems that there are numerous accounts on the origin of this looped treat. Most of them agree that they have religious backgrounds and were first served by monks. One story has an Italian monk using the strips of baked dough, twisted to resemble the arms crossing the chest, as a reward to children who studied their prayers. He called them ‘pretiola’ meaning little rewards. In Germany, it is thought that pretzels were the invention of desperate bakers. It is suspected that the German pretzel was the result of a ban of heathen baking traditions in the form of sun wheels. The German term ‘brezel’ is said to have Latin origins and was a medieval term for bracelet.
As to why some pretzels are hard and crunchy while other are soft, it is said that one night a baker fell asleep while baking a batch and all the moisture was cooked out of them – hence the hard pretzel. Well, I did not fall asleep while baking mine and they turned out great … soft and chewy with little crunchy “cheese skirts”. Because these are not boiled, they tend to be more bread like. This recipe offers lots of opportunity to swap out certain ingredients for others of your choice. If sharp cheddar is not to your liking but something spicy is, try a pepper jack with red chili powder. My 13 year old nephew has placed a request for pepperoni to be added to my next batch! These pretzels are best served warm or the day you baked them. But like pizza heated up the day after, they may be a bit chewy but none the less good to eat!
I may never beat Helen Hoff’s (a world champion pretzel twister) record of twisting 57 in a minute, but I did roll a respectable pretzel. Now it’s your turn.
Guy’s Knot for Nuthin, Everything Pretzel
Adapted from a recipe by Guy Fieri
- 1 1/2 cups warm water, 110 degrees F
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup for work surface
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used chipotle pepper.)
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic (I used garlic powder)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 2 eggs (one for dough and one for egg wash)
- 3 cups grated sharp Cheddar (use your favorite)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1/2 Tablespoon poppy seeds to sprinkle on top
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt to sprinkle on top
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
In a glass measuring cup, add the warm water and the yeast. If you have a digital read thermometer check to make sure the temperature is about 110 degrees. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes.
In a food processor fitted with a dough blade, add the dry ingredients and the Parmesan cheese. Pulse together 3 times at 5 second intervals. This gives it a good mix. Add 1 egg and the warm water/yeast mixture. Pulse for 10 second intervals until the dough comes together. (This happens quickly. If the dough “looks” too moist add a bit more flour and pulse again.)
Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead 10 to 12 times, adding a little flour, if sticky. Shape into a ball and cut the dough in half. (I found this dough to be a dream to work with!)
Roll out 1 piece of dough to a 12 by 17-inch rectangle. It will be about a 1/4-inch thick.
Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the Cheddar in the middle third of the dough (short way). Fold 1/3 of the dough over, and sprinkle with 3/4 cup of the Cheddar. Fold the last third over and pinch the edges closed. (It is kind of like a 3-fold brochure.)
Roll with a rolling pin to form an 11 by 15-inch rectangle. Cut into 1 1/2-inch lengthwise strips (6 strips per half of dough.) Pinch the cut edges together and then roll into cigar shape. Form into a pretzel shape and put on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. Repeat with the second ball of dough.
Beat the remaining egg and the milk in a small bowl. Next, brush the formed pretzels with the egg/milk mixture and sprinkle with the salt and poppy seeds. Be creative with your toppings … you can try granulated garlic salt, sesame seeds … the choices are endless!
Bake until nicely browned, about 16 to 18 minutes. I found that 17 to 18 minutes worked for me. Remove from the oven to a wire rack. Serve warm or room temperature.