The Pretzel Tradition: Germany vs. America
Dirndl > Bavaria > Oktoberfest > Beer > Pretzels … that’s only 4 degrees of separation between dirndls and pretzels! Well at least in my mind haha! I love love love a good German pretzel, I don’t know that I have ever met someone who doesn’t. With this in mind I decided to do a bit of research on the tradition of the pretzel in Germany, how it differs from those in America and then share a delicious pretzel recipe with you.
Pretzels in Germany
The ideal pretzel, as served in Germany, has a dark brown, crispy, salty crust, and inside a soft dough. It has a plump “body” and thin, crispy (not dry) crossed “arms.” In the lower parts of Bavaria a popular variety is known as a white pretzel, which is sprinkled with salt and caraway seeds. The major difference between pretzels in different regions is their thickness. For example, the Swabian pretzels have thin “arms” and a fat “belly”. They are quite rich in fat content. Whereas, in the Bavarian region the “arms” are thick and they have thin “bellies” to avoid the extra fat.
One of the variants of German pretzels is the Butterbrezel, which involves the pretzel being cut in half and then buttered. They can also be accompanied with cold meats or cheese. The popular toppings of pretzels are: sesame, poppy, sunflower, pumpkin or caraway seeds, melted cheese and bacon bits. Bavarians especially enjoy their pretzels in the late morning with Weißwürst, sweet mustard, and a Beer.
There are several pretzels variations depending on occasion and recipe:
- New Year's Pretzels are made with either a milk-dough or with a sweet yeast dough.
- Sweet Pretzels (for example, the Nut-Pretzel is made from puff-pastry and is crispy and flakey).
- Oktoberfest Pretzel. During Oktoberfest in Munich a much larger pretzel is baked. The crust is light brown, and the texture of the bread is more like a soft, white bread.
- Lent Pretzel (Fastenbrezeln). These pretzels are very light in color. The baker cooks the dough briefly in water before baking them. After baking, the pretzels are sprinkled with salt.
- Burg Pretzels. The taste and texture of these pretzels are similar to very crispy toast.
Pretzels in America
Pretzels were brought to the USA in the late 18th century. Southeastern Pennsylvania, (with its large population of Germans) is considered the birthplace of the American pretzel industry, and many pretzel bakers are still located in the area. Besides covered in salt, hard American pretzels commonly come dipped in chocolate or yoghurt, while soft pretzels are served with mustard or liquid cheese. Different flavors and toppings are popular lately including nuts, seeds, cheese, veggies and glazes. Another trend is to use pretzel dough to make burger or hot dog buns. (and I must say... a burger on a pretzel bun is WAY better than a regular bun).
Want to show off your love for pretzels with some jewelry? Try these best selling (and totes adorable) earrings.
MARTINSBREZELN: TRADITIONAL SWEET GERMAN PRETZELS
from Sophie of Dirndl Kitchen
November 11th is when St. Martin’s Day is celebrated in Germany, marking the end of harvest season. St. Martin is known for his love for children and the poor. On the night of November 11th, German children will walk in processions with lanterns they made in school, led by a man on a horse who is dressed like St. Martin. The procession leads through town to a large bonfire, where Martinsbrezeln are passed out to the children. I remember the processions very vividly, and always enjoyed singing the St. Martin’s Day songs while walking with my lantern. The sweet reward at the end, the Martinsbrezel, was the best part though!
HOW TO SHAPE PRETZELS
Shaping pretzels is only confusing at the very beginning, but once you have it figured out, it’s pretty simple! To help you understand the technique, I put together this quick, 15-second video! Click here to see the full recipe and the video on how to shape the pretzels
TRADITIONAL SAVORY GERMAN PRETZELS WITH PUMPKIN SEEDS
Pretzels really are not that difficult to make, they just need time and a good amount of attention and love. I found the recipe I used on youtube and it has worked pretty well for me! The pretzels taste authentic even with substituting baking soda for lye. In the original recipe they use lye, which can be very irritating to your skin and I read several articles telling me to stay away from it.. it’s the same chemicals they use to unclog drains after all! So instead of risking my health, I followed this article from the New York Times and baked my baking soda on a baking sheet covered with foil for an hour at 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, making it more alkaline and closer to a PH value of lye, without being as dangerous! I know it sounds like magic, but it works in making the pretzels taste more authentic!
I also recommend you have a kitchen scale that is able to show you weight in grams. This will make German cooking much easier in the future, too! 🙂 The metric system rocks! 😉
So there you have it. A little pretzel history followed by 2 great recipes to make your own. What do you think about this tradition? Have you made your own pretzels before? I'd love to hear all about it in the comments below!
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As always, ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. - Erika