Golden brown. Crunchy. Salty. Crisp, thin “arms” and a “fat belly” with a split. That´s the look and taste of a good lye pretzel. Which is called “Breze” or “Brezn” in Bavaria.
Traditionally, lye pretzels are made of wheat flour, malt, salt, baker´s yeast and water. Before baking, the pretzel is dipped in lye solution – which is the secret of its typical colour and characteristic taste.
Within the Catholic Church, pretzels were regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape. Originally, the looped pretzel is related to a Roman ring bread, derived from communion bread used in monasteries a thousand years ago. Over the centuries, this bread was developed into its current shape. The pretzels loops symbolize arms crossing the chest for a prayer. Pretzels made with a simple recipe using only flour and water could be eaten during Lent, when Christians were forbidden to eat eggs, lard, or dairy products such as milk and butter. Moreover, pretzels were considered as “holy bread” and were supposed to have special blessing and healing power.
Well into the 18th century, pretzels were baked only during Lent. For two reasons: On the one hand, the large baking ovens had to be heated with large amounts of expensive wood. On the other hand, the production was rather complicated, as there existed no labour-saving machines to speak of.
The online-encyclopedia Wikipedia describes the complex production of pretzels:
„Bakers use a special technique to make the pretzels´ loops. A dough strip is rolled with both hands while being pulled outwardly at the same time. As a result, the ends of the dough strip are thinner than the middle. Hold the tips of the dough strand with both hands. Then form the pretzel´s loops with a short, jerky motion while twisting the middle part of the strip in a 180-degree turnaround. Fix the tips of the dough strip on the left and right side of the “belly”.”
It´s quite easy. After you´ve practised it around a million times…
Where to buy good pretzels
Even with today´s labour-saving machines, genuine handcraft still exists. For example in the bakery Knapp & Wenig in the city center (Neuturmstraße 3; www.hb-kunstmuehle.de). The house bakery of the Hofbräuhaus flourmill produces its pretzels according to 100 year-old recipes. Besides lye pretzels, you can buy Maurerlaibl, Pfennigmuckerl, Rohrnudeln and other Bavarian bread specialties. In the flour shop next door, a variety of flour and semolina is available.
Another good bakery is the Brotmanufaktur Paul Schmidt in Haidhausen (Steinstraße 27; www.bestesbrot.de). You can buy their products either in the main shop in Haidhausen or in the online shop or in one of the branches across town (see homepage).
Crisp and fresh pretzels are also available at stall of the Rischart bakery (www.rischart.de), located in the basement of the subway station “Marienplatz”. As the stall is right on my way from the subway to the S-Bahn, it is my favourite place to buy a lye pretzel for breakfast.
A legend to finish
While chewing on your morning pretzel, think a moment of the very first lye pretzel ever eaten in Bavaria. According to the legend, this pretzel has had its share in improving the diplomatic relations between Bavaria and Württemberg. And this is how it happened:
Wilhelm Eugen von Ursingen, the royal ambassador of Württemberg, is said to have eaten a lye pretzel for breakfast on February 11th, 1839 in the coffeehouse of Johann Eilles, purveyor to the Royal Bavarian court. The baker of the coffeehouse, Anton Nepomuk Pfannenbrenner, accidentally dipped the pretzel into lye solution (used for cleaning the baking pans) instead of the sugared water he used normally. Against all fears the baked pastry smelled delicious and tasted excellent.
Hopefully you enjoy the Munich pretzels as much as Mr. von Ursingen did at the time!