The pretzel is a very ancient bakery item, which traditionally was eaten only during Lent. It appeared each year on Ash Wednesday and disappeared on Good Friday. It goes back at least to the fifth century: there is a Roman manuscript in the Vatican Library dating from that period which shows a lenten pretzel. As to the shape: It is made in the form of two arms crossed in prayer. The word bracellae, "little arms," became in German Bretzel, then Pretzel.
These early Christians ate no dairy products in Lent, so the pretzel was made only of flour, salt and water: It was as simple as it could be.
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
V/2 cups lukewarm water (100-110° F.)
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
1 egg, beaten
Coarse or kosher salt
- Add the honey to the water; sprinkle in the yeast and stir until dissolved. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Blend in the flour and knead the dough until smooth.
- Cut the dough into pieces. Roll them into ropes and twist into pretzel shapes. You can make small pretzels with thin ropes, or large ones with fat ropes, but remember that to cook at the same rate, your pretzels need to be all the same size.
- Place the pretzels on lightly greased cookie sheets. Brush them with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse salt.
- Bake at 425° F. for 12 to 15 minutes, until the pretzels are golden brown.
I thank you, my God, for having in a thousand different ways led my eyes to discover the immense simplicity of things.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Most but not all quotes taken from the compilation A Lent Sourcebook: The Forty Days, ed. by J. Robert Baker, Evelyn Kaehler and Peter Mazar. Liturgy Training Publication, 1990.