Pretzels: A Lenten Treat

Jan van Bijlert, Pulling of the Pretzel (ca. 1630)

Fashioned to look like a pair of arms crossed over a chest, the pretzel has long been a staple in the Central European household. The tasty treat was first introduced in the seventh century by Italian monks as a reward for children who dutifully learned their prayers. Later on, pretzels were used in the bakery emblems of baker’s guilds in Southern Germany, and by the seventeenth century the pretzel was a frequent fixture on the German Good Friday dinner table. These Lenten pretzels were made with only flour and water as eggs, lard or dairy products were strictly forbidden.

Here’s a recipe for soft pretzels much like the ones enjoyed during Lent from Serve them with mustard and a nice, unfiltered beer. Or slice them open and fill with cheese for a tasty sandwich.

German Pretzels

1 package active dry yeast
4 cup flour, unbleached
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 egg
1 tsp coarse salt
1 tbsp sugar

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add salt and sugar to yeast mixture. Blend in flour and knead dough until smooth, about 7 to 8 minutes. Cover and let dough rise until double in bulk. Punch down. Cut dough into small pieces and roll into ropes. Twist ropes into pretzel shapes and place on greased cookie sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush pretzels with slightly beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse salt. Allow pretzels to rise until almost double in bulk. Bake at 425 degrees F. for 10 to 15 minutes or until browned. Best if eaten immediately. If not, store in airtight container. Makes 12 pretzels.


Baumgarthuber, Christine. Fermented Foods: The History and Science of a Microbiological Wonder. Reaktion Books, 2021.

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