If you’re interested in learning American cooking techniques, it’s pretty much mandatory that you learn how to make soft pretzels. Along with hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries, soft pretzels are one of the most recognizable ballpark snacks and food court favorites. It’s hard to imagine anything better than the soft, flavorful dough, large, crystalline clusters of salt and warm cheese dip (or mustard) to tie it all together. Add in the unique, knotted shape and you have a distinct culinary treasure. One of the things that separates pretzels from regular bread is that the dough must be dropped in boiling alkaline water before it is baked, which accounts for a lot of the texture and flavor. Pretzel dough recipes are fairly uniform, although some add sugar for sweetness or beer for a signature taste.
Every locale has esoteric fare that defines the region. It wouldn’t be fair to discuss this doughy piece of American cuisine without bringing up the city of Philadelphia. Of course, the City of Brotherly Love is also well-known for the infamous Philly cheesesteak, but pretzels are still deeply imbued in Philadelphia’s past. Legend has it pretzels were first created by Italian monks in the 7th century, and the snack quickly became popular in Austria and Germany. This food first came to the United States in the hands of Dutch immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. Eventually, street vendors started selling pretzels in Philly, where the snack has been popular ever since. The average Philadelphian consumes around 12 times as many pretzels each year as those who live in other areas of the U.S. Chicago and New York are also renowned for their pretzels.
Hard vs. soft
Legend has it that a snoozing chef’s apprentice slept through the night while a batch of pretzels was cooking. Up until that time, all pretzels were served soft, but like many great discoveries, this one was accidental. Hard pretzels simply have the moisture cooked out of them, which leads to the change in density and texture. Hard pretzels have a much longer shelf life, and since their invention they have become a popular grocery store snack.
Variations on shape
All pretzels are made from the same type of dough, so once you learn how to make basic pretzels, the options expand greatly. You can make pretzel rods or bites, or even pretzel buns for hot dogs and hamburgers.