Pretzels for Lent date back to the early Church, perhaps sometime in the 4th century. During that time it was common for Christians to fast during the season, abstaining from meat, dairy, fats, and sweets. These quick breads are made with only a tiny bit of sugar (or honey, if you prefer) to activate the yeast and no fat – they are entirely flour, water and yeast!
Fasting is not an end in itself, it helps us empty ourselves and so draw closer to God. Praying is another way to draw closer to God and pretzels remind us of prayer, too. This soft dough is formed into a loop with ends crossed, meant to symbolize arms crossed in prayer.
The word “pretzel” comes from the German translation of the Latin word for little arms, “bracellae.”
Another story places the origin of the word in “pretiola” which means little reward, so pretzels might have been given as an award to a child who had learned her prayers!
One of my favorite lessons that these pretzels teach is about yeast. We hear Jesus compare the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast that spreads through flour to make dough rise. Matthew’s version of the parable says that she uses a measure of yeast to 60 pounds of flour. In our recipe we use about a pound of flour, and we can see how much our measure of yeast makes it rise. The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny bit of leaven that makes flour into bread!
This recipe makes 20 large pretzels.
1 ½ c lukewarm water
1 package (2 ¼ tsp) yeast
4 cups + all purpose flour, divided
1 Tbs sugar
2 tsp salt
1 Tbs water
1/3 c coarse salt
Large mixing bowl
Measuring cups, dry & liquid
Small mixing bowl
Wooden board to knead the dough
2 cookie sheets
Parchment paper or cooking spray
Pastry brush Small bowl Wire racks
How to Make:
1. In the large mixing bowl, place the lukewarm water and pour in the yeast. Let mixture sit for about 5 minutes until bubbly.
2. In the small mixing bowl combine 3 cups of flour, sugar, and salt. Add to the yeast mixture. Stir until the ingredients are blended and form a ball.
3. Place the dough on a lightly floured board or tabletop.
4. Dust your hands with flour and begin kneading the dough. Slowly knead in the fourth cup of flour. After about 5 minutes the dough should be smooth and not sticky. It is ready when it is no longer sticky!
5. Pull the dough into 20 pieces. Roll each into a long snake about ½-inch thick and 15” long. Shape pretzel into a loop, crossing the ends and fastening the ends to opposite side of the loop – the image of arms at prayer.
6. Preheat the oven to 425
7. Place pretzels on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper (or lightly sprayed with oil), allowing several inches of space between each pretzel.
8. In the small bowl gently beat the egg and combine with 1 Tbsp water. Paint the mixture on each pretzel and sprinkle with coarse salt.
9. Bake the pretzels for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cook on wire racks.
Cooper, Terry, and Marilyn Ratner. Many Friends Cooking: An International Cookbook for Boys and Girls. US Committee for UNICEF, NY, NY, 1980.