Legend has it that pretzels were first made around the year 610 in southern France or northern Italy, by monks making unleavened bread for Lent. Back then, Christians prayed with their arms folded across their chests with each hand placed on the opposite shoulder.2,3
Apparently, these monks decided to twist leftovers of dough used to make bread into this shape and use it as a treat for the children living nearby. The pretzel continued to be a popular treat throughout Europe symbolizing good fortune.2,3
German immigrants brought soft pretzels with them to Pennsylvania in the U.S. Popularity of soft pretzels is still very high in this part of the country where consumption of soft pretzels is estimated at 12 lb/person/year, or about six-times the rate of other parts of the U.S.
How are soft pretzels made?
Soft pretzels can be produced with different dough systems. The straight dough process is preferred by larger production facilities. Preferments such as poolish or sponges often provide unique flavor and texture to the finished products.
The following formulation uses the straight dough process:
||Baker’s % (based on flour weight)
|Bread flour (patent)
|Sugar (granulated, refined sucrose)
||0.5–1.0 (rest goes sprinkled)
|Non-diastatic malt (optional)
|Shortening, all purpose, plastic
The production of soft pretzels follows similar processing as bread and buns. The main difference is the makeup or dough forming stage. Pretzels require special forming that is often carried out manually.
- Ingredient scaling/metering.
- Dough mixing: mix for 30 seconds on first speed, then on second speed to full gluten development. Desired temperature of dough after mixing is 75–82°F (24–28°C).
- Bulk fermentation: dough resting for 30–60 minutes before makeup.
- Dividing (scaling weight is often set at 4–5 oz (113–140 g).
- Moulding: shape dough pieces into 30 inch or 75 cm long cylindrical rods (approximately ½ inch or 1.3 cm in diameter), circle ends around, twist, then tuck ends to resemble pretzel.
- Boiling or caustic wash: Boil dough in a 0.5–1.0% sodium hydroxide solution at 180°F (82°C) for approximately 15 sec. A 5.0–10.0% baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) solution can also be used instead.
- Topping: sprinkling with coarse pretzel salt.
- Baking: bake (without final proofing) at 450°F (232°C) for 14–16 min (depending on the level of malt and crust color) on sheet pans lined with silicone-treated paper.
- Cooling: Cool baked goods to an internal temperature of 90–95°F (32–35°C) before packaging.
- Packaging or serving.
Pretzels are well-known for their high content of salt which imparts their characteristic flavor and appearance.
The average sodium content per 100 g of soft pretzel can be significant, around 1,600 mg sodium (Na). This is three times the amount found in regular bread and two times that found in soda crackers.5 Creating lower sodium soft pretzels which retains their unique sensory properties remains a challenge.
Like other yeast-leavened products such as pan bread and artisan bread, the best quality soft pretzels are made from hard wheat flours. By using bread flour, a chewy bite in the finished product can be achieved.
Recommended flour specifications:
- Wheat flour from Hard red spring (HRS), Hard red winter (HRW) and Hard white (HW)
- Bleaching and malting are advised
- Protein content of 11.0–12.5%
- Ash content of 0.45–0.60%
The boiling step
Immersion into a hot liquid baths is required to produce the smooth appearance characteristic of soft pretzels. The boiling water gelatinizes surface starch and creates a tough, chewy crust.
The alkaline or high pH bath fosters Maillard browning, thus producing the shiny dark brown surface. Additionally, it produces the unique flavor notes, characteristic of pretzels.
- Morris, C.F. “Cereals: Overview of Uses: Accent on Wheat Grain.” Encyclopedia of Food Grains, 2nd edition, Volume 3 Grain-Based Products and their Processing, Academic Press, Elsevier Ltd., 2016, pp. 1–3.
- Suas, M. “Bread Formulas.” Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach, Delmar, Cengage Learning, 2009, p. 274.
- The Old World, History of the German Pretzel – Who Invented the Pretzel?, https://www.oldworld.ws/history-of-german-soft-pretzels.html. Accessed 25 April 2019.
- Serna-Saldivar, S.O. “Manufacturing of Bakery Products.” Cereal Grains Properties, Processing, and Nutritional Attributes, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC, 2010, pp. 259–278.
- Day, L. “Cereal Food Production with Low Salt.” Encyclopedia of Food Grains, 2nd edition, Volume 3 Grain-Based Products and their Processing, Academic Press, Elsevier Ltd., 2016, pp. 396–402.