Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

pretzel a term which may refer to a small plain bread or to a whole range of biscuits, of which many are sweet, most with the characteristic knotted shape, but some in stick form. This must be the foodstuff that has gathered more culinary mythology about its origins than any, from praying hands in a 7th-century Italian monastery, to a Frankish king in Alsace, to rewards for children learning their catechism, all of it highly debatable. The word (bretzel in French, Brezel in German) derives from the medieval Latin bracellus or bracelet, describing its form. The pretzel is of S. German origin and is certainly pictured in medieval sources. The knot became a common sign for a baker’s shop. It was not invariably the hard, salt-strewn bread snack suitable for being eaten with beer. Many pretzels (in Philadelphia as well as in their homeland, and particularly in Holland where they are known as krakelingen) are soft and bread- or cakelike and much larger than the tiny nibbles sold today in packets. In Switzerland, for example, they are large enough to split into a sandwich. In Germany and Austria, they belong to the category of small butter biscuits and bear names indicating the principal ingredient with which the dough has been enriched or the kind of icing which has been added. Thus Haselnussbrezeln, with hazelnuts; and Zitronenbrezeln, with lemon icing. In Holland, too, they are predominantly sweet.