One of my favorite symbol-isms of pretzels dates back to 1440. The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, considered one of the most illuminated manuscripts from the 15th century and is widely considered one of the great masterpieces from Northern Europe. It was produced by an anonymous Dutch artist, who was known as the Master of Catherine of Cleves. This book is truly an amazing piece of art.
Within the pages of The Hours, there is a page that depicts (MS M.917, pp. 228-229) St. Bartholomew with a surrounding border of pretzels and crackers. Some have interpreted this to be irrelevant, however, given that the Catholic Church does have an established history with pretzels, I tend to think that St. Bartholomew was likely a baker and the pretzels were not only a literal representation of him but also a symbolic representation of his piety. After all, the Church’s history with pretzels dates back to 610 A.D., when monks baked pretzels as treats for their students. The twist in the pretzel matched the crossing of one’s arms during prayer. As the custom spread, the pretzel’s three holes represented the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
It is because the symbolism of the pretzel is founded in the belief of the Holy Trinity, today I feel it’s the pretzel, regardless of the shape, that really reminds me of the importance of spirituality and literal sustenance.
In a large bowl, add 2 cups of 110 degree F water. Stir in the brown sugar and stir until dissolved.
Open and sprinkle the yeast over the water. Allow the mixture to stand until it becomes foamy. This should take about 5 minutes.
Stir in the vegetable oil. Slowly stir in 3 cups of the flour. Then knead in the remaining 2 3/4 cups of flour. Expect the dough to be slightly sticky.
It's time to kneed! Transfer the dough on to your floured countertop or work surface. Kneel the dough for about 3 minutes until it becomes silky. If the dough is stickly, you can kneed up to about 1/4 cup more.
Oil a bowl with vegatable oil. Place the dough into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the bowl stand at room temperature until he dough doubles in size.
Line (at least two, you will really need three) cookie sheets with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper.
Punch down the dough, literally punch the dough in the middle. Transfer the dough back to your work surface (floured) and kneed the dough lightly.
Flatten the dough and cut it into 24 equal pieces. Roll each piece into 11 inch stick. Twist the stick several times, then place on to cookie sheet. Leave at least 2 inches between the twists. Let stand uncovered until they puff up again, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450°.
In a deep skillet or large pot, add 2 quarts of water and baking soda. Bring to simmer over high heat. Once simmering, reduce heat to medium.
Using a pair of slotted spoons, add (one at a time) up to 6 pretzel twists to the water. After 15 seconds, turn over the pretzel. Remove from water after 30 seconds and place on paper towel to drain. If you allow it to cook longer, the texture of the preztel can change.
Before adding the next set of 6 pretzel twists, add 1 cup of hot water.
Transfer the pretzel twists from the paper towels back to cookie sheets. Ensure that the twists are space evenly.
Prepare an egg wash with the egg and a small amount of water.
Brush the pretzel twists with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt. If you forget the salt at this point it will be difficult to add the salt after they come out of the oven (the salt won't stick).
Bake the pretzel twists for about 10 minutes or until browned.