BARBARA GEIER: The root of pretzel misery
Are you ready? Here’s another one of my rants. Or let’s just call it an education, this time. What I have to say is particularly addressed to Sainsbury’s and everyone there responsible for baked goods and violating my beloved ‘Brezel’ (or pretzel/pretzel knots, to all English readers).
But let me start at the beginning: A couple of years back or maybe it was only last year, can’t remember, I discovered to my great delight that Sainsbury’s had started selling pretzels in its bread section. ‘Hooray’, I went. Why? Because I LOVE them, and what they’re made of – ‘Laugenteig’ – is one of my favourites types of dough. I would also like to give you the English word for it but can’t. It seems to be called pretzel dough sometimes which doesn’t make any sense because there are also bread rolls or sticks, ‘Laugenbrötchen’ and ‘Laugenstangen’, made of this specifically treated yeast dough and they are very obviously not pretzels. That word is reserved for the peculiarly shaped thing only. But since there’s apparently no equivalent type of dough in the UK, it can’t be named and maybe that’s at the root of all the misery: If it doesn’t exist, how should anyone know how to produce and handle it. Because the pretzels you get here are, by and large, a really sad affair. (Still eat them though, for want of the real thing.)
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Instead of a mix of fluffy and crispy in the right places and sprinkled with salt, they are, god knows why, saltless, baked to death (or overbaked, in Great British Bake Off-speak) and as a result, rock-hard. I’m particularly looking at you here, a certain Sainsbury’s on a street in west London that produces the worst pretzels I have ever eaten in my life, of a consistency that is a threat to even the healthiest of teeth. People, you need to take them out of the oven at some point! And I’m not even going to start talking about the very, very weird shapes that you sometimes manage to produce that have little resemblance to the characteristic knot.
Apart from the fact that I LOVE a good ‘Brezel’ (perfect with butter, by the way), I also feel particularly protective about them and would like people to know what they’re really supposed to taste like because I went to secondary school in a town called Speyer, where people have a very special relationship with pretzels. They even claim that they were invented in their town, which is not true, but there’s definitely a century-old tradition of making and eating them and the ‘Brezel’ is a constant presence all over town. There’s a statue of a boy on the market square holding one in his hand, there are pretzel booths dotted along the high street that look like little glass houses and since 1910, there’s been a ‘Brezelfest’ in summer operating as one of those typically German, Oktoberfest-type affairs. They even started crowning their own ‘Brezelkönigin’ (pretzel queen) last year on the occasion.
I’m wondering if we should get some bakers from there over to London for a special pretzel workshop to show everyone at Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, Pret à Manger and everywhere else selling them how it’s done. Because there seems to be a common misunderstanding about what it is and what it is not. It is: delicious, fresh, fluffy, crispy, salty. It is not: hard, sad, dark and abused in an oven. Until then, I’ll still be storming my local bakery in Germany as soon as I get home to sink my teeth (risk-free) into the real thing.
TEXT & PHOTO: BARBARA GEIER
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Germany Magazine.’
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