Wyborg Pretzels

Thea asked for the recipe for the pretzels I made for the Festival of Fools. Before the event, I knew that pretzels were period, but I wondered whether they were primarily sweet or savoury, soft or hard. I did some research and found various suggestions for both modern and period versions. In the end I settled for a generic yeast dough, enriched by several eggs and a good bit of sugar.

This recipe is from a Finnish cookery book, Perinnemakuja Maakunnista, by Riitta Pojanluoma, which is one of my favourite sources of material. It’s intended for modern audience, but the recipes are traditional regional specialities from various parts of the country. Many of them could very well go back centuries. Tradition has it that pretzels were made in Vyborg in the Middle Ages, so I figured that this was as good a recipe as any.

3 eggs
c. 170 g sugar
500 ml warm milk – make sure not to heat it too much or the yeast will die
2 sachets of dried yeast (I used fast action)
2 tsp ground cardamom
0.5 tsp ground nutmeg
1.5 tsp salt
150-200 g soft butter
c. 1 kg flour (I used a mixture of strong white and plain flour – the strong flour will make the handling and proving of the yeast dough easier, but it’ll make the pretzels more bread-ey)

For decoration, more egg and sugar

Beat the eggs and sugar together. Add the warm milk and the spices. Start stirring flour into the mixture using a wooden spoon. When it gets too hard, start kneading the flour into the dough with your hand. You may find it easier to tip the dough out onto a floured worktop and knead it on that. Add the butter and knead it in as well. Keep kneading until the dough no longer sticks to your hands or the worktop and has become pleasantly solid, but still flexible. If you’re not familiar with kneading yeast dough, consult guides online.

If your yeast is not fast action, it will need to be proved twice. Once at this point, before it’s shaped, and again when you have shaped the pretzels. If the yeas is fast action, it only needs one proving, so you can shape the pretzels now and let them rise under a clean dishcloth in a warm place until they’re approximately doubled in size. It’s easiest if you shaped them on the baking sheet you intend to bake them on, because they’re quite hard to move when shaped.

When they have risen, glaze them with egg, once or twice, and sprinkle lots of sugar over them. Bake in 225 C for about 20 minutes.

Let them cool under a clean dishcloth again, or they will develop more crust than is ideal.

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