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not a 6-year-old care in the world as the wind whipped against my
face. On our way back in the afternoons, we would stop off at a
bakery along the German border and it was there that she treated
me to my afternoon snack: an enormous buttered pretzel (I swear
it was larger than my head at the time!) I blissfully gnawed on this
for the entire trip home, its flavor and texture etched in my memory
for years to come.
Fast forward some years later as I stepped for the first time in
my life into a ballpark (Yankee Stadium, to be exact). My beloved
Yankees were to play the Kansas City Royals, and I had been anxiously
anticipating this trip for weeks. Our neighbors had invited me to
join them for this “real American experience” and I couldn’t wait to
be there. As we entered the park, my neighbor’s eyes lit up as he
excitedly pulled me through the crowd towards an odor that was
completely foreign to me. “You’re going to love these things!” he
said. Based on the harsh aroma, I had my doubts.
As the people parted, we finally made our way to a street vendor
in possession of a shopping cart retrofitted with a metal container
filled with glowing charcoal. My eyes stung a bit. Balanced across
the container was a small Weber grill grate and perched on top of
it was what appeared to be a classic pretzel. My neighbor beamed
– he was completely enamored. Based on his emotions, this was
obviously something very special that I had been missing out on in
my native Switzerland. Skepticism seeped through my body, but I
thought I had better give this a try. I reached out to take the pretzel
from the vendor and he handed it to me wrapped in paper with a
dollop of yellow (and I mean YELLOW!) mustard.
I took a whiff of what smelled like burnt bread and hesitated
before opening my mouth. I took a bite. So this is what an American
pretzel tastes like, I thought to myself. It was charred and bone-dry
and left a smokey tinge in my mouth – nothing at all like the pretzels
I was used to. I was homesick at once. Needless to say, I politely
declined to have another and secretly vowed to myself at that time
to never eat another American pretzel again. From then on, I would
look forward to devouring a buttered pretzel in the Zurich airport
as soon as I got off the plane (and not that the airport food is great,
but it sure did beat the memory of the grilled pretzels with mustard
seared in my mind!).
32 Pastry & Baking
North America
hen I young and living in Switzerland, my
grandmother took me to kindergarten. I sat on the
back of her bicycle, securely strapped into my seat,
Publisher’s Note:
Ciril Hitz is the Department Chair for
the International Baking and Pastry Institute at Johnson &
Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. He has been
recognized both nationally and internationally with numerous
awards and accomplishments. Ciril recently published two
DVD series:
Bread Art
Better Bread.
His upcoming book,
Baking Artisan Bread
, is due for released in October 2008.
More information on Ciril and his work can be found on his
web site:
Artisan Baker
Fast forward again, this time many years later, to
my life at Johnson & Wales University. Our Dean of
Culinary at the time, Karl Guggenmos, was to host an
authentic Bavarian-style dinner on campus and he
needed some pretzels to accompany this meal. Being
German himself, he was not going to be impressed by
anything less than the real deal. I smiled at fate and
took this as a challenge to recreate the pretzel in my
memory. Together with my colleagues, Mitch Stamm
and Richard Miscovich, we put our heads together
and, with some trials and errors, delivered a pretty
decent batch of German pretzels that night to the
Dean’s dinner.
So now I eat pretzels again in America, and you
can, too! The key to a good pretzel lies not only in the
formula, but also in the essential step of using a food
grade lye bath. This can be a little challenging to come
by, but usually your vendors should be able to order
you some food grade lye with a little advance notice.
Once you have it, you are on your way of enjoying a
true Bavarian classic. And don’t forget the beer and
sausage, too – Prost!