I've never met a person who doesn't like Soft Pretzels! Ever!
Certain pretzel historians claim the pretzel is the world's oldest snack food. Further, the pretzel is believed to have been invented by an Italian Monk in the 6th century who rewarded church-going youngsters with this doughy bribe. The word pretzel probably descends from the Latin word "Pretzola," or "little reward," and evolved into the Italian word "brachiola" which means "little arms." Legend has it that the pretzel represents arms crossed in prayer, and that the three holes represent the Trinity. The pretzel probably traveled to America with the Palantine Germans who were later known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Not too surprisingly, the German word for pretzel is "bretzel".
Lititz, a city outside of Lancaster in Pennsylvania Dutch country is said to be the birthplace of the American pretzel. Another legend has it that in the late 1850s, a hobo jumped off a train in Lititz and was given a free meal by a baker named Ambrose Roth. In exchange for Roth's munificence, the hobo gave the baker a recipe for the pretzel. Roth passed on the recipe to his apprentice, William Sturgis, who baked the first American pretzel in 1861.
As to why some pretzels are hard while others are soft: Some think that all pretzels were soft until one night a baker fell asleep while a batch of pretzels were cooking. The pretzels had the moisture cooked out of them — hence the hard pretzel.
Soft Pretzel Recipe
For 3 dozen 6-inch sticks or For 1 dozen 6-inch Pretzels
1 tbsp Yeast
1 tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Salt
2 tbsp softened butter or softened margarine
1 cup warm (115-+ deg F) water
2 3/4 cups flour
Coarse Salt to sprinkle on Pretzels before baking
5 tsp baking soda mixed in 4 cups water in a non-aluminum saucepan.
1 large slotted spoon to "go fishing"
Greased cookie sheet
Preheat oven to 475 F
Put yeast, sugar, salt, butter/marg, water and ONE CUP of the flour into a medium mixing bowl and pour in the water.
Stir till all smooth, and yeast starts to bubble.
Add the rest of the flour, stir till it is mixed in.
When mixture is too stiff to stir with a spoon, begin kneading.
Knead dough till smooth and till it no longer sticks to the bowl and your hands
Allow dough to rise to about double its height.
While dough is rising, grease the cookie sheet. and prepare the baking soda-water mixture and bring to a boil on stove.
When dough is risen enough, punch down, knead for a minute or so.
Divide dough and roll with your hands, to about 1/2 inch in diameter.
Make 6-inch lengths to make sticks or 12-15-inch long rolls to make into the pretzel shape.
(Suggest practicing with a length of string or yarn to develop the pretzel twisting technique.)
Allow sticks or pretzels to sit for about 1-2 mins.
Place them into boiling water-baking soda mixture one or two at a time.
Let the pretzels boil for 1 minute 10 seconds
Flip them over with the slotted spoon and boil on the other side for 1 minute and 10 seconds.
This boiling step gives them a firm skin and adds some flavour.
Not boiling long enough leaves them too soft and allows them to rise too much.
Boiling too long makes them tough.
Fish them out of the water, let them drip off and place them on the greased cookie sheet.
When all the pretzels or sticks are done, sprinkle the coarse salt on them.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or till sticks or pretzels are golden brown.
You can double the recipe in proportion.