If foodstuffs were pop culture figures, the pretzel bun would be Kim Kardashian.
This summer, it is hot, hot, hot.
The pretzel bun has been around for a while, but now all of a sudden it’s everywhere (also, a lot like the Kardashians).
You can’t open a restaurant menu and not see some sandwich offered on a pretzel bun.
At Crave downtown, it’s pulled pork. At the Beer Haus in the Merriman Valley, it’s the house burger and the chicken sandwich.
The pretzel bun obviously has hooked up with the right public relations firm. No doubt the same one that started promoting kale a few years ago. Seriously, who would have believed that in 2013 we’d all be eating kale and kale chips and loving it? But I digress.
The pretzel bun entered a higher stratosphere this summer when Wendy’s, Ruby Tuesday’s and Dunkin Donuts all began to offer pretzel bun sandwiches. Sonic has a hot dog served on a pretzel bun and Sister Schubert’s, the frozen roll maker, added pretzel buns to her lineup too.
When the pretzel bun became the cover girl on this month’s King Arthur Flour baker’s catalog, I knew its time had come.
So, as I ruminate on the summer of lovin’ for the pretzel bun, I of course began to wonder where this bun got its start. Who was the person who said, “Wow, a hot pretzel is so good, let’s put some ham between two and make a sandwich. No, wait, let’s roll it into a bun!”
The first time I ever remember having a pretzel bun was four years ago in Wooster at the former Bake Haus, a bakery that was owned and operated by Sofie Dittmann.
Dittmann’s pretzel buns were some of the best I have ever eaten, but unfortunately, she’s only making them for family and friends since closing. When I called her to chat about the pretzel bun’s newfound fame, Dittmann noted that for anyone German, the pretzel bun is nothing new. Dittmann is a native of Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany,
Chewy hot pretzels — both in the traditional twisted shape, and the sandwich bun and sub bun shapes — are widely available in Germany. There’s even a pretzel/croissant hybrid, she said. (Of course, Akron’s Summit Croissants sells those.)
“It’s something very German,” she said.
To make the authentic, chewy, traditional pretzel buns, Dittmann actually dipped her dough in sodium hydroxide, or lye, before baking them to give them their dark color. The lye is a typical step in making pretzels in Germany and is why pretzel buns are sometimes referred to as German lye rolls.
Dittmann said working with lye makes it difficult to make pretzel buns at home, and she has the splatters on her stove to prove it.
However, Dittmann said the pretzel buns being served up at fast food restaurants may look like a pretzel and have a brown color, but they have little to do with real German pretzel buns, which are dense and chewy, like a soft pretzel from a street vendor.
“They’re not even close to the real thing. They just have a brown look to them,” she said.
That’s actually by design, according to Brian Miller, owner of Miller Baking Co. of Milwaukee, which produces the Pretzilla line of pretzel buns for grocery stores and restaurants. Locally, Pretzilla buns are available at Buehler’s and Fisher Foods stores.
Miller said he likes a chewy authentic soft pretzel as much as anyone, but the times when he’s tried to have a sandwich on a roll that chewy, it was just a bit more bun than he could get his mouth around.
“We’ve designed ours to be light and airy,” he said. “It looks and tastes like a pretzel, but it’s easy to chew and enjoy.” When it comes to a sandwich, Miller wants the Pretzilla to be the best supporting actor to what’s on the bun, not to steal the show.
Miller’s company has been baking pretzel buns since 2007, and said the reason the company is about to move into an expanded facility is an effort to keep up with the increasing demand for the pretzel buns.
Since Wendy’s began advertising its pretzel bacon cheeseburger this summer, Pretzilla’s web sales have quadrupled, Miller said.
He can’t specifically explain why the pretzel bun is flying so high now, but he noted that trends and fads come and go, and it’s no different with bakery products.
In the 1980s, the croissant was all the rage, in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was the bagel, Miller said. Now the pretzel bun is getting its 15 minutes of fame.
People eat with their eyes, and pretzel buns have great visual appeal. And people have a positive emotional connection with pretzels — they get them at the ball park or the movie theater, or munch on them over beers with friends, he said.
“Pretzels have been a part of Americana for generations. It was a natural evolution,” he said.
The new generation of Kardashians can only hope it is welcomed as enthusiastically.