The wind and snow whirling outside the bakery became just a part of the baker’s beautiful dream of fortune, as he dozed contentedly next to the warm brick oven.

Suddenly the baker’s nose twitched. His eyes flew open. The front legs of the chair he was leaning back on hit the floor with a bang!

“Ach du Lieber!” (Oh, dear me!) he exclaimed. “My pretzels! They will be burned!”

He grabbed the long-handled baker’s peel (paddle) and hurriedly removed the pretzels from the oven. There was a different aroma coming from the little knotted pieces of dough he had so carefully prepared and put into the oven a short time ago. And the appearance was not quite like the breadlike morsels he was used to turning out for Mr. Schnitzel’s bakery.

“Ach! Ach!” moaned the little baker. “Mr. Schnitzel will be angry!”

Quickly he gathered the hard little biscuits into a basket and put them by the back door. Hastily he began knotting the remaining dough so that he could get another batch of pretzels out of the oven before closing time. Mr. Schnitzel would soon come in from the front of the bakery with his ring of keys and say, “Well, Hermann, did you earn your money today?”

Hermann had just begun cleaning the oven after taking out the new batch, when he heard Mr. Schnitzel at the back door. Oh, dear, worried Hermann. Why is he at the back door today? As expected, Mr. Schnitzel boomed, “Well, Hermann, did you earn your money today?” Before the baker could answer, the owner asked, “What’s this?” Mr. Schnitzel had noticed the basket of overdone pretzels. Anger colored his plump cheeks. “Maybe you forgot how to make pretzels after all this time? Or maybe you think you can improve on the old monks’ way?” (The first pretzels were made by monks as a reward for children who learned their prayers. The pretzels were soft and breadlike, and they were twisted to represent arms folded in prayer.)

Hermann had not meant to offend anyone. Completely miserable, he was certain that the price of the wasted ingredients would be taken out of his meager salary. He sputtered and stuttered and waved his hands about but could find nothing to say.

He watched Mr. Schnitzel turn a pretzel over and over with disdain, sniff it, and finally take a tiny bite. The crispy morsel broke apart in his hand. He chewed a piece, then another. “Hmmmmmm!” he said at last. “This is not bad, Hermann. Do you think you could make just one batch like this tomorrow? We will see how the customers like crunchy pretzels.”

Hermann nodded his head in disbelief as he watched Mr. Schnitzel fill his pockets with the toasty pretzels to take home to his wife and children.

As soon as the door closed, Hermann danced a little jig. His luck had turned! He had invented something!

Crispy pretzels became a great favorite with everyone, and today there is a wide variety of pretzel shapes and sizes and flavorings. The pretiola of the Italian monks has become a treasured snack the world over.

Illustrated by Shauna Mooney; photo by Eldon Linschoten