The pretzel's twisted shape is said to represent the arms of the pious crossed over the chest in prayer. The religious association continues with the relative austerity of pretzel ingredients (flour, water and leavening), which made them suitable for eating during fasts when the rules of abstinence were far more rigid than they are today. Most of us are familiar with the hard, crunchy, salty pretzels sold in bags at supermarkets; less well known are the large, dense, chewy pretzels made by Danish, Swiss and German bakers. Traditionally, pretzels were brushed with (or dipped in) a heavily diluted lye solution, which gave them a distinctive flavour, beautifully glossy finish and deep brown colour (baking the pretzels made the harmful elements in the lye dissipate). Because of the potential danger in working with lye, many commercial bakeries no longer use it, although arti- san bakers often still do. Some bakeries make their soft pretzels by dipping them in a water bath, in the same way bagels are traditionally made, which gives them a chewier, denser texture. Pretzels no longer have a religious association and you can find straight pretzels, soft pretzels slathered in mustard or soft cheese and pretzels dipped in white or dark chocolate. There are even saltless pretzels but that seems completely wrong - for me, a pretzel without salt is just not a pretzel.