York Town Square

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Lighthouse marks site of landmark Dover Township soft pretzel stand

The stand with the lighthouse is the new home of Smittie’s Soft Pretzels. It replaces the shack that was home of the York County delicacy for decades. The location is the same: Route 74, north of Dover. (See photo of shack below.) Background posts: York area full of memory-spawning landmarks, Interstate lined out Melvin’s swan song and Before Geno’s made news in Philly, Gino’s headlined in York.
Smittie’s Soft Pretzel’s shack never offered the dramatic visual treat put forth by the Lincoln Highway’s Shoe House, east of York, or the windmill restaurant, east of Lancaster.
But the old structure was an local icon, and its culinary offering delighted motorists along another old highway – Route 74 – for generations.
The shack is now gone, replaced by a small structure marked by a lighthouse.
Why a lighthouse in the landlocked Dover area?
Brent Burkey’s York Daily Record/Sunday News story (8/17/08) explains:

The former home of Smittie’s Soft Pretzels.

Say the word “retail” and manicured strip malls or Wal-Mart might come to mind. But for the Smith family in the Dover area, retail is the dingy-looking little shack along Carlisle Road in nearly middle-of-nowhere Dover Township.
Or, it was.
Smittie’s Soft Pretzels’ retail outlet for nearly 60 years, affectionately called the “shack,” was torn down last week to make way for a new, white building with a lighthouse on top.
It opened Saturday, and current owner Todd Smith said he made sure to keep some of the York County specialties in place. Yellow floodlights turned on meant the old shack was open, so the new shack has them, too.
And no, the pretzels and the prices aren’t changing, either.
Smith is the third-generation owner of the pretzel company his grandfather began around 1934. Lester Smith worked at a bakery in York that closed down, and it owed him back pay.
“Well, my grandfather said, ‘Leave the equipment,'” Smith said. Lester Smith tried baking hard pretzels for awhile, but this was York County, and everyone was doing that.
So he toyed with the idea of soft pretzels for a bit, then went to fight in World War II.
Lester Smith returned with some pretzel recipes from Germany, merged them with his own experiments, and Smittie’s Soft Pretzels was born.
After the war — Smith figured around 1945 — his grandfather moved into a bakery at 6065 Carlisle Road and around 1950 put a little roadside stand out front for a “retail” business.
Smith said he got a few people stopping by during construction of the new shack, saying he should save it. But it’s so old that having it around probably wasn’t safe anymore, Smith said.
And why the lighthouse on top?
Smith said his family, especially his father Glenn, who died a few years ago, liked the shore and especially Cape May, N.J.
The lighthouse is a nod to the famous landmark he loved visiting, Smith said.
What makes a pretzel?
Todd Smith is adamant about what a pretzel is, and what it isn’t.
— The design of his pretzel is key: It must be wide on the edges and narrow in the middle.
— It also can’t contain any preservatives or other foreign ingredients.
As for the rest — the recipe — Smith said only he and his dough mixer know it. And they aren’t telling.
Try your own
The Smittie’s Soft Pretzels recipe is a closely guarded secret, but following principles like using a few whole ingredients along with a recipe of German origins might get you close.
So if you can’t wait to get to Smittie’s stand or for a mail order to show up, here is
one we found that could get you started, courtesy of gogermany.about.com:
Cook time: 15 minutes
— 7 cups flour
— 8 teaspoons brown sugar
— 4 teaspoons sea salt
— 2 cups warm water (120 degrees)
— 2 tablespoons yeast dissolved in warm water
— 2 cups hot water
— 4 teaspoons baking soda blended with the hot water
— 2 eggs beaten with a pinch of sugar
— coarse sea salt for sprinkling on pretzels
Preparation: Dissolve yeast in two cups warm water. Mix water and yeast mixture, brown sugar, and sea salt in a food processor or mixing bowl. Add flour and water slowly at the same time and mix until the dough is smooth. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. Cover the dough and put it in the refrigerator overnight if you have the time.
Knead the risen dough and then divide the dough into 12 large or 24 smaller pieces. Roll each piece into a thin rope, about the circumference of your finger. Lay dough rolls out into a U shape, then bring the two ends of the U together in the center to shape your pretzels. Place the unbaked pretzels on a greased cookie sheet and let them rise for 45 minutes, or until they have doubled in size.
You can either boil them first or brush them with the baking soda and hot water mixture.
Boiling instructions: Boil in water and baking soda solution one at a time for about one minute each then brush with egg. This is the most difficult process, because the pretzels can fall apart.
Basting instructions: Dip each pretzel in the hot water and baking soda solution and then brush with the beaten egg mixture.
Sprinkle pretzels with sea salt and/or parmesan cheese and bake in preheated oven at 450 degrees for 10-14 minutes until pretzels are golden brown.