Monday, November 28, 2011

the Best Soft Pretzel I ever ate... and Making my own Pretzels



In October during our vacation week, we had been out and about in Denver one day, and stopped at the Cherry Creek Mall since we were nearby.  I wanted to look for something at Williams Sonoma but ended up discovering Sur la Table instead, which was just as fun.  Those stores carry things that I didn't even know I needed!  Do I need a mini tartlet pan with removable bottoms, a doughnut pan and a popover pan? A mold to make pyramids of rice and tuna tartar, mini silicone pastry brushes, decorative cupcake wrappers, and oh, so much more...  Why, yes, I think I do.

I managed to restrain myself, though.  My blogging budget for baking and cooking supplies is tapped out at the moment.





When we got to the mall, it was late afternoon, and we hadn't eaten since breakfast, but since we had dinner plans and didn't want to eat a big lunch lunch so late in the day, we were looking around for a snack to tide us over.  There was popcorn, which smelled pretty great, chocolate chip cookies, and all the other usual food court fare.

And then I saw the soft pretzels.  Well, first I smelled them.  What an amazing scent.  Which made me look around until I saw them.  Specifically, a soft pretzel covered with golden, melted cheddar cheese and sliced jalapenos.  That decided it.  We each got a pretzel, mine jalapeno cheddar and Jamie's traditional salted, with a lemonade to share -  and maybe I was just really hungry or maybe it was just that good, but it was the best soft pretzel I'd ever tasted.  The dough was hot, soft and buttery, the sharp cheddar was golden and bubbly, the jalapenos pleasantly spicy.





I got to thinking about trying to make them myself.  Baking with yeast is something that I've only recently started to do - for some reason it used to intimidate me, so I tend to stick with quick breads using baking soda and baking powder for leavening.  Maybe it's the whole sourdough yeast starter thing, and the way you have to "feed" the starter in your fridge, which sort of creeps me out a little.  Although I do love homemade sourdough bread.

So for my baking experiment a few weekends ago, instead of a dessert, I made pretzels.  While I can whip up a pie right out of my head, I didn't have the same instinct when it came to soft pretzels, so I looked up a recipe.  It was a slightly time-consuming process of first making the dough, letting it rise, shaping the pretzels, boiling them, seasoning them, and then finally baking them, but the result really was well worth it.  Warm from the oven they were so soft and flavorful, made even better knowing exactly what went into them instead of a bunch of mystery ingredients from the ones at the mall or movies.





Since the recipe made 8 soft pretzels, I used just half the dough to make 4 soft pretzels - two salted, one with cinnamon and sugar, and one with cheddar and jalapenos.  I took the other half of the dough to make hard pretzel sticks - you'll see in the pictures that mine are a little big, and I really did make them too big.  To get crisp and hard all the way through, they should be rolled thinner.

Of the two, the warm, soft ones hot from the oven were definitely my favorite, but the hard ones dipped in mustard make a really tasty snack, too.

I'd love another of those soft cheddar jalapeno ones for a snack right about now...








Homemade Hard and Soft Pretzels

·         1 ½ cups very warm water
·         1 tablespoon granulated sugar
·         2 teaspoons salt
·         1 package active dry yeast
·         4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
·         4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
·         Olive oil, for greasing
·         10 cups water
·         2/3 cup baking soda (for soft pretzels only)
·         1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
·         Coarse salt, coarse sugar, cinnamon, cheddar cheese, sliced jalapenos, etc…

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm water, sugar and salt.  Sprinkle the yeast on top and let stand for about 5 minutes, until foamy.  Add the butter and flour, and combine on low speed, using the dough hook, until well combined.  Increase to medium speed and knead for 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.  (I divided my dough in half, placing in two bowls, since I planned to make half the dough into soft pretzels and half into hard).

To make Soft Pretzels:

Preheat the oven to 450.  Line 2 baking sheets with foil and spray with non-stick spray.

In a large stock pot, combine the 10 cups of water and baking soda.  Bring to a rolling boil.

Meanwhile, place the dough on an oiled cutting board and divide into 8 equal pieces (or 4 pieces, if only making half the dough into soft pretzels, like I did).  Gently stretch the dough while rolling it between your hands, to form into ropes, about 24 inches long.  Form the rope into the shape of a pretzel and place on the greased baking sheet.

One at a time, place the pretzels in the boiling water and boil for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a large slotted strainer/spatula and place back on the baking sheet.

Brush the pretzels with the egg wash, then sprinkle with coarse salt, cinnamon and coarse sugar, cheddar cheese and jalapenos, or any other toppings you like.

Bake for 10-14 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool for several minutes then serve warm.  These are best eaten within a few hours of baking.

Yields 8 soft pretzels for the full batch; 4 pretzels for a half batch.

To make Hard Pretzels:

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line 2 baking sheets with foil and spray with non-stick spray.

In a large stock pot, bring the 10 cups of water to a rolling bowl.

Meanwhile, place the dough on an oiled cutting board and divide into 36 equal pieces (or 18 pieces, if only making half the dough into hard pretzels, like I did).  Gently stretch the dough while rolling it between your hands, to form into thin ropes, about 14 inches long.  Place on the baking sheets spaced about ¼ inch apart.  Cover the dough not being used with a slightly damp towel to keep it from drying out.

Working in batches, place 6 pretzel sticks at a time in the boiling water and boil for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a large slotted strainer/spatula and place back on the baking sheet.

Brush the pretzel sticks with the egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt or cinnamon and coarse sugar.

Bake at 350 until golden brown and hard, up to an hour (check them after 30 minutes – if they appear to be browning too quickly before they’re becoming hard inside, reduce the temperature to 325).

Cool on a wire rack before serving.  Serve with whole grain mustard, or dip the cooled pretzels in chocolate, then chill in the fridge until the chocolate is set.

Yields 36 pretzel sticks for the full batch; 18 pretzel sticks for a half batch.

Recipe slightly adapted from Alton Brown.