Winner, Winner Soft Pretzel Dinner

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If you have been following along on instagram you know that Mr. Foodie and I have been attempting to find a perfect homemade soft pretzel recipe. We’re doing this mostly because Mr. Foodie loves soft pretzels, but also we want to share it with friends and family at our Oktoberfest shindig! We tried Alton Brown’s recipe, Emma Christensen’s recipe from The Kitchn, and a bunch of rando recipes we found online. There were days when I could totally relate to Paul Child in Julie and Julia when he comes home and says “What’s for dinner? Mayonnaise?” but with soft pretzels.

We even decided one night to go head to head with a competition -I using Alton Brown’s version (because I felt that Mr. Foodie had compromised our first attempt with his improvisation) and he with Emma Christensen’s version (but amended by him of course). Both our batches turned out nearly inedible. Have no idea what happened there. I concluded that competition is not our thing. We do much better when we’re working together. So I consulted youtube thinking that it might be better to use a recipe that comes with a video because as we all know, recipes rarely give us the whole picture when it comes to preparing a dish. If we’re lucky, it comes out as the recipe writer intended or we know enough about cooking to fill in the gaps. But nothing beats the instruction you get from a video except having your cooking instructor standing right next to you. So we found this recipe by Crouton Crackerjacks:

Not only was this recipe easier than all the others we tried, but it also came out perfectly! The dough was soft and flakey inside with a smooth, salty crust and the characteristic pretzel taste that I now know comes from the baking soda bath the pretzels get before baking. In this version, no mixer is required or even suggested. You use minimal flour, minimal kneading, and minimal oil (all points of contention between Mr. Foodie and I in our earlier experiments), and no egg wash prior to baking! Just a butter wash after they come out of  the oven. Yum.

Is there anything better than sitting with your beloved at the table munching on a soft pretzel with mustard that you made together? I have rarely felt so contented and thankful. Especially because I a) almost ruined this recipe and b) almost burnt the house down while making it. After we got the dough together for its rising, I decided to make chicken stock in preparation for our real dinner of kale, bean soup with some whole wheat spaghetti. So I set the dough, covered in a dish towel, on the back of the stove, away from the stock which was boiling away on its own burner. While these things were happening I decided to fold laundry, clean up the kitchen, spot-check my nail polish (you can probably see where this is going – beware of the multi-tasker) and boil some water for the spaghetti so it’d have time to cool before adding it to the soup. That is where it all fell apart. The flame for the pasta water caught the dish towel on fire and luckily we have good smoke detectors because I wasn’t even in the room when the flames started crawling up the side of our pretzel dough bowl. I screamed for Mr. Foodie, but had the presence of mind to grab the pasta water I was trying to boil and throw it over the flame. It put out the fire, thankfully. I am now known as The Kitchen-Towel Slayer lol And this is only the second time something has caught fire in my home (though the first time wasn’t my fault).

I share this story with you because even though I was embarrassed and angry, Mr. Foodie made me laugh at myself, helped me clean up the water that pooled everywhere, and saved the dough so we could still enjoy soft pretzels together later. Mistakes happen in the kitchen all the time – especially when you cook and bake as often as we do. I used to have oven-burn battle scars until I learned the art of oven mitts and kitchen towels. I sliced open my hand one Thanksgiving morning while chopping veggies. Lucky for me, I’m a fast learner. So far, I’ve only made each mistake once, but that is how we learn. From now on, I will find another warm place for the dough to rise besides the stovetop, especially when I’m using said stove to cook other things. It is also a reminder for me to slow down and be more mindful of what I’m doing. I generally like multi-tasking, but this isn’t the first time it’s gotten me in trouble.

Here is the recipe for the pretzels just as Crouton Crackerjacks describes it:
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp white sugar
2 tsp instant dry yeast
2 Tbsp butter, softened
2 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour plus more for kneading
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup water
1 1/2 Tbsp baking soda
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp pretzel salt or coarse grind salt

Heat milk to 100-110*F and pour into a large bowl. Add in sugar and sprinkle yeast on top. Let ‘proof’ for 10 minutes. Add in salt, softened butter and half the flour. Stir to make a batter. It does not need to be smooth, lumps are fine. Add in remaining flour and mix. Once it starts to come together, knead in the bowl for a minute or two to get everything into the ball of dough. Dust a working surface with flour and turn down out and knead an additional 2-3 minutes. Don’t add too much flour to your bench. The dough will be and is supposed to be soft. Put dough into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled.

Meanwhile, heat water to a near boil, add to a small bowl and whisk in baking soda to dissolve. Set aside.

Once dough has doubled in size, turn out onto a work surface and cut into 6 equal pieces. Roll each into a 30″ long rope. Shape into the classic pretzel shape and submerge into the baking soda solution for 10-15 seconds. Transfer to a greased or silicone baking mat lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle with pretzel salt and finish remaining dough.

Bake in a preheated 450*F oven for 9-11 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and brush with remaining melted butter. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for later. Serve with cheese sauce or mustard. Makes 6 soft pretzels.

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