This time of year, sometimes you just have to cut all the sweet with a salty snack. Despite loving a nibble of candy cane ice cream and Christmas cookies and holiday booze, the idea of a soft pretzel and homemade cheese dip is pretty appealing right about now. What other salty goodness are you craving? -Maggie
A few years ago, I decided I was going to throw my first “grown-up” party – meaning that we would be serving food and beverages that raised the bar a bit higher than our typical cheap beer plus chips and salsa spread. I dove right into planning the menu, sifting through food magazines and my favorite blogs. Several hours later, I barely had enough time to wash the flour out of my hair as our first guests arrived. I had committed the novice entertainer’s classic mistake and gone seriously overboard. And while I remember it as a successful (and fun!) foray into entertaining, I don’t remember a single thing I served that night – except these soft pretzels.
People went wild for these chewy wonders, and, despite my exhaustion, I was thrilled to confirm that yes, I HAD made these myself. It was my first taste of the excitement of making something with my own two hands that most would not fathom that they could make at home. (Which might explain why I delight at cookbooks such as Alana Chernila’s The Homemade Pantry.) I found the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and have returned to if often over the past few years. I’ve tried others since, but none have matched the ease and pure pretzel taste as this solid recipe.
But, so it goes, I sort of forgot about them. Until recently, when I bellied up to one of my favorite bars and ordered soft pretzels with an accompanying beer and cheese fondue. When it arrived, I practically fell of my barstool – I knew this beer and cheese dipping sauce had to be mine, and that I needed to revisit the art of making pretzels at home once again.
The opportunity came this fall, when I was asked to bring an autumnal appetizer to a dinner party. I quickly jumped into pretzel making and then concocted the fondue of my dreams – one that included dark beer, nutty Gruyere and rich, caramelized shallots.
After twisting some of the dough into the classic pretzel shape, I decided enough was enough and decided to go straight for the pretzel nugget. They puffed up perfectly and baked up even better – and were the perfect thing to dip into the beer and cheese fondue. While I love a nice twist, I think the nugget shortcut might be the best bet for dipping and entertaining a crowd.
Adapted (barely) from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 16 full-sized, 32 miniature, or many, many, many pretzel nuggets (they were eaten too fast to be counted!)
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 1 large egg
- Coarse or pretzel salt
Equipment: cooking spray or parchment paper; baking sheets
- Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and stir to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.
- Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions-I only needed 5 cups total); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten times, or until smooth.
- Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
- Heat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces; 32 if making miniature pretzels. Wrap in plastic to keep dough from drying out.
- Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. Twist into pretzel shape – or cut into ½ inch sections for nuggets. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels and place onto baking sheet. Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
- While they rest, fill a large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
- Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze and then sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.
- Serve with assorted mustards and/or the following beer and cheese fondue.
Caramelized Shallot, Beer, and Cheese Fondue
Adapted from this New York Times recipe
- 3-4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 small garlic clove, halved
- 1 cup dark beer (I used Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre) *
- 6 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated
- 6 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Melt butter in a pan over low heat. Add shallots and stir so that they mix into the melted butter. Let shallots caramelize over low heat for at least 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes. The longer they cook, the richer they taste.
- Meanwhile, rub cut side of garlic on inside of large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan, rubbing the bottom and halfway up the sides. Add beer and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
- In a large bowl, toss shredded cheeses with cornstarch. Add a handful at a time to simmering beer, stirring until first handful melts before adding next. Reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until cheese is completely melted. Heat until bubbling, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the caramelized shallots and season with salt and pepper.
- * If serving fondue a bit later (say, at a dinner party), keep the rest of the beer on hand and use it to thin out the fondue before serving. My fondue thickened in the pot as it cooled, I warmed it over low heat for about 10 minutes and then stirred in the remaining beer to get it back to the consistency that I preferred and that was the best for dipping and dunking.
All photos styled and taken by Shelby Larsson.
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