In May, Howie and I went to Chicago for the weekend. Just the two of us. No kids. It was wonderful. We stayed downtown, right off the Magnificent Mile. Chicago is known for many great things…great museums, great restaurants, great shopping.
What did I gravitate toward?
Yes…Border’s. The same store that is within a mile’s distance of my own home.
Yet the call of the books beckoned and I, somehow, convinced Howie to go in. He went off to look at…whatever it is he looks at while at a bookstore. And I? I headed for the cookbooks.
Did you expect any less of me?
This particular store had quite a nice selection of cookbooks. It took up an entire back wall and had quite a few cookbooks I had never seen before. I plopped myself down on the floor and perused. I could have stayed all day.
By the time I managed to pull myself away, I had three books picked out, including one all about pretzels. Howie wasn’t happy. Although I’m not sure why. If you’re going to come away from a weekend getaway with some souvenir, books really seem to be the best sort. They just keep on giving. He finally gave in when I promised him as many pretzels as he could possibly want.
Fast forward two months later. I still hadn’t made any pretzels and Howie, being the gentleman that he is, had hardly pointed this out to me at all. Still, I remembered my promise and knew it was time to follow through.
So on a nice Sunday morning, I put together my dough. A nice dough, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, I hadn’t read the directions carefully enough before hand and realized too late that the directions called for the dough to sit in the fridge overnight. Oh well…that would work.
Come Monday…I still hadn’t made the pretzels. It escapes me now what I had to do, but it just didn’t work out. But Tuesday! Tuesday was the day!
After discarding a small piece of dough that had broke through the wrap, I decided what to do next. And it didn’t have anything to do with pretzels. It was lunch time and my girls needed to eat.
I broke off a few small dough balls, stuck them in muffin cups and filled them with deli turkey slices, salsa, and mozzarella cheese. What emerged from the oven was a delightful surprise. The “muffins” rose up over the top of the pan. The cheese was all melty and even though these were never intended for my lunch, I couldn’t wait to try them! Luckily, I had made an extra. It was delicious! I probably could have used less dough as they were mostly bread, but that didn’t bother me in the least. I’m not usually a huge fan of salsa in things (I’m a minimalist, just pass the chips, please) but the balance between the salsa and cheese was perfect. I could have left out the turkey as it basically disappeared in the bread. The best part about these little rolls were that the girls liked them. Even my picky one. She came back for seconds! Score!!!
Of course, with the remaining dough, I did make pretzels. They were equally as delicious as the “muffins”…soft but chewy at the same time and salty. Mmmmm…Why is it I took so long to make these? Who cares? I’ve made them now and all is good.
from the Pretzel Cookbook
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (100-115 degrees F)
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup hot water
1 egg, lightly beaten
In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, water, and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Let set for about 5 minutes until the yeast if foamy and smells like bread.
Add the remaining brown sugar and mix until well incorporated. Add the flour and salt and mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a smooth dough. If the mixture is dry, add 1 or 2 tablespoons water. Knead the dough until smooth 7-8 minutes. (I did this in my stand mixer.)
Place the dough in a bowl sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rest overnight in the refrigerator. (I actually wrapped it in plastic and left in the fridge for 2 days with no trouble other than a small part of the dough that dried out from breaking through the wrap.)
Punch the dough down, then turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and cut it into equal pieces. Six pieces will get you larger pretzels about 6-7 inches wide. Twelve pieces will get you smaller pretzels about 4-5 inches wide.
Roll each piece out into a long rope (24-inches long for the larger pretzels and 12 inches long for the smaller). Make a U shape with each rope. Twist the ends together twice and then fold over on top of the bottom of the U. Or be different like my girls and make any shape you want.
Put pretzels on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let rest at room temperature for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Combine the baking soda and hot water in a bowl. (I put them in a small sauce pan and heated it over low heat just until the baking soda dissolved and then I turned off the heat.) Dip each risen pretzel in the water and return to baking sheet and brush them with the beaten egg (I thinned mine with a bit of water). Sprinkle with kosher or pretzel salt.
Bake for 15 minutes or until dark golden brown. Let them cool for 5-10 minutes on the baking sheet before eating.
Other ideas for toppings: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, flax seeds, caraway seeds, minced garlic, sunflower seeds, anise seed, Or…all of the above.