Soft Pretzel Twists

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I've been a salt monster as far back as I can remember—in the battle between salty and sweet, there's no contest—and topping my list of salty snacks has always been The Pretzel. Any shape, any size, any time—but soft pretzels? You just can't get much better. Some of my favorite kid memories center around trips to New York City with my grandfather, who spoiled me rotten. He took me to Broadway shows, to Radio City, to museums, to the circus and the rodeo at Madison Square Garden (where I was dressed in my best white organdy dress for some insane reason—I guess people dressed up for EVERYthing in the 50s and 60s.) And of course, no trip to the city would have been complete without a soft pretzel from a street cart. Back then, soft pretzels weren't quite the ubiquitous thing they are now, with kiosks in every mall and heat-and-eat pretzels in the freezer aisle of every store. No, back in the stone age, they were a special treat. If memory serves, you could get three pretzels for a quarter (hey, it was a long time ago!), warm from the heater and SOFT. Sadly, today's cart pretzels are nothing like the ones I remember. Nowadays, you could break a tooth biting into one because they alway seem to be stale and/or overbaked, and in winter, they generally reek of chestnuts (which may be a plus for some but not for me). Blech.

The good thing is, though, you don't need to have a cart or a kiosk or time-travel back to a kinder, gentler age to enjoy a great pretzel. Because these soft pretzels twists are so fast and easy to make at home—and frankly, so much better than the ones you can get from a cart or kiosk—that you'd be missing out big time if you let the opportunity pass you by. How fast and easy you ask? Well, I had these babies ready to eat in a little over an hour. And most of them were GONE is a little over an hour too, but let's pretend that never happened, okay?

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up one Saturday at 5 am (early riser) on fire for a soft pretzel, probably because I happened to fall asleep while watching a pretzel episode of The Great British Bake Off. And also probably because I'd recently stumbled on a video for a great shaping technique (check it out below), one that screamed "PRETZEL!" Soft pretzel recipes are pretty standard—I mean, when it comes to the basic dough, no one's really reinventing the wheel here—and my go-to is from the Artisan Pretzel class I took at the Institute of Culinary Education, which seriously has some of the very best recreational cooking classes in New York (or anywhere, I think). While it may not be INSTANT gratification, as mentioned, it's a fairly fast recipe for a yeast dough. One rise (which was only 30 minutes for me, since it's still extra warm in my un-air conditioned kitchen), a quick dip in a baking soda solution (you could go the lye route here but why complicate things?), a short bake and voilà! Some of the best pretzels I've ever eaten—and that probably goes for you too. Soft and light as a cloud, an unadorned classic—just like the ones that live in my memories. Now if only I could still fit into that white organdy dress…

P.S. These pretzels are so good, they really stand on their own. But they're great with mustard, they make a killer sandwich bread and you could probably fill them with all sorts of stuff before baking if you're so inclined. Stay tuned…

Soft Pretzel Twists

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups warm water (100–110°F)
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 18 oz./510g all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 tbsp./56g unsalted butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water

Directions

  1. Add the water into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix in the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast on top, give it a stir and let it sit for about 5–10 minutes, until foamy.
  2. Add in the flour, salt and butter and with the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until combined. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.
  3. Place the dough in a large bowl or rising bucket that's been lightly sprayed with oil, cover and set aside in a warm spot to rise until doubled in size—anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Towards the end of the rise time, preheat your oven to 450°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment and lightly spray the parchment with oil.
  5. Fill an large pot (8 quarts is a good size) with water and stir in the baking soda. Bring to a boil while you shape the pretzels.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 12 portions. Form into balls, cover and let rest for about 5 minutes to relax the dough. 
  7. Roll each ball into a rope around 18" long. There are many ways to form knots and twists but if you'd like to shape them as I did, refer to the excellent video below. Place each twist on the baking sheet.
  8. Working with 3 twists at a time, carefully lower them into the water and boil for 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon (I use a mesh skimmer), transfer the twists back on the baking sheets and repeat with the remaining twists.
  9. Brush the twists with the egg wash, sprinkle with pretzel salt if desired.
  10. Bake for 12–14 minutes, or until the pretzels are deep golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes before eating. Pretzels are best eaten fresh.

Recipe Source: Class materials from Institute of Culinary Education Artisan Pretzels

Video credit: Home Baking Blog (It's in German but the awesome videos speak for themselves) 

Morning Glory Breakfast Cookies #CreativeCookieExchange

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Non-breakfasty things I've eaten for breakfast: cold pizza (although this should definitely be an official breakfast food by now), leftover eggplant parmesan hero, tacos, leftover fried rice, a tuna sandwich, cheesecake (I'm not proud of this), potato chips (I'm not proud of this either. At least you could make the dairy excuse for the cheesecake). But despite this rather non-traditional mix, I have not, until now, had cookies for breakfast. And let me tell you, cookies—especially these—make a mighty fine breakfast.

If one needs to justify the whole cookies-for-breakfast thing, one could make a very good case for these as being the ultimate healthy breakfast. I mean, if one looks at them a certain way (and squints really hard) they're the whole food pyramid in one compact package, right? Grains? Check. Fruits and veggies? Check. Dairy? Check. Protein? Check. Fats? Check. And not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I even made them a teensy bit healthier for you by swapping the all-purpose flour for white whole wheat and rolled oats and the refined sugar for organic honey. (And pineapple for the nuts but that's because I hate nuts. You could always add them back in—just don't tell me about it because nuts make me cry.) They're big, they're dense, they're soft, they're chewy, they're hearty and they're filling—a completely and totally satisfying breakfast if ever there was one. And they're COOKIES, so you can feel all audacious and daring as you flout breakfast convention. Take THAT, shredded wheat!

These Morning Glory Breakfast Cookies (a riff on the famous Morning Glory muffin) is my entry for the September #CreativeCookieExchange theme: Drop Cookies. Make sure you check out the links below to see what the other CCE-ers came up with.

Morning Glory Breakfast Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 -1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cup mild honey
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup finely grated carrots
  • 3/4 cup grated apple (skin on if organic)
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut 
  • 1 cup sweetened dried pineapple, diced

Directions

  • In a small bowl, stir together the flour, oats, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter for about a minute on medium speed, then add the orange zest and honey and continue mixing until smoothly blended, scraping down the bowl as needed.
  • Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until just blended, then mix in the carrots and fruits. The batter will be somewhat liquid. Cover and refrigerate for 30–60 minutes to fully hydrate the mixture.
  • While the batter is resting, line two baking sheets with parchment and preheat the oven to 350°
  • Using a 1/4 cup capacity ice cream scoop (or 1/4 cup measuring cup), scoop the dough onto the baking sheets in rounded mounds, spaced at least 2-1/2 inches apart.
  • Bake the cookies for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges. The tops should be somewhat firm but still light in color. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of a cookie. If dry and crumb-free, the cookies are done. Don't overbake!
  • Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to fully cool.

Recipe adapted from Elinor Klivans, Big Fat Cookies. Sadly, out of print, but available from third-party sellers.

#CreativeCookieExchange for September: Drop Cookies

We are kicking it old school this September with Drop Cookies! Keep reading to see what craggy and chewy masterpieces everyone came up with…

You can also use us as a great resource for cookie recipes. Be sure to check out our Pinterest Board and our monthly posts (you can find all of them here at The Spiced Life). You will be able to find them the first Tuesday after the 15th of each month! Also, if you are looking for inspiration to get in the kitchen and start baking, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made:

Pumpkin Sour Cherry Sourdough Bread #BreadBakers

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It's that time of year again. Pumpkin season. Pumpkin SPICE season, to be exact. A season that food bloggers and readers alike approach with the same feeling Ripley had when she realized she was alone on the Nostromo with the Alien that had just made a between meal snack of the rest of the crew. Pure dread. Noooo! Let me alleviate your fears. Yes, this is a pumpkin recipe. No, there's not a pumpkin spice to be found. In fact, not counting the salt, there's no spice at all. It's just a classic sourdough with the subtle flavor and color of pumpkin, dotted with bright bursts of dried sour cherries and it's one of my favorites.

If the marks of a good book are dog-eared place finders and margin notes, then the marks of a good cookbook are splatters and stuck-together pages. And by that standard, Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories and More by Sarah Owens is a very good book indeed. It's got so many splatters and stuck-together pages that I'm close to having to buy a second copy. It says a lot about the quality of the bakes in the book; not so much about my neatness in the kitchen (I admit it, I'm a pig.) I've baked quite a few of the recipes, some more than once, but this bread is one I keep coming back to over and over again. This is my first time baking it with pumpkin however; it's butternut squash in the original. But pumpkin is this month's #BreadBakers theme, so pumpkin it is, and it's none the worse for the switch.

Unfortunately, it's not quite time for fresh pumpkins 'round these parts, which is a shame since the original recipe also calls for roasting and pureeing your own squash. Roasting definitely adds another dimension of flavor but canned pumpkin (organic here) did just fine. The only noticeable difference I could find was purely aesthetic, the bread was slightly less orange with the pumpkin than it was for the butternut squash. I also thought about substituting cranberries for the cherries but that just screamed "CLICHE!" so I stuck with the cherries—sour ones this time instead of sweet. Like a lot of sourdoughs, this is a two-day affair. Mostly hands-off, of course, but well worth every minute.

So there you have it, a pumpkin spice-free pumpkin bread. But don't think you're in the clear. There's a pumpkin spice invasion heading your way and resistance is futile.

Be sure to check out the links below to see how the other #BreadBakers ran with the theme—they're an awesome bunch. And many thanks to Kylee over at Kylee Cooks for hosting! I really do like pumpkin spice. Honest.

Pumpkin_Sour_Cherry_Sourdough_Bread-4.jpg

Pumpkin Sour Cherry Sourdough Bread

Ingredients

Leaven

  • 30g 100% hydration starter
  • 60g water
  • 85g bread flour

Dough

  • 175g leaven
  • 250g pumpkin puree
  • 355g water
  • 45g mild honey
  • 525g bread flour
  • 140g whole wheat flour
  • 30g medium-grind rye flour
  • 14g sea salt
  • 80g dried sour cherries

Directions

  1. To make the leaven, 8 to 10 hours before you plan to make the dough, plate the starter and water into a large bowl and stir together. Add the flour and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or dough whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature to ferment. The leaven should be very active and puffy.
  2. When the leaven is ready, add the pumpkin puree, water and honey to the bowl and mix together, breaking up the leaven. Add in the flours and mix, preferably with your hands, until no dry flour remains and the mixture is free of lumps. Cover with plastic and set aside for 20 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix in thoroughly with your hands, making sure the salt is completely incorporated.
  4. Add the cherries and fold in.
  5. Cover with plastic and set aside to proof for about 3 to four hours, with a stretch-and-fold every 30 minutes. The dough should be nearly doubled in size at the end of the proof.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface and divide in half. Preshape each half, cover and let rest for 10–30 minutes. Shape as desired (I generally make boules), then place each seam side up in a well-floured banneton (or bowl lined with floured lint-free kitchen towel). Cover each banneton with a towel and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours (or overnight).
  7. When you're ready to bake, remove the loaves from the fridge and let them come to room temperature (at least an hour, maybe more depending on ambient temperature).
  8. About 20–30 minutes before you're ready to bake, place one or two covered Dutch ovens on the lowest rack and preheat your oven to 500°F. Cut a piece of parchment that is somewhat larger than the loaf but still able to fit easily inside the Dutch oven.
  9. Sprinkle a little cornmeal on the parchment and turn out the loaf on top, seam side down. Score the loaf as desired, then, using the parchment paper as a carrier, carefully transfer the loaf to the Dutch oven (HOT!), cover with the lid and return to the oven. Reduce the temperature to 470°F and bake for about 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 12–20 minutes. The loaf should be a dark brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Notes

If you want to roast your pumpkin (or other squash) and make your own puree, make sure you start with at least double the final amount of puree by weight. (500g should yield about 250g of puree.)

You can also bake directly on a baking stone, if preferred. I've done it both ways but I'm slightly more partial to the Dutch oven method.

If you only have one Dutch oven, stagger the times that you remove the loaves from the fridge, taking out the second loaf about an hour after the first. Once the first loaf has baked, crank the oven back up to 500° and repeat the process.

Yes, there are two science fiction references here. If I had mentioned that you all need to break out your toasters because this bread makes awesome toast (it does!), it would have been three. I'm a geek.

Recipe Source: Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories and More

Pumpkin Sour Cherry Sourdough with a giant hunk of brie? Yes, please. 

Pumpkin Sour Cherry Sourdough with a giant hunk of brie? Yes, please. 

#BreadBakers for September: Pumpkin

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.