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) 

Roasted Red Pepper Bread #BreadBakers

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Hello, Gorgeous! This roasted red pepper bread ranks right up there as one of the prettiest breads I’ve ever made. I mean, that color alone is to die for. I’ve definitely got a thing for oddly colored breads—black, purple(ish) and so on—but this one takes the cake. Or more accurately, the loaf. The orangey-red is so bright it practically glows.

But beauty, in this case, is not only skin (or crust) deep. It's true that we eat with our eyes first, but the Big Question is always, “How does it taste?” And the answer is, “Damned fine. Damned fine, indeed.” Both color and flavor come from a roasted red pepper puree that makes up the majority of the liquid in this bread. With an added boost from grated parmesan (go for the good stuff—parmigiano reggiano—if you can) and spicy nuggets of coarsely ground black pepper, this is rich, complex, soft, velvety textured bread that can stand on its own, no extras required. That being said, it does make a killer grilled cheese sandwich. And fantastic croutons. And it’s great with hummus, cheeses, butter, red pepper jelly… And it makes killer grilled cheese sandwiches. Did I mention grilled cheese sandwiches?

It’s a fairly fast and easy bread to make, especially if you use jarred peppers rather than roasting your own. The original recipe calls for shaping two 3-strand braided loaves, but you could easily shape it any way you like (rolls!) or bake in a loaf pan. I decided to make one large braided loaf and for inspiration, turned to one of my favorite e-books, The Art of Braiding Bread by Roberto von Krammer, and chose the 6-strand Alpha braid. (If you have any interest at all in moving beyond simple braids, this is THE go-to book, with dozens of variations and clearly illustrated instructions.) 

Everything about this bread is a showstopper. The color, the aroma, the taste… It was definitely a hit with the Official Shaggy Dough Taste Testing Team. I brought it in three times and there were no "What? Again?" complaints and it always disappeared in record time. If you're a fan of red peppers, this is definitely for you. And if you're not a fan of red peppers, well… It just may win you over. Especially if you go for a red pepper grilled cheese sandwich. Did I mention it makes a killer grilled cheese?

Roasted Red Pepper Bread is my contribution to this month's #BreadBakers theme: Breads with Peppers, hosted by Sue at Palatable Pastime.  Thanks, Sue. Love this theme! Be sure to check out the links below to see more great breads from this talented group.

Roasted Red Pepper Bread

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups roasted sweet red peppers (drain if using jarred peppers)*
  • 2-1/4 tsp. (1/4 ounce) instant yeast
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (use the good stuff)
  • 1/3 cup warm milk (110° to 115°)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3-1/4 to 3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Topping

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground pepper
  • 1/4 grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Puree the roasted peppers in a blender until smooth. 
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the red peppers, 1 cup cheese, milk, butter, salt, yeast and 1-1/2 cups flour. With the paddle attachment, beat until combined. Add in more flour until you have a somewhat cohesive dough.
  3. Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gently de-gas. Divide dough into six pieces, pre-shape into balls, cover and let rest for about 5 minutes. Shape each ball into a rope about 16-18" long. Braid as desired, pinching ends to seal and tucking them under braided loaf. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
  5. Towards the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
  6. Combine the egg and water in a small bowl and blend thoroughly. Brush the egg wash over the braid, then sprinkle with pepper and the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.
  7. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until brown on top.

Adapted from Taste of Home

Notes

The first time I made this, I used jarred roasted peppers. The second and third time, I roasted my own. The consensus was that the freshly roasted peppers did have a richer, more "peppery" taste so I'd suggest giving it a try. Making your own is very easy to do. Place your oven rack about 8" below the broiler and turn the broiler to high. Put the whole peppers onto a foil covered baking pan and broil for about 15 minutes, turning the peppers a quarter turn every five minutes. The peppers should be blackened and blistered on all sides, so adjust the timing as needed. Once the peppers are done, place them in a bowl, cover immediately and let them steam until they're cool enough to handle. You should be able to easily remove stems, seeds and blackened skin. Gently scrape off any stubborn bits but don't run the peppers under water or you'll lose a lot of flavor. And if there's any leftover liquid—it's usually not much—add it in to the mix. I started with 3 medium-size peppers and after processing the 1-1/2 cups of roasted pepper, I ended up with about 1-1/4 cups of puree.

The original recipe states that you should have a firm dough at the end of the kneading, but each time I made this, I would have had to add a lot more flour in order to achieve that firmness. As it was, I added about 1/4 cup more flour than called for but I still had a somewhat soft dough and it worked out just fine. 

Rather than starting off with the dough hook, I like to use the paddle to incorporate the ingredients. Once there's very little flour left at the bottom of the bowl and the dough is starting to come together, I switch to the dough hook.

I find it helpful to LIGHTLY dust the strands with flour before I start to braid, just enough so that the strands don't stick to each other, making the braiding process easier. I used a pastry brush to brush away any remaining flour, although there wasn't much.

#BreadBakers for August: Breads with Peppers

#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.

If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send Stacy an email with your blog URL to foodlustpeoplelove@gmail.com.

BreadBakers

Maple Bacon Cheddar & Pickle Pull-Apart Bread #BreadBakers

You read that right. Maple Bacon Cheddar & PICKLE Pull-Apart Bread.  I know it sounds like the weird craving of someone in her tenth month of pregnancy but trust me, it's good! Really! Now, when it comes to bread, my faves are still the basics—flour, water, salt and yeast (which is an excellent book, by the way.) There's nothing like a good artisanal loaf, all thin, crackly crust and creamy crumb and whatnot. But there's a lot to be said for the stepping outside the (bread)box. I came upon this recipe in the latest issue of Bake From Scratch, which is an awesome magazine, by the way. (It, along with King Arthur Flour's Sift, are two must-haves for any baker. I've pretty much stopped all print mags in favor of digital issues that reside on my iPad, but I couldn't resist these—definite keepers.) My first reaction to this recipe was the epitome of maturity. Eeeewwwwww! But then I thought about it a bit. Okay, maple, good. Bacon, good. Cheddar, good. Pickle, good. I mean, what's not to like?I was intrigued but still wary so I double-dog-dared myself to try it. Triple-dog-dared, even. And I wasn't disappointed.

Pillowy leaves of soft bread, savory cheese (CHEESE!), crunchy bits of salty-sweet bacon (BACON!), tangy-sweet pickle…somehow it all comes together. Add in the fact that A. it's a really easy—and relatively fast bread (for a yeast bread anyway) and 2. you get to play with your food, and it's a win all around. The basic dough is very versatile, definitely one to use again and again, so there are endless ways to be inventive with it if pickles aren't your thing. But give it this one a try first and you might be won over. too. I triple-dog dare you.

This bread is my entry for this month's #BreadBakers theme: breads made with natural sugars, hosted by Mayuri of Mayuri's Jakoni. Don't forget to check out the links below to see what the other talented #BreadBakers came up with—they're a very creative bunch!

Maple Bacon Cheddar & Pickle Pull-Apart Bread

Ingredients

Dough

  • 2/3 cup warm whole milk (105°–110°)
  • 12g/1 tbsp sugar**
  • 8g/1 packet active dry yeast
  • 420g/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 58g 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6g/1 tsp. kosher salt

Filling

  • 8 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 60g/4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and divided
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 cup bread-and-butter pickles, chopped

Directions

  1. To make the bacon, preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with foil and parchment. Place the bacon on the baking sheet and pour the maple syrup over the slices. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the bacon is somewhat crispy (see Notes). Let cool, then cut into 1/2" dice.
  2. To make the dough, combine the warm milk, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and let stand until foamy.
  3. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. On low speed, add 140g/1 cup of flour and mix until just combined. Add the melted butter and another 70g/1/2 cup flour and again, beat until just combined. Beat in eggs, then gradually add the salt and remaining flour and mix until combined. Switch to the dough hook and mix until you have a soft, smooth, somewhat sticky dough.
  4. Transfer to lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size.
  5. Lightly spray a loaf pan with oil spray and line with parchment paper.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a work surface that's lightly floured. Gently deflate the dough and form into a ball. Cover and let the dough rest for about 10 minutes.
  7. Roll the dough out into a 16" x 18" rectangle. Brush the dough with 2 tbsp. of the melted butter, then evenly cover with the bacon, cheddar and pickle bits. 
  8. Cut the dough lengthwise into 4 strips, each 4" x 18". Stack the strips on top of one another then cut into 4" x 3" rectangles. (See notes for my alternate method.)
  9. Tip the loaf pan on its end and stack the rectangles in the pan. Turn it right side up and gently rearrange the rectangles to fill the pan, teasing the leaves apart if needed. If any filling comes loose (and it will), sprinkle it over the top of the loaf.
  10. Cover the pan and let rise for about 1 hour until doubled in size.
  11. Brush the loaf with the remaining butter, then bake for 40–45 minutes, covering with foil after about 30 minutes if needed to prevent excess browning.
  12. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then invert onto wire rack to cool completely.

Recipe from Bake From Scratch Summer 2016

Notes

*Yes, I was channeling the Friends episode where Rachel mistakenly combines two recipes and makes a trifle with beef. Joey: "I mean, what's not to like? Custard, good. Jam, good. Meat, good!"

**The original recipe calls for sugar but since this month's theme is all about natural sweeteners, I substituted an equal amount of maple syrup for the sugar.

The recipe calls for you to sprinkle the bacon, cheddar and pickle bits over the entire rectangle of dough, then cut and stack. I made a complete mess of things this way (the bits-laden dough strips stretched like crazy and bits went everywhere) so the second time, I cut the four strips, sprinkled the bits over one strip, stacked the next strip, sprinkled bits, lather rinse repeat. Much less messy for me and I had almost no problem with stretching.

About that crispy bacon, good luck with that. Baking thick cut bacon, especially bacon that's coated in maple syrup, does NOT, in my experience, result in anything approaching crisp. Not unless you want to burn it, that is. Which I did. Twice. So you don't have to. On my third attempt, I stopped short of burning it but it was still a bit too done for my taste, considering it cooks a bit more during the bake. Finally, I just baked it until it was the way I like it—which is not crisp at all (both Mr. Dough and I really don't like well-done bacon). It still cooked up more during the bake but I was fine with it. TL;DR—keep an eye on the bacon and stop when you think it's right. It's bacon. How could it be bad? Unless you burn it. Twice.

I forgot about covering the pan after baking for 30 minutes, which is why my bacon looks extra browned. Doesn't affect the taste any but aesthetically, covering the baking loaf helps a bit.

#BreadBakers for July: Breads with Natural Sweeteners

We're all about baking with natural sweeteners this month—no refined sugar. Some of the natural sweeteners are maple syrup, honey, blackstrap molasses, dates, banana puree, coconut sugar, balsamic glaze, brown sugar syrup, real fruit jam made without any sugar, stevia, palm jaggery. NO SUGAR, white, brown, demerara, turbinado, muscovado, etc, were to be used in the bake. Thanks to Mayuri at Mayuri's Jikoni for hosting and for an interesting theme!

BreadBakers

#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.