Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bavarian Pretzels with White Cheddar Cheese Sauce

I saw this recipe in a magazine and couldn't resist the challenge of making my own pretzels.  It was easier than I expected, and delicious. Freshly baked and hot out of the oven?  Irresistible.

Pretzel Ingredients:

1 package active dry yeast
1/8 cup warm water
1 1/3 cup warm water
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 1/2 cups flour
Baking soda (lots)
2 tbsp melted butter
Kosher salt
Pot of water

To make the pretzels:
Dissolve yeast in 1/8 cup warm water. Stir in 1 1/3 cups warm water, 1/3-cup brown sugar and flour. Knead dough until smooth and elastic.

Heat oven to 475 degrees. In a saucepan, measure 2 tablespoons baking soda to each cup of water. Put enough water to fill the saucepan at least 3 inches high. Bring soda and water mixture to a light boil and set heat to simmer. Make sure the baking soda is well disolved.  For the pot I was using, this took about 20 tablespoons of baking soda, which was nearly an entire container.

Tear off some dough and roll a long thick pencil shape with your hands  I found the easiest way to do this was by rolling slowly in an outward motion, sort of pulling the ends away from one another the whole time.
Next, make a U shape with the rope.  Then braid the two bottom ends around one another twice, as pictured below.
Finally, pick up the braided part and simply place it atop the U, pressing lightly down on the edges so that they stick.  Voila!
Repeat with remaining pretzels - I made 10 with this recipe, but it really depends on how large you want your pretzels.

Next, place pretzels one at a time in water/baking soda mixture for 10 seconds on each side or until the pretzel dough is light yellow in color. This may seem odd, but this step is very important to the final product.  The first few recipes I read recommended using food grade lye, which is difficult to come by, and can be dangerous to work with. I really did not want to use the lye, but most of the recipes I came across claimed it was the only way to get that crisp outside and "pretzel" flavor.

Finally I found this recipe, which suggested substituting baking soda. Unlike sodium hydroxide (lye), baking soda or sodium bicarbonate is not toxic or hazardous and is often used as a substitute for lye water.

Once you remove each pretzel from the water, place them on a salted cookie sheet.
The final step is to salt the top of pretzels with course ground sea salt or kosher salt.  Use liberally, pretzels are supposed to be salty!  Place cookie sheet with pretzels into the oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and drizzle melted butter over pretzels.  Serve warm, with mustard or cheese sauce (recipe below!).

White Cheddar Cheese Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp salt
8 oz grated white cheddar cheese

To make the sauce:
Melt butter; remove from heat. Stir in flour and seasonings. Gradually add milk, stirring until well mixed. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and smooth. Cook for 5 minutes longer; add cheese. Stir until smooth and well blended.  Keep on low heat until ready to serve with pretzels.

Tips: Do not refrigerate this dough, it will become difficult to work with.  The pretzels can be reheated the next day and still taste delicious, just microwave them for about 30 seconds.

This recipe is pretty versatile, you can omit the drizzled butter, or add other seasonings such as salt, sugar, cinnamon, raisins or nuts, etc.  Once I tasted the pretzels, I understood the importance of the baking soda bath.  They have a very distinctive texture and flavor and there is nothing else in this recipe that could account for it.  These pretzels taste very authentic.  Enjoy!

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