I’m not much of a sports fan but one thing I do love is ‘sports food.’ Cheesy nachos, popcorn, pizza, Hagen-Daz ice cream bars, and especially soft, jumbo pretzels topped with oodles of yellow mustard. My husband learned long ago that if he wants me to get excited about going to a baseball game he only need mention the food. Derek Jeter is cute and all, but for me it’s all about those pretzels.
Baseball season started last week and as a treat I surprised my husband with homemade nachos – restaurant style tortilla chips topped with black beans, sliced jalapenos, and cheese then heated in the oven and served with sour cream and salsa – and, you guessed it, pretzels. The pretzels were surprisingly easy to make, requiring only that I proof the yeast, add the other wet ingredients, them combine it all with the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. After mixing for two minutes the dough was chilled, then shaped, bathed and baked into deliciously soft pretzels. The thin, salted skin was slightly crispy – giving just the right amount of bite – while the inside was fluffy and oh so toothsome. In fact, the pretzels were so satisfying that I spent this past Friday afternoon making another batch. I queued up the Ghostbusters movies on my computer (1980′s nostalgia!) and got to work, drinking a bottle of beer halfway through. I’m not usually much of a beer drinker but I needed a quarter cup of amber beer for the simmering liquid, and there was no sense letting the rest go to waste right? Definitely not.
It’s Saturday afternoon and the pretzels are already gone, which means I’m struggling with the temptation to make yet another batch this coming week. Should I give in? I’ll be doing quite a bit of baking already since our third wedding anniversary is on Thursday and I plan to make a few scrumptious goodies to celebrate… but I may have to add more of these pretzels to my plans. We’ll see.
The recipe featured below is from Desserts by the Yard: From Brooklyn to Beverly Hills: Recipes from the Sweetest Life Ever, by Sherry Yard, which is a combination baking book and memoir. Each recipe is accompanied by an excerpt from the author’s life, from the ‘A&P Strawberry Sodas’ inspired by her grandmother to the ‘Banded Layer Cakes’ she created for the 67th Oscars. The book introduced me to Yard’s recipes, though I was familiar with her work beforehand because I saw her on an episode of “Iron Chef” as one of Wolfgang Puck’s sous chefs. She was in charge of making the various sweets and pastries that would be presented to the judges, and when she decorated the dishes with spun sugar watching her hands form the ethereally golden strands was breathtaking to say the least.
Desserts by the Yard contains an impressive collection of tempting recipes, some of my favorites including ‘Gingersnap Toaster-Oven Tarts with Peach Filling’ (think high-end pop tarts), ‘Chocolate-Covered Chocolate-Mint Cookies,’ ‘Apfelstudel’ (Apple Strudel) and ‘Pistachio Gelato.’ The ‘Ring of Saturn Peach “Doughnuts”‘ were also a hit, combining delicious ingredients like anise biscotti and macerated peaches into a treat that’s dusted with confectioner’s sugar, then served with vanilla ice cream. Recipes range in skill-level from basic to advanced and I appreciated how several of them allowed me to stretch my culinary knowledge. I had to make the ‘Fig Bars,’ which are essentially homemade fig newtons, a few times before the texture was just right, for instance. Yet the treats I found myself making over and over again happened to be the ones that satisfied my simpler tastes: ‘President Clinton’s Oatmeal Cookies’ and ‘Soft Pretzels.’ The cookies were a huge hit at the office with two dozen cookies disappearing at lightening speed, while two (soon to be three?) batches of pretzels have already made an appearance in my kitchen. With the exception of one recipe, for ‘Forbidden Rice Pudding,’ I was hugely satisfied with all the dishes I made. Yard even included something for Fido: a recipe for ‘Real Doggy Treats’ made with honey, wheat flour, cornmeal and chicken stock. My Labrador Retriever certainly appreciated those!
Chapters include: Brooklyn Inspirations; New York City: From Cigarette Girl to Pastry Chef; London Interlude; Go West, Young Gal: San Francisco and Napa; Spago Hollywood; Farmers’ Market Inspirations; Vienna Interlude; Spago Beverly Hills; Chinois on Main; Special Events; and the Academy Awards.
Reprinted with permission from Desserts by the Yard: From Brooklyn to Beverly Hills: Recipes from the Sweetest Life Ever, by Sherry Yard.
Ingredients: Makes 8 pretzels
For the dough:
- 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/2 cups warm water
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed (I used olive oil)
- 2 cups bread flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
For the simmering liquid:
- 2 quarts water
- 1/4 cup amber beer
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil for glazing (I used olive oil)
- 1-2 tablespoons pretzels salt or coarse sea salt (I used kosher salt)
Make the dough: In a medium bowl or a Pyrex measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in the water and let sit for 5 minutes, or until cloudy. Add the buttermilk, brown sugar, sugar, and vegetable oil (or olive oil) and mix well.
Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. With the motor running, add the liquid mixture and process for 2 minutes.
Spray a large bowl with pan spray. Scrape out the dough and place in the bowl. Cover with sprayed plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. (I only refrigerated my dough for 20 minutes. Longer dried the dough out, I found.)
(Prepare the water bath at this point, see below.)
Line four half sheet pans with parchment paper and spray the parchment. Lightly oil your work surface and your hands. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and press into a 6-inch square. Cut into 1 1/2 by 3 inch rectangles. One at a time, shape each piece into a pretzel. (Cover the pieces you aren’t working on with plastic or a damp kitchen towel.) Roll each piece out into a 24-inch long rope, slightly tapered at the ends. Shape into a U, then crisscross the ends halfway up, twist them together like a twist-tie, and pull the legs down over the bottom of the U. Place the shaped pretzels on two of the lined baking sheets. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or until not quite doubled. (I didn’t refrigerate my pretzels at this point. I let the dough rise in a cool corner of the kitchen for 30 minutes instead.)
While the pretzels are rising, place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Cut the parchment the pretzels are on into squares to facilitate lifting and transferring the pretzels into the water bath. (I gently transfered each pretzel onto my spider spoon and placed them directly into the water bath.)
Simmer the pretzels: In a 10-inch-wide stainless-steel pot, combine the water, beer, baking soda, and brown sugar and bring to a simmer. Two at a time, lift the parchment square with pretzel and carefully reverse the pretzel off the parchment into the simmering water. Cook for 10 seconds and flip, using a skimmer or slotted spoon. Cook for another 10 seconds, and with the skimmer, lift above the pan to drain. Then transfer to the other two baking sheets, rounded sides up. Brush with vegetable (or olive) oil. Dust with pretzel or coarse salt.
Bake, switching the sheets from top to bottom and rotating from front to back halfway through, for 15 minutes, or until the pretzels are chestnut brown. Remove from the oven and serve warm.