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I LOVE soft pretzels. Love. If we go somewhere festival or sporting event-like and they are selling the awful Super Pretzels I will get one with nasty gross cheese sauce every time. Poor Hart has consumed more soft pretzels and neon orange “cheese” sauce to make me happy than I care to count – when I find them on a bar menu I will order them every time and he doesn’t complain too much about having to share them with me. I love the chewy stick to your back teethedness, the salt and most especially the doughy middle, aka the pretzel nuttin’. Such a shame there are so many bad, dried out, over baked pretzels around so they kind of get a bad rap, but a good pretzel is a thing of glory to snack on. Also – perfect snacks for hockey playoffs. Go Pens!!

These are an item that I get requests to make quite often, often enough that they no longer seem like all that much work to throw together. That, of course, may have more to do with the fact that I have twisted thousands of these for work than the frequency that I make them at home, but either way the hardest part is waiting for them to proof.  The dough is beer based, giving it some yeasty depth I love. I used Hart’s homebrew – a really crisp and hoppy session pale ale; low AVB, nice bready malt with some aggressive hoppiness. He equates it to a Bell’s Oberon, I equate it to really delicious and perfect for things like pretzels. Spaten was a go-to when I was making these by the thousands, really any light colored ale will work, this recipe is very forgiving.

This recipe makes 32 knots – or pretzel nuttins – because that is the very bestest part of a pretzel and the shape I make. Feel free to adjust the dough ball sizes and shapes for your personal taste. When I make these into a traditional pretzel twist I get 16 portions out of a batch and shape accordingly. The process is the same regardless of the shape you make them into.

I topped these with kosher salt, also delicious ~ cinnamon sugar, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea salt, dried herbs, parmesan cheese…whatever you can put on top that you think will taste good. They are also egg washed with a straight scrambled egg, this step is key to get even and shiny browning when they are baked.

Perhaps the most vital part of this entire recipe – the step that makes the pretzel taste like a pretzel – is the baking soda & salt poach that happens after the pretzels proof. VITAL. If you skip this step you are basically making rolls. Now I love rolls…hell I love just about any bread or bread-like thing you put in my face, but a roll is NOT a pretzel. Its really not all that difficult and is totally worth the effort. This is the part that make it a German style pretzel, a laugenbretzel; they are traditionally dipped in a lye bath, I use baking soda – lye isn’t something I have laying a round my kitchen, but the effect is the same ~ DELICIOUS.

Also included is a wicked simple recipe for a aged cheddar cheese sauce that pairs up perfectly, is not neon orange and is made with real cheese. It’s a pretty utilitarian recipe that can be used with all kinds of cheeses, add-ins and used anywhere you want/need cheese sauce. This recipe is so easy I hope it will make some of yinz to never buy scary “not really cheese” cheese sauce again. Five ingredients plus salt & pepper. It doesn’t get much easier and again you know what is in your food. I tossed some chopped up chilis and fresh salsa in the leftovers and nuked it for a quick queso dip with tortilla chips. Yum.

Last note before I drop a recipe on you – I am an impatient baker and do not own a proofer, these 2 things are very contradictory and only 1 of them is really something I can fix without a lobotomy and I am not getting one of those just yet. I cheat a little and have figured out a way to use my oven as a proofer. When I start mixing up the dough I turn on my oven to its lowest temperature, 200,  and let it preheat. When its done turn it off. Continue to mix, portion, form and tray up the pretzels. When the dough is all produced put the trays in the oven and close the door. The ambient heat is perfect for hustling up the proofing process a little. Do not try to proof in an oven than is on – yeast works best around 100 degrees, anything warmer and they die; dead yeast cannot leaven anything. The warmed up oven provides a consistently warm place to proof & has served me well.  I had an old oven that the pilot kept it warm enough to proof…but it was an old oven, my new one is electric pilot so I preheat.

German Style Soft Pretzels Yield – 32 pretzel knots

  • 2 cups Hoppy Pale Ale
  • 2 packages Instant Acting Yeast
  • 4 Tbsp Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 cup Melted Butter
  • 4.5-5.5 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 6qts Water
  • 1/4 cup Baking Soda
  • 3 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • Rice Flour or Cornmeal for sprinkling trays
  • 1 Egg, scrambled for egg wash
  • Kosher Salt for sprinkling

The beer needs to be warm. Mine was cold because it is on draft so I warmed it over medium heat in the bowl of my mixer to about 90 degrees, even if not cold you will need to warm it up some. Once warmed add the yeast and brown sugar and set someplace warm until it foams. When the yeast is happy & foamy mix in the melted butter and salt. Add 4 cups of the flour and put on the mixer with the dough hook. Mix until it forms a dough. Add additional flour as needed to get the dough to completely pull away from the side of the bowl, even the bottom. Once there is enough flour in the dough let it mix for another 5 minutes, roughly, kneading it until the outside of the dough is smooth and elastic. Remove the dough from the bowl, it should not stick to your fingers at all. Cut the dough into 2 equal parts. Cut them in half again, making 4. Cut each piece into 4, making 16 then each of those in half again, making 32 dough chunks. Each piece will need rolled and shaped then placed on parchment lined trays to proof someplace warm until they have doubled in size, 1-3 hours depending on the temperature.  <– See why I am impatient?!?

The pic below is a blow by blow on how to make the knots. Please pardon my thumb wound :) I was being extra smart when cutting a box top off & flayed my thumb open requiring a bandage and the dough wasn’t cooperating with me and a glove.

When they have about doubled in size put the pot of water on to boil with the baking soda and salt and get a draining rack set over a half sheet tray set up. Preheat the oven to 375. Scramble the egg in a small dish to make the egg wash.

When the water boils gently take the pretzels off the trays and drop into the boiling water in batches. I use a soup pot so I can do 12 at a time, if you use a smaller one don’t over crowd the water. let them boil for 2 minutes then flip over for 2 more minutes on the other side then remove with a slotted spoon to the rack to dry and drain off all excess water.

Sprinkle the parchment from the proofed pretzels with rice flour or cornmeal to stop the pretzels from sticking to the paper. When the pretzels have dried move from the rack to the tray. They aren’t going to proof anymore but leave an inch between them on the tray. Immediately before putting each tray in the oven brush each pretzel with egg wash and sprinkle with kosher salt. Do not egg wash the pretzels ahead – the salt will melt, it must go on right before they hit the oven. Bake for 22-26 minutes, until the outsides are a deep golden brown. Remove when done and let cool on the tray. Eat as soon as you can hold them in your hand without burning yourself.

I make the cheese sauce while the pretzels bake – also yummy with good mustard.

Some notes on the cheese sauce; this sauce is simple so it relies on good ingredients to make good flavor ~ do NOT use crappy cheap cheddar or preshredded – shred down blocks of decent cheese, cheddar or otherwise. The better cheeses have much better flavor so you can use less and the end result still tastes better. They also have less oil because they are real cheese. The sauce also will firm up when cooled but heats up really well in the microwave.

Basic Cheese Sauce yield – around 3 cups

  • 1/4 cup Butter
  • 2 Tbsp Flour
  • 2 cups Milk
  • 12oz Aged or Extra Sharp Cheddar, shredded
  • Salt, Pepper & Hot Sauce to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat. When bubbly add the flour to make a roux. Cook the roux until it is smooth. Slowly add the milk while whisking until the roux is incorporated completely. Stir over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Add the cheese, lower the heat and whisk in to melt. Season as needed, doctor up as desired, serve warm.

Completely unrelated – Game #1 – Wednesday night. LET’S GO PENS!!!

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