Make Your Own Homemade Pretzels

I’m more than a little behind on sharing recent recipes attempts from the Middleton and Turner kitchen. Besides the house projects we’ve undertaken to improve the property, I’ve also been spending much of my free time working on the fourth draft of my novel. Onward and upward.

Below you’ll find an easy recipe for homemade pretzels that I tried last weekend. I was craving the Auntie Anne’s buttery glazed raisin pretzel I used to buy when my friends and I roamed the south Alabama malls of our surly youth. Between our visits to the ever-classy Spencer’s Gifts and CD shops, we really worked up an appetite, and gnawing on a chewy pretzel while slurping a tall Coke hit the spot.

Indoor malls aren’t really a thing in 2015, and while some still exist in Colorado, those days of yore when I had nothing but time are long gone, so I decided to hunt down a recipe that would allow me to put away a pretzel on my own schedule. After a cursory web search, I learned that my love for Auntie Anne’s pretzels is shared by many. I found several knock-off recipes. Sprinkled with Flour’s recipe looked the easiest to follow and the least time consuming to construct.

I’m not the most spatially gifted so twisting the pretzel dough into their final shape took a little work, but once I had the hang of things, it went quickly. If you’re not planning to serve all eight pretzels immediately, I recommend freezing the extra dough after you’ve shaped the pretzels. When ready to bake, thaw the dough and make a hot baking soda bath to soak the pretzels before baking.

Homemade Pretzels 4

Image by author.

Homemade Pretzels
(adapted from a Sprinkled with Flour recipe)
Makes 8 large pretzels

Ingredients
Pretzel dough
– 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

– 1 tsp salt

– 1 tsp sugar

– 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast

– 1 cup warm water (You may need a little less in the summer depending on the humidity where you live. Your goal is a soft dough, so you can always start with less and then add up to the full cup to help with dough texture.)

– 1/3 cup raisins (I made a half batch of raisin pretzels and a half batch of salted. If you’re making all raisin pretzels, then up the raisins to 1/2 cup.)

Topping
– 1 cup boiling water
– 2 TBS baking soda
– 3 TBS unsalted butter, melted (use nondairy butter substitute to keep vegan.)

Icing (for half batch raisin pretzels)
– 1/2 cup powdered sugar

– 1/2 tsp vanilla

– 1-2 TBS milk or half and half (Use nondairy milk to keep vegan.)

Directions
1. To make dough by hand, or with a mixer:
Place all of the dough ingredients into a bowl, and beat until well-combined. Knead the dough, by hand for 5 minutes or by machine for about two minutes, until it’s soft, smooth, and quite slack. I divided the dough in half at this point because I wanted to make half raisin and half plain pretzels. Place the plain half in a floured bowl and turn to coat. Add 1/4 cup raisins to the other half of the the dough still in the mixer, and mix until combined. (If you want all raisin pretzels, use 1/2 cup raisins and there’s no need to divide the dough in half). Place the raisin dough in the floured bowl and turn to coat also.

2. Take both halves of dough and place them each in a plastic bag, allowing them to rest for 30 minutes.

Homemade Pretzels 1

Image by author.

3. While the dough is resting, prepare the topping:
Combine the boiling water and baking soda, stirring until the soda is mostly dissolved. Pour the mixture into a pan, and set aside to cool to lukewarm.

4. Preheat your oven to 475 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it with vegetable oil spray, or lining it with parchment paper.

5. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into eight equal pieces. (If you halved the dough for two different flavors, divide each half into 4 equal pieces.) Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Homemade Pretzels 2

Image by author.

6. Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin rope (about 28″ to 3″ long), and twist each rope into a pretzel. Working with 4 pretzels at a time, place them in the pan with the baking soda/water, spooning the water over their tops; leave them in the water for 2 minutes before placing them on the baking sheet. This baking soda “bath” will give the pretzels a nice, golden-brown color.

Homemade Pretzels 3

Image by author.

7. Transfer the pretzels to the prepared baking sheet. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Bake the pretzels for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they’re golden brown.

8. Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter until you’ve used all the butter.

9. Mix together 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla, and enough milk to reach your desired pouring consistency. I used about 1-2 tablespoons of half & half. Drizzle the icing over the warm raisin pretzels. I left the plain pretzels simple, bathing them in good butter and sprinkling with coarse sea salt. Eat the pretzels warm, or reheat them in an oven or microwave.

‘Kick That Boxed Brownie Mix To The Curb’ Double Dark Chocolate Brownies with Walnuts

I’ve heard that homemade brownies aren’t worth the effort because the finished product is identical to baked prepackaged brownie mixes. If you want to cut preservatives from your diet but have been disillusioned by the homemade v. box brownie debate, this recipe is for you. The effort and expertise needed for these brownies is low, but the decadent, complex chocolate and walnut result is worth the time it takes to set out ingredients and get baking.

One of my friends I met through work celebrated a birthday this week, and when I heard he was a brownie connoisseur, I set out to find a recipe that balanced the fudge with the cake qualities that the best brownies possess. Fortunately, I didn’t have to search far. King Arthur, my American-grown and milled flour of choice, keeps a comprehensive recipe website that I visit whenever I’m looking for consistently good flour-based recipes. Their brownie recipe did not disappoint.

While I made a few changes based on taste and availability of ingredients in my kitchen, the foundation of the recipe is intact. Fudgy from the European butter, sugar, and ample chocolate and cake-y for some magical reason I haven’t yet determined, these brownies add a subtle kick with the inclusion of espresso as well as a nice texture from the added chopped walnuts. The original recipe makes a 9″ x 13″ pan of brownies, but I halved the recipe so they could be eaten while still fresh.

Double Dark Chocolate Walnut Brownies

Image by author.

Double Dark Chocolate Brownies with Walnuts
(adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe)
Makes 9 squares

Ingredients
– 2 large eggs

– 1/2 plus 1/8 cup Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa or Dutch-process cocoa

– 1/2 tsp salt

– 1/2 tsp baking powder

– 1/2 tsp espresso powder (or finely ground dark roast coffee)

– 1/2 TBS pure vanilla extract

– 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (I used European butter, and it was delicious.)

– 1 1/8 cups sugar

– 3/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

– 1 cup chocolate chips (I used bittersweet chocolate chunks.)

– 1 cup chopped raw walnuts

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 8″ by 8″ square baking pan.

2. Crack the 2 eggs into a bowl, and beat them with the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla till smooth.

3. In a saucepan set over low heat, combine the butter and sugar, and heat, stirring until the butter is melted. Continue to heat briefly, just until the mixture is hot (about 110°F to 120°F), but not bubbling; it’ll become shiny looking as you stir it. Heating the mixture to this point will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies.

4. Add the hot butter/sugar mixture to the egg/cocoa mixture, stirring until smooth.

5. Add the flour and chips, again stirring until smooth.

Note: If you want the chips to remain intact in the baked brownies, rather than melting in, let the batter cool in the bowl for about 20 minutes before stirring in the chips.

6. Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan.

7. Bake the brownies for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. The brownies should feel set on the edges, and the center should look very moist but not uncooked. Remove them from the oven, and cool on a rack before cutting and serving.

‘Bring on the Irish and Icelandic’ Vermouth Mussels with Tarragon Oven Fries

You know you’re not a native Coloradan when you hear yourself say, “But it’s mid-April. For Christ’s sake, take your snow and shove it.” So…the rain-snow mix slushing up the sidewalks this morning is not endearing me to Colorado. Yes, we need the moisture. But give me warm, spring rain any day over the icy slip fest that is my walk to and from the bus stop whenever snow comes a’ knocking.

Despite my grumbling, I’m excited to make it through the busy work day so that Cameron and I can get ourselves up to Boulder for Damien Rice’s performance at the Boulder Theater tonight. I’m no longer a late-night person, but I’m willing to chug some chai during dinner to keep my eyes peeled on the stage. This will be our first chance to see Rice live, and while I’ve followed his music for many years, his newest album, My Favorite Faded Fantasy, speaks to his maturity as songwriter. He’s no longer the young upstart Irish troubadour, his lyrics reflecting the depth that comes from growing older. Now, well into my thirties, I can appreciate that.

And then there’s the opening act, the Icelandic experimental group Galagalactic promises to get the evening off to a dreamy start. Iceland 2017 or bust!

In the meantime, you came for food, and today’s recipe will feed you well without too much work. Earlier this week, after a particularly tough day at work, I came home to Cameron putting the finishing touches on one of our favorite Smitten Kitchen dinner recipes, Vermouth Mussels with Tarragon Oven Fries. I started eating mussels after trying them at a Spanish tapas restaurant downtown, and while they’re tasty, the magic behind mussels comes from the sauce/broth you cook them in. In this recipe, the vermouth simmered with butter and shallots brings out the tender flavors of the sea, and topping the mussels with tarragon adds a mild licorice note that lightens each bite. The fries are great as is, but dipping them in the leftover broth is just what I needed for a satisfying meal.

Vermouth Mussels with Fries

Image by author.

Vermouth Mussels with Tarragon Oven Fries
(a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook recipe)
Serves 2 hungry folks

Ingredients
Tarragon oven fries:
– 3 TBS olive oil

– 1 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes (We used organic Russet potatoes, and they worked great.)

– Coarse salt

– Freshly ground black pepper

– 1 1/2 TBS minced fresh tarragon

Vermouth mussels:
– 2 lbs mussels

– 3 TBS unsalted butter

– 1/4 cup minced shallots (2 large) or minced white onion

– 1/2 cup dry white vermouth

– 2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon

Instructions
1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a large baking sheet with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

2. Slice the potatoes into ⅜-inch-thick matchsticks. Transfer them to a pot, and cover them with cold water. Bring the potatoes to a simmer, and let them cook until they are halfway done, about 5 minutes (a paring knife will resist going all the way through the potato). Carefully drain them (they’ll want to break, so removing them with a slotted spoon might make it easier) and pat them dry on paper towels.

3. Set the prepared baking sheet in the oven before you drain the potatoes, and let it heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the baking sheet with a pot holder. Spread the fries on sheet. Drizzle them with the remaining tablespoon olive oil; sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast them for 25 minutes, tossing the tray about to redistribute and turn the fries after 10 and then 20 minutes.

4. Remove the tray from the oven, and then toss the fries with additional seasoning, if needed, and fresh tarragon.

“Clean Your Mussels” Time
1. Place them in a big bowl of very cold water for about 10 minutes. This encourages the mussels to expel their sand. Scoop the mussels out (not dump; if you dump the sandy water over them, it defeats the purpose) one by one, and scrub them under running water. Most cultivated mussels have the bissus (beard) removed, but if one lingers, yank it toward the hinge (if you do it away from the hinge, it can kill the mussel prematurely) or cut it with a knife. Discard any mussels with chipped shells or mussels that are not completely shut; they are more than likely dead. (Gross as it sounds, the mussels need to be alive when cooked, or else you could sick.)

2. Bring the butter, shallots, and vermouth to a boil together in a medium pot. Add the mussels, cover, and steam them over high heat until they open. You can start checking at 3 minutes, but it can take up to 6. Shake them around a little from time to time to make sure they’re getting equal access to the vermouth and heat.

3. Once the mussels have swung open (discard any that have not), transfer them to bowls with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat all the way up, and boil the cooking broth for 1 minute, then ladle this over the mussels. Garnish with tarragon, serve with the fries, and eat immediately.

Operation Pizza Dough

Cameron and I have been making “from scratch” pizza since we met. A few years ago, when the Crafty Cook Nook was new and my food photography skills left much to be desired, I shared a solid pizza dough recipe. Since then, I’ve tried out many a dough recipe in an attempt to find one that is not only painless to assemble but that’s easy to handle when stretching the dough.

My friend Merrie gifted me Sarah Copeland’s The Newlywed Cookbook, and while Cameron and I have tried other recipes, we’ve returned to Copeland’s dough recipe ever since. It won’t take much effort if you do it by hand, but it’s pretty much foolproof if you use a stand mixer, and because it takes next to no time to combine, you can put the dough in the fridge for a day or two before you want to use it so mid-week pizza night moves from dream to beautiful reality.

Below you’ll find the recipe with some minor tweaks. No more excuses. Homemade pizza is here to stay.

 Pizza Dough 3

Topped, baked, and ready for eating. Image by author.

It’s So Easy! Homemade Pizza Dough
(adapted from The Newlywed Cookbook recipe)
(Makes Two 12-inch pizza crusts)

Ingredients
– Pinch of sugar

– 1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F–test by sticking your finger in the water. It needs to be warm but not scalding.)

– One 1/4-oz package active dry yeast

– Extra-virgin olive oil and garlic powder, plus more for drizzling (optional, but I combine these and brush on the pizza crust before it goes in the oven for added flavor.)

– 2 cups bread flour

– 1 to 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour

– 1 tsp fine sea salt

– Your favorite pizza toppings, ready on the day you plan to use them

Directions
1. Whisk a pinch of sugar into the warm water in a small bowl, and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let this proof for about 5 minutes.

2. Stir 3 cups of the flours and salt together in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer to combine (reserving 1/4 cup/30 g flour for later). Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Stir with a fork or the dough hook to make a shaggy dough.

*If making the dough by hand, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to work the gluten for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth. Then turn onto a lightly floured countertop and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, adding small sprinkles of flour as needed to just keep it from sticking.

**If you’re using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, beat on high speed until the dough comes together and slaps the side of the bowl, about 2 minutes, adding up to 1/4 cup/30 grams more flour as needed to create a cohesive ball. (As soon as the dough forms a ball, stop the stand mixer and press the dough. If it feels a little sticky but pliable, it’s ready to go! You don’t want to over knead the dough, or it will turn out tough when it’s been baked. Chewy is great. Jawbreakingly tough is no good.)

Pizza Dough 1

Dough, ready to rise and mature in the fridge. Image by author.

3. Halve the dough and form into balls. Place each ball of dough in a lightly oiled plastic bag, seal, and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days. You can also freeze the dough for up to a week.

4. When it’s pizza-making time, remove the dough from the fridge 2 hours before you plan to cook. Set on a lightly floured surface in a warm place, and let rise for those 2 hours.

5. About a half hour before you’re planning to shape the dough and prep for baking, position a pizza stone on the bottom rack of your oven. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F with pizza stone inside.

6. When it’s pizza dough stretch time, lightly dust your hands with flour. Take a dough ball in hand and press it into a flatter disc. Then, stretch the dough by draping it over the back of your hands and wrists, letting it hang down so gravity does the work. Get it to the general size you want, and then move it to the pizza stone, carefully pressing it into its final pizza shape. Remember that the pizza stone is very hot now, so be sure to not touch it with your skin.

Pizza Dough 2

Two days later, the dough is stretched and ready for topping. Image by author.

7. Top pizza with sauce and fixings (my favorite topping combo is tomato sauce, cremini mushrooms, kalamata olives, onion, a sweet bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, with a garlic powder-olive oil brushed on the dough, and a fresh basil leaves sprinkled over the finished pizza), and bake until dough is puffed and deep brown and the cheese is bubbling and crisp looking, about 10 minutes for each pizza.

‘Getting On With Gardening’ Sweet Tangelo Walnut Rolls

Romantic notions of picking berries or sweet peas from your very own garden quickly evaporate when you realize the work that goes in to transforming a patch of lawn into an edible landscape. Sure, if you’re a richie, you can just hire a gardener to realize your plan for you, but most of us who want to grow vegetables don’t have the kind of capital to have other people do our work for us. Besides, as much as John Locke’s political philosophy whirls out to crazy town when driven to its libertarian (and obscenely exploitative) conclusion, he made a interesting point that land doesn’t really become your property until you invest your labor into it.

Cameron and I moved into our home in August 2013, the beginning of the end of garden season along Colorado’s Front Range. Over the winter, we started planning for our long-term goal to eradicate as much lawn as possible on our property so that we could reallocate water use for more utilitarian purposes, i.e. fresh food. Last year, we removed a patch of front lawn and replaced it with low-water plants native to Colorado’s arid climate and then amended the soil in an existing raised bed in our backyard for a modest vegetable garden. Manageable goals that introduced us to the lighting and watering conditions of our property.

This year we’re on to more extensive landscaping, removing more of our front lawn for low-water landscaping and adding two more raised vegetable garden beds in the backyard to increase our growing capacity. Over the weekend, we did final prep for the garden beds’ soil and laid out our spring planting plan. (Buying seeds is usually what most people get excited about when they think of garden prep.)

Colorado Spring Gardening

Organizing our spring planting plan. Image by author.

After a back and butt workout I haven’t had since last summer’s hiking season, we were ready to plant vegetables familiar to our garden soil (lettuce, kale, and chard) as well as several new varieties (sugar snap peas, Brussels sprouts, green cabbage, leeks, and potatoes). As much as we plan to help the vegetables survive, weather can make or break a garden season. Cross your fingers for us.

Colorado Spring Garden

Once the beds are prepared with amended soil, it’s planting time. Image by author.

Beyond our weekend planting, I decided to satiate my ever-present craving for sweet rolls. Every time I pass the canisters of cinnamon rolls in the refrigerator case at the supermarket, I remember the many mornings of my childhood when my mother would let me crack open the cinnamon rolls packaging and bake up a pan of cinnamon sweetness. Now that I’m a more experienced baker with an interest in keeping processed foods to a minimum, if I want such a treat, I convince myself to make it from scratch, which means I either don’t eat sweets or else I set aside time to make it happen.

Below you’ll find the results of yesterdays’ great sweet roll experiment. I’ve made several kinds of sweet rolls since I started keeping this blog (Apple Danish Rolls, Morning Buns, and Sticky Lemon Rolls), but these Sweet Tangelo Walnut Rolls did a number on me. Not only were they easy to make (with a little forethought), but the tangy sweetness of the tangelo works well with the subtle cinnamon and bitter walnuts. I may or may not have eaten two of these back-to-back. Did I mention I worked really hard in the garden this weekend?

Sweet Tangelo Walnut Rolls

Image by author.

Sweet Tangelo Walnut Rolls
(adapted from a Lauren’s Latest recipe)
Makes 18 Rolls

Ingredients
For the dough:
– 1 cup warm milk (I used 3/4 cup 2% milk and 1/4 cup heavy cream.)

– 1 envelope quick rise yeast (2 1/4 tsp)

– 1/4 cup melted butter, at room temperature

– 1 large egg

– 1/3 cup granulated sugar

– 1 tsp salt

– 3-3 3/4 cups all purpose flour

For the filling:
– 1/4 cup butter, melted

– 3/4 cup granulated sugar

– 1/2 cup chopped raw walnuts

– 2 TBS tangelo zest (I had tangelos on hand and substituted them for oranges, to good effect.)

– 1/4 tsp cinnamon

– 1/4 tsp salt

For the icing:
– 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

– 4 TBS tangelo juice

Directions
1. In a large bowl, stir warm milk with yeast and half the sugar. Stand 5 minutes to let yeast proof. Once the yeast is bubbly, stir in melted butter, egg, remaining sugar, salt, and half the flour. Stir until incorporated, then add remaining flour by 1/4 cup until dough comes together. Knead 3 minutes or until dough is smooth and feels sticky but won’t stick to your hands. Place dough into buttered bowl and flip to coat dough completely in grease. Cover bowl and rise 1 hour or until doubled in size. (I used my stand mixer, so I proofed the yeast in the mixer bowl, then stirred in additional dough ingredients and kneaded the dough with the dough hook attachment. Kneading took about 30 seconds, and the dough was ready to go!)

2. Line the bottom of a 9-inch x 13-inch pan and a pie or cake pan with parchment paper and butter the sides of the pans. Then set aside.

3. Punch dough down and roll into 18- to 24-inch x 12-inch rectangle on a floured board. (To prevent the dough from sticking, I also laid down wax paper, placed the dough ball on it, and then laid another piece of wax paper over the ball before rolling.) Spread melted butter over entire rectangle.

Sweet Tangelo Walnut Rolls 3

Filling mixed and ready. Image by author.

4. Stir tangelo zest, walnuts, and cinnamon into sugar until combined. Sprinkle sugar over butter, spreading evenly where necessary.

Sweet Tangelo Walnut Rolls

Image by author.

Roll up dough length-wise, and cut off uneven ends. Cut into 18 to 24 rolls. Place in prepared pans, and cover and let rise another hour or until the rolls swell enough to start touching.

5. During the last 10 minutes of the rise, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

6. Bake rolls for 12-15 minutes or until edges are golden brown. While rolls are cooking, stir together powdered sugar and tangelo juice until smooth to create icing. When rolls come out of the oven, immediately drizzle with icing. Cool 10 minutes and serve.

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