Tag Archives: recipes

Bake Your Own Pretzels

I was just telling a friend the other day how much I like homemade baked pretzels, and I figured some of y'all might be interested in the recipe as well!

I've been making this recipe from Alton Brown for a few years now, and it has never disappointed.

Notes:
The directions call for using a stand mixer, but there's no reason these couldn't be mixed and kneaded by hand if you were so inclined.

Authentic baked pretzels are boiled in lye, but the baking soda/water mixture in this recipe works pretty darn well and involves a lot less in the way of safety precautions.

If you don't have pretzel salt, you can use coarse kosher salt, but the real thing is better. I couldn't find any pretzel salt in stores, so I ordered it online. The smallest size container I found was 2 pounds, so I expect I'll be making this recipe for many years to come...

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115°F)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
1 lb, 6 oz all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil (I use spray canola oil)
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
pretzel salt

Directions
Combine water and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let sit for 5 minutes (or until the mixture begins to foam). Add flour, kosher salt, and butter. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Then change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 5 minutes.

Remove dough from the bowl, clean the bowl, and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a towel, and let sit in a warm place for 50 to 55 minutes--or until the dough has doubled in size.

About 20 minutes before the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 450°F. (My oven runs a bit cool, so I set it to closer to 475°F. The pretzels won't brown well if your oven isn't hot enough.) Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Also before the end of the rising time, bring 10 cups water and baking soda to a rolling boil in a large saucepan.

When dough has finished rising, turn it out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into approximately 16 equal pieces. (Alton suggests 8 pieces, but I find that to be so large it's pretty much a meal in and of itself. Since I usually bring these pretzels to gatherings where other food is served, I opt for a smaller size.) Roll out each piece of dough into an 18-inch rope (estimating is fine here--no need to get out a ruler!). Make a U-shape with the dough rope, then hold the ends and cross them over each other. Press the dough ends firmly onto the bottom of the U-shape so that the pretzel will hold its shape. Or feel free to experiment with other shapes--just don't get too intricate, and it'll be fine.

You can either shape all your pretzels at once or alternate shaping them and boiling them. Or enlist child labor helpers to help shape the dough.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, one at a time, for approximately 30 seconds. (I've gotten distracted and left pretzels in the water for far longer than this; they still turn out fine.) Remove them from the water using a slotted spoon (Alton Brown suggests a large, flat spatula for this, but I prefer my trusty spoon). Place pretzels on the lined cookie sheet, leaving 1.5" to 2" between pretzels.

Brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. (Don't chicken out and remove these from the oven too early--you want them to get fairly dark.) Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

*I have been known to swap in 6-8 ounces of white whole wheat flour

The Best Hot Cocoa Mix

So what do you do with that leftover fancy cocoa powder you bought to make that delicious, Nutella-esque chocolate and peanut concoction? You make your own cocoa mix! And trust me, this is waaaaaaaay tastier than that stuff you buy at the grocery store.

Ingredients
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) Valrhona cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until thoroughly pulverized.

Before pulverization:

After pulverization:

To use (stovetop version): Heat one cup of milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to steam. Add 3 tablespoons cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved. (Obviously you can make more than one cup at a time, depending on how many people you're serving.)

To use (microwave version): This mixes together better if you heat the cocoa mix with the milk rather than mixing it after the milk has been heated. Measure 3 tablespoons cocoa mix into one cup of milk but don't bother stirring it. Heat for 90 seconds and then stir vigorously. Then heat for 20 more seconds or until cocoa is at desired temperature. (Aside: my microwave is pretty wimpy, so you may want to reduce these times if you are using a more powerful model.)

Bonus tip--I store my cocoa mix in a container with the measurements noted on it to make life easy:

Recipe source: Smitten Kitchen

Monster-esque Cookies

I had these cookies for the first time at a Halloween party a long time ago, and therefore I always associate them with Halloween. I don't know for sure exactly what elements are required for a true monster cookie, but these are at least a close relative of monster cookies. While there's no small amount of sugar in these, they somehow don't taste overly sweet, which I appreciate.

1 cup (8 oz.) butter, softened
1 cup (9.5 oz.) natural peanut butter
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) brown sugar
1 cup (7 oz.) granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups (7 oz.) old-fashioned oats*
1 1/2 cups (7 7/8 oz.) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 oz. chocolate chips**
2 cups M&M's
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional; I didn't use them)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a stand mixer (or sturdy electric hand mixer and a large bowl), cream butter and sugars for approximately 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl.

Add eggs and vanilla, mixing for about 1 minute.

Add oats, flour, and baking soda. Mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Stir in chocolate chips, M&M's, and walnuts (if using).

Use a cookie scoop, spoon, or your hands to form dough into 1.5-inch balls. Place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, rotating sheets on top and bottom racks halfway through. When done, the tops of the cookies should be just beginning to brown. Remove cookies from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight plastic container or ziplock bag for up to 1 week.

*The recipe calls for quick-cooking oats, but I didn't have any, and I thought the cookies turned out great with old-fashioned oats.
**I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chips because I love them, but any variety will do.

Recipe source: a lovely woman named Amy who may or may not have originally gotten the recipe from a Martha Stewart magazine

Triple-Threat Cookies

Lest y'all think I haven't picked up any sports lingo in the nearly 4 years I've been hanging around here . . .

In this case, the recipe's name refers to the fact that these cookies contain three kinds of chocolate. Yeah, baby.

from The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern by Claudia Fleming, via Epicurious

1/4 (1 1/8 oz.) cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 (4 2/3 oz.) granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon brewed espresso*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ounces extra-bittersweet chocolate, chopped**
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (4 3/4 oz.) mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, briefly whip the eggs to break them up. Add the sugar, espresso, and vanilla and beat on high speed for 15 minutes, until thick. (Yes, that's really 15 minutes.)

Here's how your batter should look at the end of that time:
triple2

While the eggs are whipping, place the butter, extra-bittersweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate in the top of a double boiler, or in a medium-size metal bowl suspended over a pot of simmering (not boiling) water. Heat until the butter and chocolate melt. Remove the boiler top from over the water and stir the butter/chocolate mixture until smooth.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until partially combined (there should still be streaks). Add the flour mixture to the batter and carefully fold it in. Fold in the chocolate chips. If the batter is very runny, let it rest until it thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.

Here's my finished batter:
triple3

Drop the batter by heaping teaspoonfuls (yes, these are tiny cookies!) onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes, rotating sheets on top and bottom racks halfway through. When done, the cookies should be puffed and cracked on top. (You don't want to overbake these or you'll miss out on the cookies having a gloriously fudge-y center.) Remove baking sheet from the oven and transfer cookies a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight plastic container or ziplock bag for up to 1 week.

*I'm no coffee drinker, but I keep a jar of instant espresso (e.g. Medaglia d'Oro) in the freezer and brew it when needed for a recipe.
**The chocolate flavor really comes through in these cookies, so if you're making these, I recommend springing for the good stuff.

Spookily Good Sugar Cookies

I intended to make these with Halloween-themed M&M's, but I didn't find any, so you're just going to have to pretend. One of my chief complaints about M&M cookies is that the candies are so sweet that the overall effect can be something that appeals only to those who are 10 and under. But this recipe is just the thing--not too sweet and the generous quantity of vanilla along with a hint of nutmeg give them a flavor I can only describe as perfect.

from The Essential Crunchy Sugar Cookie recipe in The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

1/4 cup (1 5/8 oz.) vegetable shortening
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (this is 1/2 stick, or 2 oz.)
2/3 cup (4 3/4 oz.) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (2 oz.) milk (not skim)
1 teaspoon white vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (yes, a whole tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (I grated my own with a microplane grater and used about 1/2 teaspoon just because it ends up being so fluffy)
2 cups (8 1/2 oz.) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups M&M's*
additional granulated sugar for tops of cookies

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. (Alternatively, you can grease the baking sheets.)

Using a stand mixer (or sturdy electric hand mixer and a large bowl), cream shortening, butter, and sugar for approximately 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl.

In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the milk, vinegar, and vanilla. Add this to the butter mixture, beating until well combined. The mixture will look curdled, but this is fine.

Add nutmeg, flour, baking soda, and salt while mixer is off. Start beating on slowest speed and gradually increase to medium-low, beating until the mixture forms a cohesive dough. Add M&M's and beat or stir until candies are evenly distributed throughout.

Use a cookie scoop, spoon, or your hands to form dough into 1.5-inch balls. Place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.

Using the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar, flatten the balls to 1/4 inch thick.

Bake for 20 minutes, rotating sheets on top and bottom racks halfway through. When done, the cookies should be a light gold color and just beginning to brown around the bottom edges. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight plastic container or ziplock bag for up to 1 week.

*A "medium" bag of M&M's contains 1 3/4 cups, which works fine for this recipe, but if you spring for the "large" bag, you'll have a full 2 cups and some leftovers to much on, which may be either a positive or a negative depending on your perspective.

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies

I have just one problem with these cookies—I can’t stop eating them.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
1/4 cup (2.375 oz.) natural peanut butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz.) brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (1.75 oz.) granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups (5.625 oz.) all-purpose flour [OR 2.5 oz. white whole wheat and the remainder all-purpose]
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
generous 1/4 teaspoon salt [OR scant 1/2 teaspoon, depending on your preference]
1 generous cup mini pretzel twists
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Using a stand mixer (or sturdy electric hand mixer and a large bowl), cream butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar, beating on medium speed for approximately 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add egg and vanilla and beat for 1 minute.

Add flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt while mixer is off. Start beating on slowest speed and gradually increase to medium. Beat until just combined and no more flour is visible, about 1 minute.

Add pretzels and chocolate chips, beating on low speed until combined. (This step will crush the pretzels.)

Slap some plastic wrap over the mixing bowl (or transfer to a smaller container with a lid) and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

When your chosen interval of time has passed, preheat oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Use a cookie scoop, spoon, or your hands to form dough into 1.5-inch mounds. Place about 2 inches apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets.

ready to bake

Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating sheets on top and bottom racks halfway through. When done, the tops of the cookies should be barely set. Not to worry—they’ll bake a bit more as they cool. The finished cookies will be fairly soft.

Let sit on cookie sheet for 5-10 minutes (these are too fragile to transfer just out of the oven), then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight plastic container or ziplock bag for up to 1 week.

NOTES: If you’re using peanut butter with salt, I’d probably go with the lower amount of salt. I had only light brown sugar on hand, but I definitely want to try to these cookies with dark brown sugar—this one in particular. The recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies, but it can be easily doubled. Recipe adapted from here.

I <3 pork, but it’s lent, so let’s get salmony

hot-smoked-salmonI'm not really going to give up anything for lent because I'm not really into being catholic, but for those more observant citizens I'll whip up a couple of posts without my favorite protein.  Today's challenge is smoked salmon. For my birthday I smoked a whole salmon, some speckled trout, and a couple dozen chicken wings. My birthday also happened to be on Superbowl Sunday which helps when throwing a party. You'll need to plan ahead as the salmon will need to soak in brine for 12-24 hours before you smoke it. A word about brine, I've seen ever ratio of salt to sugar, and, when hot smoking, what this boils down to is really a matter of taste. I've had great success using a ratio of 1 part kosher salt, 1 part white sugar, 1 part brown sugar with a healthy splash of soy sauce just for kicks.

Continue reading I <3 pork, but it’s lent, so let’s get salmony

Cornbread Mmmmmmuffins

I’ve tried a number of cornbread recipes over the years, and this is the closest I’ve found to perfection. My complaints about others are numerous: too sweet, too dense, too dry, too labor intensive. These muffins have none of those faults, and they have a wonderful texture to boot. In addition, I’ve found six muffins to be just the right amount—because there is nothing sadder than that last hunk of cornbread slowly molding on the kitchen counter. (Not that I’m suggesting such a thing ever happens in your house, of course.) Continue reading Cornbread Mmmmmmuffins