Monday, November 12, 2012

Bavarian Pretzel Bites with Beer Cheese Dip

Beer and pretzels.  When Ross and I set the date for our homebrew tasting, Bavarian pretzels were high on the list.  Whilet we were not serving any Martzen or lagers, this soft, chewy Oktoberfest staple seemed only fitting as our finger food and palate cleanser offering.  I scoured several recipes and came across many, many variations.  Most were of a quick and easy variety...attempting to replicate the slightly sweet and overly gresased varieties found at many a mall and corner cart.  Not Bavarian pretzels to say the least.

I had visions of soft, chewy, almost bagel-like interiors caramelized into a leathery, blistery brown skin, dotted with salt and full of pungent yeasty flavor.  Most recipes treated pretzel dough like bread dough...only with shorter to no proofing time and usually relying on egg washes to achieve the exterior.  Somehting didn't bode right about these.

Eventually a reoccuring method begin to pop up among recipes claiming to be more traditional or old world.  Lye.  Baking soda.  Alkalies....

It seems the trick to that memorable chwey interior and gorgeous brown skin is to boil the pretzels in an alkil solution for a mere 20 30 seconds.  In that breif moment the high pH breaks down the surface starches in to much more simple sugars which in turn caramelize in mere minutes in the oven.  The lye is food grade and can be purchased commercially...the heat of thee oven burns off any remaining, so fear not.  I found baking soda worked wonderfully.

The pretzel dough does dry out quickly.  I found having a spritzer of water at hand helped immensely when trying to roll out the ropes.  I did not try my hand at twisting traditional knots.  I did have over thirty people to supply...bite-sized bits seemed far more appropriate.  The recipe will make twelve 8-inch pretzels for the more ambitious. 

The baking soda is intimidating, but so much fun as well.  Dropped the bites in about 8 at a time.  They puffed up like magic within moments, supercharging the yeast before their trip into the oven.  The bite of residue alkali left had a cleansing effervescent quality unlike anything I've ever tasted with an American-style pretzel.  I am eager to try these babies again!

DO use parchment paper.  I learned that the hard way after trying to pry the baked morsels off of the first baking sheet.

DO remmeber to salt them before you bake them, using coarse or sea salt, not kosher salt.  Salt will not stick after the pretzels are baked, even with a brushing of oil, butter or beer. 

DO use the full amount of yeast.  2 Tbsp seems like a lot.  It is.  I snipped the tops off three packages and stirred the whole mess in.  You want the yeast. 

DO make these time and time again.  They will be a huge hit.  One guest, recently recovered from a trip to Germany, insisted I send her the recipe.  She found nothing quite as close to traditional Bavarian pretzels since returning state side.  The

pretzels adapted from the New York Times
Beer cheese dip adapted from Girlichef

yields 96 pretzel bites

The Ingredients:
for the pretzels:
1 Tbsp barley malt syrup or dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp lard or softened unsalted butter
2 Tbsp instant yeast
6 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon  kosher salt
5 cups water
10 Tbsp baking soda
Coarse sea salt or pretzel salt, for sprinkling (do not substitute kosher salt)

for the dip
10 oz beer (preferably a hefeweizen)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp  flour
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 clove garlic, minced
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
In a large  bowl stir together syrup or brown sugar, lard or butter, yeast, 2 cups warm water and half of the flour. Add kosher salt and remaining flour and stir just until mixture just comes together.

Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cut into 12 pieces, gently form into balls and loosely cover with cling wrap.  Let rest 5 minutes.

Roll out each piece into a rope about 18 - inches long.  Cut each rope into approximately 8  pieces.  Place on baking sheets and loosely cover with cling wrap. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for one hour

Pre-heat oven to 425.

In a large saucepan mix the water with baking soda. Bring to a boil. Working with about a dozen at a time, place pretzel pieces in the boiling solution for 20 seconds. remove with a slotted spoon and spread out the pieces on a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with pretzel salt.

Bake for 8-10  minutes or until golden brown.

Serve immediately.

for the dip

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat bring the beer to a gentle boil.  Toss the cheddar cheese with the flour. Once beer is simmering, whisk in the cheese,cream cheese, mustard, green onions and garlic.  Continue to stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve.

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