Monday, November 1, 2010

Pretzel Bites (aka Halloween Ladies' Fingers)

  I've always had a soft spot for Halloween, not just because of the free candy. Well, ok, not entirely because of the free candy. Particularly as I've grown older and the option of trick or treating has become increasingly unlikely, I've had to make my own delectable treats in celebration of ghouls, goblins, etc. But ironically enough, it's a savory treat that I associate most with the holiday. Way (and I mean way) back in high school, I hosted a Halloween party for my friends. Looking for food ideas of a non-candy variety (we did have to eat some form of dinner), I stumbled upon these creations by none other than the hostess with the mostest, Martha Stewart. Called "Ladies' Fingers", they were small bite-size pretzels shaped to look like, well, you guessed it, fingers. The original recipe called for sliced almonds, dyed red with food coloring, to make the pretzel look like an actual finger.

Now, way back when, I followed dear Martha's advice to the letter. Fast forward a few (ok, more than a few) years and I couldn't be bothered by the multi, multi, multi step process that involved not only making your own pretzels, but also dying and attaching red almond slices just for the spooky effect. And considering there would only be two of us to eat them, well, it just seemed silly. So, I turned them into normal pretzel bites, which were phenomenal in their own right. Sprinkled with sea salt and rosemary, these babies disappear faster than you can say "Happy Halloween". And hey, if you're feeling creative, go crazy and do it the Martha Stewart way. They look awesome and if you're having guests, they're sure to impress.

Makes 4 dozen

Red or green food coloring (optional, for fingers)
24 blanched almonds, halved lengthwise
2 cups warm water (110 degrees), plus 3 quarts, plus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon sugar
1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
Vegetable oil
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 large egg
Sea salt
Rosemary (dried)

1. Place a small amount of food coloring, if using, in a shallow bowl, and, using a paintbrush, color the rounded side of each split almond; set aside to dry.

2. Pour 2 cups water into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough-hook attachment. Add sugar; stir to dissolve. Sprinkle with yeast, and let stand until yeast begins to bubble, about 5 minutes. Beat in 1 cup flour into yeast on low speed until combined.

3. Beat in coarse salt; add 3 1/2 cups flour, and beat until combined. Continue beating until dough pulls away from bowl, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup flour. Beat 1 minute more. If dough is sticky, add up to 1 cup more flour. Transfer to a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth, 1 minute.
4. Coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap; let rest in a warm spot to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 6-quart straight-sided saucepan over high heat; reduce to a simmer. Add baking soda. Lightly coat two baking sheets with cooking spray. Divide dough into quarters. Work with one quarter at a time, and cover remaining dough with plastic wrap. Divide first quarter into 12 pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll each piece back and forth with your palm forming a long finger shape, about 3 to 4 inches. Pinch dough in two places to form knuckles. Or, to make toes, roll each piece so that it is slightly shorter and fatter, about 2 inches. Pinch in 1 place to form the knuckle.

6. When 12 fingers or toes are formed, transfer to simmering water. Poach for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fingers to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, blanching each set of 12 fingers or toes before making more.

7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzel fingers and toes with the egg wash. Using a sharp knife, lightly score each knuckle about three times. Sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary, if using. Position almond nails, pushing them into dough to attach.

8. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.

Fingers and toes are best eaten the same day; or store, covered, up to 2 days at room temperature.

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