Friday, August 22, 2014

Soft Pretzels with Beer Sauce


I have an unabashed love of soft pretzels. They are the best and most wonderful of comfort foods. Salty, bready, and warm from the oven. But too often any access we have to soft pretzels comes from either a questionable cart on a busy city street or at a ballpark, where they have no doubt charged you at least an arm or a leg. These poor pretzels. They either suffer from sitting in that bizarre twirly glass box all day or have been so overloaded with salt you can't even taste if there's anything underneath them (and maybe you wouldn't *want* to taste it...).

The professionals would have you think that making soft pretzels at home is about as complicated as brain surgery. There are multiple steps and necessary complicated tools and gadgets you'll need. And of course, to make truly "authentic" pretzels, you'll need the feared baker's lye, the stuff of kitchen nightmares, where too much of it, and you'll kill your would-be consumers. 

But seriously. You don't need all that stuff. They're just trying to keep you from the doughy delicious salty glory that is the soft pretzel. And the good people at cookingandbeer.com have figured this out (and what a fantastic name for a blog that is). No lye. No crazy gizmos or gadgets. No crazy ingredients at all. Just a basic yeast-based bread recipe that yields some of the most tasty perfect soft pretzels you've ever had. They even throw in a beer cheese sauce recipe! Now that's thoughtful. 


Makes 8 pretzels 

Ingredients

For the preztels: 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
4 cup all-purpose flour (more as needed)
1 tablespoon canola oil
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water to make an egg wash
coarse sea salt

For the beer cheese sauce: 
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces beer (IPA or Pale Ale)
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt
pepper
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated

Method

For the Pretzels:
In the bowl of a stand mixer (with dough hook attached), combine the water, butter, yeast, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.

With the speed set on low, add the fine sea salt and the flour until all has been added. Increase the speed to medium, and knead for 5-6 minutes. The dough should start to pull away from the sides of the bowl and form a ball. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour until the dough is easy to handle.

Drizzle a tablespoon of canola oil into a large bowl. Remove the dough from the stand mixer and form it into a ball. Place the dough into the large bowl and toss so that it is evenly coated with canola oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and place it in an unheated oven to rise for 1-2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Once your dough has risen, remove it from the bowl and transfer it to a work surface. Cut it into 8 equally-sized pieces.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F and line 2 large baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large pot, bring 6 cups of water to a rolling boil.

While you wait for you water to come to a boil, take each piece and roll out into a very thin rope. Lay the rope horizontally in front of you and cross the right side over the left. Twist the ends once or twice and flip the ends toward you to form a traditional pretzel-like shape. Press the ends into the bottom of the pretzel to seal. Repeat this step for the rest of the dough. 

Once you have formed your pretzels, add the baking soda (you need to be very careful and slow at this point, it'll bubble up almost immediately) to the boiling water until all of it has been added. One or two at a time, add the pretzels to the water and boil for 30-45 seconds. Remove the pretzels from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to your prepared baking sheets. Repeat this step for the rest of your pretzels.

Brush your pretzels with the prepared egg wash and sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt. Bake the pretzels at 425 degrees F for 12-15 minutes or until they are brown on top. You may need to switch the two baking sheets halfway through the baking process if your oven does not cook evenly. Remove from oven and let cool for 2-3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes more.



For the spicy beer cheese sauce
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Slowly whisk in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes or until a nutty aroma fills the air and your roux is a golden color. 

Slowly whisk in the beer and continue to let it cook, whisking frequently, for 3-4 minute. 

Next, add the milk and whisk again to combine. 

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, and allow for it to cook until the sauce has thickened and is at a consistency in which you desire. 

Stir in the hot sauce, cayenne pepper, and a dash of salt and pepper. Remove the sauce from the heat, and add the cheese in half cup increments, making sure the cheese has completely melted before you add the rest.
Serve the spicy beer cheese sauce with the pretzels immediately, or store the pretzels in an air tight container where they will keep for about a week.
The cheese can be stored in the fridge for about a week also. When you go to serve it, add it to a small saucepan over low heat to warm gently.




Monday, August 18, 2014

Flaky Biscuits



Who doesn't love a good biscuit?

There are probably 8 million recipes for biscuits out there; many of them passed down lovingly from generation to generation. They are a perfect example of a "simple" recipe that is all about the details. Easy to read, hard to perfect. Cook's Illustrated (way back in 2013) made a pretty good stab at it. And when you know America's Test Kitchen is involved, you know they made somewhere in the region of 800,000-1,000,000 biscuits in getting this recipe right. 

So who am I to argue? Just a few moderate tweaks, here and there. Probably for my own tastebuds rather than any attempt to perfect scientific perfection, but nonetheless, it's hard not to mess with recipes :D

As the recipe promises, these biscuits are fabulously flaky. It's all about the roll, fold, and turn. I know, it seems repetitive and pointless, but trust me, there's method to this madness.

Makes 9-12 biscuits

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch chunks (ironically, we didn't have veggie shortening, but lard instead. Which works perfectly well, as long as you aren't, you know, vegetarian)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), chilled, lightly floured, and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/8-1/4 cups buttermilk, chilled

Method

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl.

Add shortening/lard to flour mixture; break up chunks with your fingertips until only small, pea-size pieces remain. Working with few butter slices at a time, drop butter slices into flour mixture and toss to coat. Pick up each slice of butter and press between well-floured fingertips into flat, nickel-size pieces. Repeat until all butter slices are incorporated then toss to combine. Freeze mixture in bowl until chilled, about 15 minutes, or refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Sprinkle 1/3 cup flour across counter, then gently spread flour across area with your palm to form thin, even coating. Add 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk to flour mixture. Stir briskly with fork until ball forms and no dry bits of flour are visible, adding remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk as needed (dough will be sticky and shaggy, but should clear sides of bowl).

With rubber spatula, transfer dough onto center of prepared counter, dust surface lightly with flour, and with floured hands, bring dough together into cohesive ball.

Pat dough into approximate 10-inch square, then roll into 18 by 14-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick, dusting dough and rolling pin with flour as needed. Use bench scraper or thin spatula to fold dough into thirds, brushing any excess flour from surface of dough.

Life short end of dough and fold into thirds again to form approximate 6 by 4-inch rectangle. Rotate dough 90 degrees, dusting counter underneath with flour, then roll and fold dough again, dusting with flour as needed.

Roll dough into 10-inch square about 1/2-inch thick. Flip dough over and cut 9-12 rounds with floured biscuit cutter, dipping cutter back into flour after each cut. Carefully invert and transfer rounds to parchment-covered baking sheet, spacing them 1 inch apart.

Gather dough scraps into a ball and roll and fold once or twice until scraps form smooth dough. Roll dough into 1/2-inch thick round and cut more rounds and transfer to sheet.

Brush biscuits tops with melted butter. Bake, without opening oven door, until tops are golden brown and crispy, 15-17 minutes.

Let cool on sheet for 5-10 minutes before serving.



Italian Wedding Soup



Ingredients

Broth

1 onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
8 ounces ground pork
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
2 cups water

Meatballs

1 slice hearty sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
5 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
4 teaspoons finely grated onion
1/2 teaspoon finely grated garlic
salt and pepper
12 ounces ground pork
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons oregano

1 cup ditalini pasta
12 ounces kale, stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (6 cups)

Method

1. For the Broth: 

Heat onion, fennel garlic, porcini, pork, and bay leaf in Dutch oven over medium-high heat; cook, stirring frequently, until meats are no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

Add wine and Worcestershire; cook for 1 minute.

Add chicken and beef broths and water; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

2. For the Meatballs

While broth simmers, combine bread, cream, Parmesan, onion, garlic, and pepper to taste in bowl; using fork, mash mixture to uniform paste.

Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat pork, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt on high speed until smooth and pale, 1-2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed.

Add bread mixture and oregano; mix on medium speed until just incorporated, 1-2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Using moistened hands, form heaping teaspoons of meat mixture into small round meatballs; approx. 20-30 depending on how big you want them. Cover and refrigerate up to 1 day.

If you want a "cleaner" broth, strain it through fine-mesh strainer set over large bowl and discarding solids. I personally like a "dirtier" soup so I left them in and continued on my merry way.

Return broth to simmer over medium-high heat. Add pasta and kale; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Add meatballs; return to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until meatballs are cooked through and pasta is tender, 3-5 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Ultimate Cinnamon Buns



Ingredients

Dough

3/4 cup warm whole milk (110 degrees)
2 1/4 teaspoons instant/rapid-rise yeast (one packet)
3 large eggs, room temperature
4 1/4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 12 pieces and softened

Filling

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (1/2 stick)

Glaze

1 1/2 cups confectioners' (icing) sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon whole milk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method
1. For the Dough

Make foil sling for 13x9 inch baking pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil; first sheet should be 13 inches wide and second sheet should be 9 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan.

Grease foil.

Whisk milk and yeast together in liquid measuring cup until yeast dissolves, then whisk in eggs.

2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and place loaf or cake pan on bottom of oven. Using stand mixer fitted with dough hook, mix 4 1/4 cups flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined. Add warm milk mixture in steady stream and mix until dough comes together, about 1 minute.

Add butter, 1 piece at a time, until incorporated. Continue to mix until dough is smooth and comes away from sides of bowl, about 10 minutes (if dough is still wet and stick, add up to 1/4 cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it releases from bowl). Turn out dough onto counter and knead to form smooth, round ball.

Transfer dough to medium greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and transfer to middle oven rack. Pour 3 cups boiling water into loaf pan into oven, close oven door, and let dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

3. For the Filling: 

Combine sugar, cinnamon, and salt in small bowl. Remove dough from oven and turn out onto lightly floured counter. Remove dough from oven and turn out onto lightly floured counter.

Roll dough into 18-inch square and, leaving 1/2-inch border around edges, spread with butter, then sprinkle evenly with sugar mixture and lightly press sugar mixture into dough.















Starting with short edge, roll dough into tight cylinder, pinch lightly to seal seam, and cut into 8 pieces.

The tighter the "cylinder", the better
















Transfer pieces, cut side up, to prepared pan.
Cover with plastic and let rise in oven until doubled in size, about 1 hour.


The sliced buns, ready for their second rise.
















4. For the Glaze:
The buns, fresh from the oven
Remove buns and water pan from oven and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk all ingredients together in medium bowl until smooth. Remove plastic and bake buns until deep golden brown and filling is melted, 35-40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.









Transfer to wire rack, top buns with 1/2 cup glaze, and let cool for 30 minutes. Using foil overhang, lift buns from pan and top with remaining glaze.

Serve. And try and stop with just one.




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cinnamon Swirl Bread




Hold on to your butts, we're gonna make yeast-based bread. So, I'm gonna need you to block off, oh, the next 6-7 hours for this.

Seriously.

Don't get me wrong, it's delicious. But you're going to have to accept that you won't be able to go 20 feet from your kitchen for approximately 4 hours. There are steps, then half steps, then little quarter steps. This is the definition of a long-term recipe.

But, thankfully, it's more or less fool proof. Or as fool proof as a yeast-based bread recipe is ever going to get.

Ingredients

Dough
8 tbsp unsalted butter
3 3/4 cups bread flour, plus extra for work surface
3/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (or 1 packet) instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (approx. 110 degrees F)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (but keep separate)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups golden raisins

Filling
 1 cup confectioner's sugar
3 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt


Method

1. For the dough
Cut butter into 32 pieces and toss with 1 tbsp floor. Set aside to soften while mixing dough.

Whisk remaining flour, milk powder, sugar, and yeast together in bowl of stand mixer. Using stand mixer fitted with dough hook, add water and 1 beaten egg and mix on medium-low speed until cohesive mass forms, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl if necessary.

Cover mixing bowl and plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and place a large dish, loaf or cake pan on bottom of oven. Remove plastic wrap from mixer bowl add salt, and mix on medium-low speed until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 7 to 15 minutes.

With mixer running, add butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to knead until butter is fully incorporated and dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 3-5 minutes longer.

Add raising and mix until incorporated, 30-60 seconds.

Transfer dough to large greased bowl and, using bowl scraper or rubber spatula, fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees; fold again. Turn bowl and fold dough 6 more times (total of 8 folds).

Cover tightly with plastic and transfer to middle rack of oven. Pour 3 cups of boiling water into loaf pan in oven, close oven door, and allow dough to rise for 45 minutes.

Remove bowl from oven and gently press down on center of dough to deflate. Repeat folding process (total of 8 folds), re-cover, and return to oven until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

2. For the Filling 

Whisk filling ingredients together until well combined; set aside.

3. Shaping and Putting the Filling in the Dough

Grease two 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pans. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and divide into 2 pieces.

Working with 1 piece of dough, pat into rought 6 x 11 inch rectangle. With short side facing you, fold long sides in like a business letter to form 3 x 11 inch rectangle.

Roll dough away from you into a ball. Dust ball with flour and flatten with rolling pin into 7 x 18 inch rectangle with even 1/4 inch thickness. Using spray bottle (or flicking water with your hands), spray dough lightly with water.

Sprinkle half of filling mixture evenly over dough, leaving 1/4 inch border on sides and 3/4 inch border on top and bottom. Spray filling lightly with water (filling should be speckled with water over entire surface).

With short side facing you, roll dough away form you into firm cylinder. Turn loaf seam side up and pinch closed; pinch all ends closed. Dust loaf lightly on all sides with flour and let rest for 10 minutes.

Repeat with second ball of dough and remaining filling.

4. The Russian Braid

Working with 1 loaf at a time, use bench scraper or sharp chef's knife to cut loaf in half lengthwise; turn halves so cut sides are facing up.

Gently stretch each half into 14 inch length.

Slicing the loaf lengthwise








Line up pieces of dough and pinch 2 end strips together. Take piece on left and lay over piece on right. Repeat, keeping cut side up, until pieces of dough are tightly twisted (this is known as the Russian Braid technique, keeping the dough together while providing escape routes for excess air). Pinch ends together. See photos below for how to braid:

Making the Russian Braid
The completed Braid

Transfer loaf, cut side up, to prepared loaf pan; push any exposed raisins into seams of braid.

Repeat with second loaf.

Cover loaves loosely with plastic, return to over, and allow to rise for 45 minutes.

Remove loaves and water pan from oven; heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Allow loaves to rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, about 45 minutes (top of loaves should rise about 1 inch above lip of pan.

5. Baking (finally)

Brush loaves with a mixture of 1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt. Bake until crust is well browned, about 25 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to about 325 degrees, tent loaves with aluminum foil, and continue to bake until internal temperature registers 200 degrees (I have no intention of ever checking the internal temperature of bread), which should take between 15-25 minutes longer.

Transfer pans to wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove loaves from pans, return to rack, and cool to room temperatures before slicing, about 2 hours.



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