Friday, February 10, 2012

Pretzel Dogs/ Soft Pretzels

When I was in grade school, I tried over and over to make soft pretzels from this book (thanks Mom for saving it for me):

Each time I would start with anticipation - hoping that maybe the last attempt would be history and this magical time, I would produce a soft, delicious pretzel that would make any concession stand proud, but alas, each time produced something akin to craft dough with a shiny glaze and salt on top. Bleh...
I really have to give my mom kudos for allowing me to try this silly recipe over and over - allowing me the chance to try and test - even at a very young age. 

So, with this as my background, I decided I would never be able to produce a good soft pretzel. Fast forward 20 years to the fabulous world of Pinterest and I find this recipe for preztel dogs. I tried them with great success for the Super Bowl. The mini pretzel bites were quite delicious dipped in our nacho cheese and I can proudly leave the salt dough pretzels of my past behind. The things food does for my self-confidence - hah!

-Joy the Baker (recipe adapted from Alton Brown)

Makes 16 pretzel dogs (made from cutting hot dogs in half)

1 ½ cups warm water (between 110 and 115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 - 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

about 14 cups of water
1 cup baking soda
1 large egg, beaten, with a splash of water
salt and pepper for topping

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine warm water and sugar.  Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and set aside for 5 minutes.  The mixture will begin to foam and froth.  If it doesn’t, throw the mixture away and start again with new yeast.
Once the yeast and water is frothy, add the flour, salt, and melted butter.  Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until well combined.  Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, creating a ball of dough around the dough hook.  Beat on medium speed for approximately 4 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl.  The dough will be soft, pliable, and just a bit sticky.  That’s perfect.  Scrape any residue out of the bowl and coat the bowl with a bit of vegetable oil.  Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and store in a warm place to rise.  Allow dough to rise, until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Place baking racks in the center and upper third of the oven.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with Silpats, or parchment paper lightly brushed with oil.  It’s important to brush the parchment paper or the pretzels will stick!
Combine water and baking soda in a large pan (8 quart is fine) saucepan and bring to a boil.
While the water comes to a boil, turn the dough out onto a clean, slightly oiled work surface.  Divide dough into 8 or 16 pieces, depending on how large you’d like your pretzel dogs.  8 pieces of dough for whole hot dogs.  16 pieces of dough if you’re doing to slice the hot dogs in half.
Start with the fingers of both hands in the center of the dough, and roll, moving your hands outward as you roll.  Roll the dough along the oiled surface until you have about a 24-inch or 12-inch piece of rope (depending on how large your piece of dough was… the more dough the longer the rope).
Wrap pretzel around a hot dog, making sure to seal the ends.
When water has come to a boil, gently lower a few pretzel dogs into the boiling water.  Boil for 30 seconds.  Remove carefully, using a flat, slotted spatula.  Place on prepared baking sheet.  Brush boiled pretzels with beaten egg, and add coarse sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
Bake until deeply golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving warm.
Soft pretzels are best enjoyed the day they are made. (I thought they made great leftovers heated in the microwave!)
If you’re not going to enjoy all your pretzel dogs, double wrap them in plastic wrap and store in the freezer.  When ready to serve, transfer out of plastic and into a piece of foil.  Wrap well and bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes, or until heated through.

Chocolate Cherry Brownies

In my opinion, there is always room for a good brownie. For this month's Relief Society Sweet Swap, I wanted to try experiment a bit with a variation on the mint brownies from Our Best Bites. I made some with cherry extract in place of vanilla in the brownies and that was a little too strong for me, so I stuck with vanilla there - then I tried using extract for the frosting and had to use quite a lot to get the level of flavor that I wanted, so I switched to flavoring oil in the frosting and glaze. After a couple variations, I think I wound up with a pretty good recipe! Move over cordial cherries!!

4 squares unsweetened baking chocolate
1 C butter
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

3 C powdered sugar
4 T butter, softened
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cherry flavoring oil (Lorann)
1-2 Tbs milk 
1-2 drops red food coloring, if desired

Chocolate Glaze:

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli)
4 Tbs real butter
3-4 drops cherry flavoring oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13 inch pan with foil making sure the foil extends over the edges by at least one inch.  Lightly spray with non-stick spray and set aside.

Chop both unsweetened chocolate and two sticks of butter into chunks and place together in a microwave safe bowl.  Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until just melted and smooth.  Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally. 

With an electric mixer or stand mixer beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla for 2 minutes.  While egg mixture is beating, measure out flour and combine with baking powder.   While mixer is running, slowly add melted chocolate and beat to combine.  Turn beater speed to low and add in flour by spoonfuls.  Mix just until combined.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25-35 minutes or until a knife poked in center comes out clean.

Cool completely on a metal rack. When brownies have cooled to room temperature, prepare frosting.  Combine all frosting ingredients, starting with 1 1/2 tablespoon of milk, and beat until light and fluffy.  Add more milk by teaspoonful as needed.  Spread frosting evenly over brownies and then place brownies in fridge to chill. 

While brownies are chilling prepare chocolate glaze.  Place chocolate chips and 4 tablespoons butter in a microwave safe bowl.  Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until just melted and smooth.  Set aside to cool for about 15 minutes and then carefully spread on top of the frosting layer.  Return pan to fridge to cool.  When chocolate has hardened, use edges of foil to remove entire brownie from pan.  Cut into squares and serve.