soft pretzels

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I’m going to shoot myself in the foot here and expose one of the great secrets of the culinary arts.  There are some things – creme brulee, black forest cake (or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, for the Germans), cinnamon rolls – that I think don’t even cross people’s mind as homemake-able.  But please, allow me just one preachy message: I know they look complicated and I know you’re probably a little scared to try them.  But when it comes right down to it – ready? – it’s really not all that hard.

little dough balls, ready for pretzeling

they're just cute, aren't they?

The general perception of a food’s difficulty of preparation must, I think, be inversely proportional to its commercial availability.  And, believe me, I’m not advocating an exclusive make-at-home policy; as I write this, I’m eating Red Vines from the bag, so clearly I’m in no place to preach.  I’m just saying that, should you have a Superbowl party to go to (as I did a few weeks ago), and should you have hungry friends who like pretzels, these might not be a bad choice.

ready for mustard

I’ve included a photo tutorial in pretzel twisting below, for those who choose to heed my advice and give these a go.  Although I can’t guarantee instant success with breadmaking if you’ve never baked with yeast before, these will at least make your house/apartment/place of residence smell like a Wetzel’s Pretzels, and that of all things is a promise you should never ignore.

roll into a longish rope

bring ends up and cross over, like those ribbon magnets you see on people's cars

give it one more twist

now just flip it down!

 

Soft Pretzels
I’m copying this directly from Deb, because 1. I didn’t really change anything and 2. they’re long!  Comment with any questions, though, and I’ll be happy to walk you through.

Makes 16 full-sized or 32 miniature

2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook* and stir to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.

2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten times, or until smooth.

3. Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

4. Heat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each) or 32 if making miniature pretzels, and wrap in plastic.

5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. [I find the pretzels much easier to roll on an unfloured board, oddly enough, but see what works for you.] Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; eight will fit on each sheet (you may need a third sheet if making miniatures). Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.

7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.

biscotti

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Let me preface this by saying that I can, in all likelihood, count the number of times I’ve been inclined to turn down any kind of dessert on one hand.  It probably goes without saying that I’m a fan of the whole baked goods thing, seeing as I have a blog dedicated to them – but given the potentially controversial nature of my next statement, I felt the need to make it explicit.

See, of all of the sundry varieties of pastries and confections, the one I have never been inclined to consume – or, by extension, to bake myself – are biscotti.  Sure, they don’t have the rabid following of, say, the cupcake, but they seem to have a universal fan base that I just could never get myself to join.  On paper, they’re kind of enticing – endless varieties; exotic (or at least exotic-sounding); often dipped in chocolate, and who can resist that – but…I don’t know.  Biscotti lovers, I apologize for my intolerance, but I cannot pass up a chewy, flavorful chocolate chip cookie in favor of something that inevitably and of its own accord spews crumbs down my shirt.

ready to bake

I think that’s the problem.  I know you’re supposed to dip them in your coffee or something European and elegant like that, but my first memory of trying a biscotto (yes, that’s the singular) was when my mom had found them in some restaurant or coffee shop and, gushing, given me a bite that I had to gnaw on for some unacceptable length of time before being able to swallow.  It reminds me of a story my parents tell about my sister and me – who, when offered our first bites of steak, chewed for a solid five minutes before looking up and asking, “Mommy?  How long do we have to chew this?”

ready for their second baking

don't forget to flip

Luckily, I’ve grown up enough since then to give the biscotti another shot.  Motivated not least by the idea of dipping them in chocolates and decorating them prettily, I spent a few hours of this Valentine’s Day weekend mixing up a few batches and arranging them in cute little gift bags for coworkers and friends.  I went a little crazy with all the different varieties, which I’ll include below, but I promise that these will be well-received regardless of your level of commitment to people-pleasing.  The recipes I used as a base were, as far as I could tell, Americanized (in that they used butter instead of the more authentic no-fat-at-all route), but in the interest of maximum flavor and minimum annoying dryness, I felt it was reasonable to sacrifice authenticity.  Next time: lemon-poppyseed-olive oil?

Basic Biscotti

Adapted from Epicurious

1 cup brown sugar

1 stick butter, melted

3 teaspoons vanilla

3 eggs

2 3/4 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking poweder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips (optional; I added cranberries as well)

Chocolate or white chocolate, for dipping, optional (I used about 2 cups)

Stir together sugar, butter, and vanilla until combined well.  Stir in eggs one at a time.  Gently stir in dry ingredients.  Stir in white chocolate chips, if using.  Chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Divide dough in half, then shape each half into a 11×2.5-inch log lengthwise on prepared baking sheet, keeping two to three inches in between logs.  Bake until logs are cracked and dry, about 25-30 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Gently cut warm logs into 3/4-inch-thick slices using a serrated knife and arrange on baking sheet, cut side down.  Bake until just dry, about 8 minutes.  Flip to other cut side and bake another 8 minutes.  Cool.

* If dipping: Melt your chocolate gently in the microwave or over a double boiler.  Dip one end of biscotti into chocolate; lay on wax paper to harden.

 

Double Chocolate Biscotti

Adapted from Epicurious

1 3/4 cups flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoons salt

1 cup brown sugar, packed

6 teaspoons butter, softened

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

8 ounces semisweet chocolate chunks

Chocolate or white chocolate, for dipping, optional (I used about 2 cups)

Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Beat together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla.  Stir in the dry ingredients, then the chocolate chunks.  Chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Divide dough in half, then shape each half into a 11×2.5-inch log lengthwise on prepared baking sheet, keeping two to three inches in between logs.  Bake until logs are cracked and dry, about 25-30 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Gently cut warm logs into 3/4-inch-thick slices using a serrated knife and arrange on baking sheet, cut side down.  Bake until just dry, about 8 minutes.  Flip to other cut side and bake another 8 minutes.  Cool.

* If dipping: Melt your chocolate gently in the microwave or over a double boiler.  Dip one end of biscotti into chocolate; lay on wax paper to harden.

 

 

pretzel cookie dough truffles

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I love cooking, regardless of where the recipe comes from, and I’m sure it’s pretty evident where I go for inspiration (Deb, Jen, Peabody…).  When it comes right down to it, though, I’d rather develop my own recipes than use someone else’s; I know it’s ridiculous, but I feel like that’s cheating, somehow.  But honestly – have you ever searched for a recipe online, any recipe?  “Chocolate chip cookie recipe” in Google yields 995,000 results; it’s hard to look at something like that and not feel like it’s all been done.*

*Great Barenaked Ladies song, by the way.

pretzel crumbs

This one’s mine, though, and frankly, it’s a stoner recipe if I’ve ever seen one.  But an idea for anything involving chocolate and yogurt covered pretzels is not to be ignored, and even less so when said pretzels are mixed with cookie dough.

dough, ready to roll

That’s where these came from.  They’re easy to make, and no baking required; I used a stand mixer, but if you’re really strapped and want an arm workout, you could probably even manage them by hand.  The only issue I ran into was not eating all of the dough before rolling it up and coating it in chocolate, and I’m sure you can agree that, of all problems, that’s one that we can all hope to be saddled with.

Pretzel Cookie Dough Truffles

3 cups pretzels, crushed to crumbs in a food processor

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

2 cups white chocolate chips

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter, sugars, and vanilla until creamy, about 3 minutes on medium-high speed.  Stir in flour and salt, then pretzel crumbs, until mixture adheres to itself in small clumps.

Roll mixture into 1/2- to 1-inch balls.  Chill about 10 minutes.  In the meantime, melt chocolate and white chocolate.  I did this in stages – first chocolate, then white chocolate.  Dip each ball in chocolate or white chocolate; turn to coat, then place on wax paper to dry.  If you’re feeling artsy, drizzle white chocolate truffles with a bit of semisweet, and vice versa.  Let dry.

black & white cookies

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Okay, so I may have lied a little bit six days ago when I said I’d be posting soon, and also when I said it would involve soft pretzels, Chinese almond cookies, and/or puff pastry.

honestly, you could just eat them like this

You’ll have to forgive me, though, because it was a trip to Brent’s Deli that got in the way, and I think anyone who’s been there will be able to explain to those who haven’t that my straying was only natural.  After all, when you wait for half an hour in front of a bake case filled with babka, rugelach, and bread pudding, it’s difficult to remember your resolutions.

frost the undersides

There’s always one to which I fall victim, though; it’s dogged me since our family trips to Jerry’s Deli in Westwood to meet visiting relatives when I was a little girl, and retains its hold over this 23-year-old today.  Seriously – can anyone look at one of those giant black and white cookies and not fall in love?

let the icing set

I suspect that much of this stems both from my love of frosting and from the fact that a giant black and white cookie doesn’t ask you to choose between chocolate and vanilla.  But, like so many good-looking confections, those massive cookies always disappointed me a bit when I dug in.  While they’re meant to be cakey – and are even mixed like cake batter – I remember them always being…dry.  Crumbly.  The frosting was great, sure, but the cookie itself eventually shifted my loyalty to other bake case items.

But now that I have my own pretty little Kitchenaid, and my (shared) pretty little kitchen, I’m taking back the black and white cookie.  I’ve reduced the size a bit – because, let’s face it, nobody’s going to grab a salad plate-sized cookie from the Tupperware in the kitchen at work – and upped the moisture quotient on the cookie itself.  They’re fun to decorate, easy to make, and pretty darn good – even without the icing.

Black & White Cookies

Adapted from Epicurious

For cookies
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar [*Alli’s note: I split this, 1/4 cup white and 1/4 cup brown sugar]
1 large egg

For icings
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

Make cookies:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a cup.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add egg, beating until combined well.  Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in batches at low speed (scraping down side of bowl occasionally), beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix until smooth.

Spoon 1/4 cups of batter about 2 inches apart onto a buttered large baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until tops are puffed and pale golden, and cookies spring back when touched, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack and cool completely.
Make icings while cookies cool:

Stir together confectioners sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl until smooth. Transfer half of icing to another bowl and stir in cocoa, adding more water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to thin to same consistency as white icing.
Ice cookies:

Turn cookies flat sides up, then spread white icing over half of each and chocolate over other half.