a savory valentine: soft pretzels for two (with cheddar, scallion and black pepper)!
Valentines Day always tends to send the blogosphere into a tizzy with all things red, chocolate, heart-shaped, and/or shareable, and despite my irregular blogging habits over the last year or two, I seem to be no exception (see these Mexican Chocolate souffles for two or the little valentine cheesecakes for two— two surprisingly popular posts, mostly due to the for-two-factor!). This year, I was feeling a bit lazy about planning any sort of special dessert (especially because Stephen nearly always prefers chocolate chip cookies to anything else I might make), but then it occurred to me that one needn’t go dessert to get valentiney, and I had enough fun to want to blog about it! Valentines Day isn’t a particularly big deal around here, but we do like to try to do something involving cooking together, and this fits happily into that category.
I totally love soft pretzels, but most of the time I am far too lazy to make anything yeasted. Somehow, scaling the recipe back to just make a handful (well, a couple handfuls) of pretzels made it feel much more approachable, which was good because I decided to make these, dough-rising and all, at like 9:30 pm on a weeknight. It may have been a tad foolish given the timing (definitely not a bowl-to-belly in 30 minutes kind of snack), but it was surprisingly doable, and when we had the pretzels in hand it was all worth it. If you have some quick yeast (I didn’t), I bet you could shave the waiting down even more. Even with normal waiting time, I felt like the recipe made enough pretzels that my effort was justified, but not so many that I was shaping and poaching all night just to be left with a Super Bowl amount of snacks that we could never take down on our own. It made for a lovely Valentine preview snack!
I made very few tweaks to the original recipe; besides altering the scale a bit, all I really did is add some juicy bonuses like white cheddar, minced scallions, and black pepper, which we really enjoyed. I couldn’t resist the heart-shaping when the idea sprang to mind just in time for valentines day, but you needn’t bother with that if you simply want a savory snack sans seasonal embellishment. You can go with a standard pretzel twist shape, or roll it out and slice into little pretzel bites (arguably the easiest way to poach and bake them).
We dusted our finished pretzels with salt and red pepper flakes. To be honest I added the red pepper flakes as a half-hearted attempt to make these more valetiney with something red, but it was actually my favorite part. A light sprinkling gave the pretzels just a little kick without detracting from the rest of it. As a last touch, we brushed some of the pretzels with garlic butter, and we certainly didn’t regret it.
Happy Valentines Day, if you swing that way, and happy pretzel-eating day if you don’t!
1 cup warm water
1 T sugar
1 generous teaspoon active dry yeast (1/2 packet)
2.5 – 3 cups flour (you can use all-purpose, or half AP and half whole wheat)
2 tsp salt
1 T melted butter
1 cup finely grated sharp cheddar (not packed)
2 scallions, finely minced
freshly ground black pepper, about 1/2 tsp or to taste
1/4 cup baking soda, for the poaching liquid
1 egg + 1 T water
to garnish: coarse salt, red pepper flakes, extra grated cheese, and/or garlic butter, to taste
PROOF Add warm water, sugar, and yeast to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, or to a regular large bowl, and briefly mix to combine. Allow to stand for 10 minutes while you do some other prep– gather your ingredients, grate the cheddar, and mince your scallions.
MIX, RISE Return to your frothy bowl of yeast water and add 1.5 cups flour, salt, melted butter, grated cheddar, scallions, and a few generous twists of black pepper (to taste). Mix on low for one minute, or until dough comes together. Add remaining cup of flour and mix until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Touch dough; if it feels wet and sticky, gradually incorporate up to 1/2 cup more flour, until it is slightly tacky, but not wet. Remove from bowl and knead for about a minute, or until nice and smooth, and gather into a ball. Coat your hands in a bit of canola oil, rub it around the surface, and return your dough to the bowl. Cover with a towel and keep in a warm place for 30 minutes to an hour (depending on your yeast), or until roughly doubled.
SHAPE When you’re ready, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and prepare a baking sheet (or two, depending on size) with parchment or a silpat. Turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface, and gently press the air out. Divide into eight even pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll dough into a long strip, and then twist into the desired shape (or, slice into stubby nuggets for pretzel bites). Transfer shapes onto prepared baking sheet and cover with a towel to rest until you’re ready to poach them.
POACH Fill a large saucepan with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, then add the baking soda. It will foam up and then settle back down; reduce the heat just a bit to keep it at a vigorous simmer. Gently transfer your pretzels into the water, a couple at a time (depending on the size of your saucepan); I like to put them on a slotted metal spatula and then gently lower them into the water and let them float loose, to best preserve the shapes. If you have a skimmer that can better accomplish the task, by all means use it! Poach pretzels for one minute on each side before removing (again, I use the spatula) and returning to the lined baking sheets. If you’re making pretzel bites, you can throw them in the water a little less cautiously, and remove them after just 30 seconds or so.
BAKE Beat egg and water in a small bowl for your egg wash. Brush lightly over poached pretzels, then sprinkle with coarse salt and red pepper flakes to taste, and/or a light sprinkling of cheddar. Bake for about 15 minutes (depending on thickness– more like 10 mins for bites). Remove and allow to cool slightly on a wire rack (or enjoy hot from the oven!). Brush with a little garlic butter for extra decadence.
EAT these ASAP– they are best when fresh, but can keep for up to another day if left uncovered at room temperature. Enjoy!