the hercules of soft pretzels

Beginnings and endings beg for reflection, that’s just how it is. They force you to pause for a moment and contemplate the ups and downs of the past and the changes you hope for in the future. I don’t typically make formal New Year’s resolutions, however there are a few little things I’d like to see happen over the next twelve months. For instance— I would like to be a more patient mother between the hours of 8 and 9:00 a.m. (getting out of the house on a school morning without yelling would feel like a minor miracle!). I would like to laugh at the ridiculous more and worry about the clearly inalterable less. I would like to make plans with my girlfriends at least once a month to go out for drinks, dinner or just adults only ice skating. And I would like to once and for all achieve success and finally fulfill all my bread baking ambitions.

I’ve told you before about my obsession with and repeated failures at bread baking. I truly and with all my heart long to successfully make an eye-rollingly delicious, crusty on the outside light and wonderful on the inside, loaf of bread. A simple seeded boule or a rustic baguette, bread so amazing it could easily serve as the meal, rather than just the accompaniment to it. I’ve even joked that I either need a bread baking class or an intervention. As luck would have it a baking studio offering bread classes recently opened near my house, so perhaps there is already a glimmer of hope on the horizon. In the meantime I plan to keep plugging along on my own, hoping that one of these recipe will be “the one”. With that in mind I recently decided to attempt to make soft pretzels. I’ve been toying with the idea and collecting pretzel recipes for some time, but something always stopped me from giving it a go. Then along came Hercules (the winter storm not the Greek hero) and the timing just seemed right.

My first inkling that I might be onto something was when my dough actually doubled in size in the amount of time the recipe suggested. Next it was when years of making play-dough snakes finally paid off and my little ball of dough quickly turned into something resembling a pretzel. (Actually at this point I was so excited at the prospect of a successful outcome that I called the kids to come checkout my pretzels!) After a quick baking soda bath and a few minutes in the oven, the moment I dread with every bread recipe I attempt was upon us. Would it be another baking debockle or would 2014 be my year?

♫ Oh yeah. Uh huh.  I baked a pretzel. ♪  It’s my birthday. ♫…

Soft Rosemary Pretzels with Cheddar Sauce
Even if you’re not a big fan of rosemary you should still consider using some. The flavor is really subtle and it’s the difference a good pretzel and an extraordinary one.

pretzels2

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 tsp. salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
Canola oil, to grease bowl
3 quarts water
2/3 cups baking soda
1 egg, beaten + 1 tbsp. cold water
coarse salt

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
4 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

  1. Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the salt, flour, and rosemary to the mixture and mix on low-speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and it has formed a ball. (If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.)
  3. Coat a large bowl with canola oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Remove the dough from the stand mixer bowl, knead a few times and place in the oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size. This will take about an hour and a half. (I usually warm my oven, turn it off and place the covered bowl inside it to allow it to rise.)
  4. When the dough has doubled preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside. Bring the water to a boil in a large stockpot.
  5. Divide the dough in half, then dived the halves into eight equal pieces. (Cover the bowl with a towel while working.) Roll each piece into an 12” rope, take the right side and cross over to the left, twist together and bring to the bottom. Pinch onto the curved bottom piece to create a pretzel shape.
  6. Slowly add the baking soda to the boiling water. Boil the pretzels in the water solution, 2 at a time for 30 seconds. Remove with a large flat slotted spatula and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Brush the tops of each pretzel with the egg wash, sprinkle with coarse salt and bake for 18-22 minutes or until pretzels are rich golden brown.
  7. Remove pretzels from oven and let cool on a wire rack.
  8. To make the cheese sauce: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook until it’s a golden brown. Add the warm milk, salt and garlic powder and whisk until the mixture thickens. Add the shredded cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and smooth. Serve alongside the warm pretzels.

*adapted from two peas and their pod

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on a roll…

As you may already know I’m a “make it from scratch” kinda girl. I really don’t cut corners or choose the easy road because, if you’re going to bother to do something you might as well do it right. Right? For example, I wanted to make cupcakes with the perfect shade of pink frosting for my daughter’s last birthday, but I didn’t want to use red food coloring to do it. So instead I cooked down fresh raspberries, strained out the seeds and pulp and used the juice to flavor and tint the frosting. And voila, perfect pink!

The one place I must confess I’ve never had much “from scratch” success is baking bread. I find bread baking to be tricky. Either my dough is too wet, too dry or requires more time then I’m willing to invest in a simple loaf of bread. Whatever the case may be, I’m usually disappointed by the results and off to the bakery we go. That is until I found a recipe for pull apart dinner rolls that are baked in a muffin tin.

These rolls are super easy to make, require only an hour or so rise time and look fancy with their clover shape and a touch of coarse salt scattered on top. The only thing that could possibly make these lovelies a bit tastier would be some homemade butter to slather on.

Pull Apart Dinner Rolls
There is nothing like bread fresh out of the oven to make any dinner
seem extra special. These rolls are so easy to make that you could almost
serve them every night. Almost!


1 package active dry yeast
1 1/3 cup milk (105 to 115°F degrees)
3 cups flour
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
coarse salt (or sesame seeds), for garnish

  1. Heat oven 375°F. Dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm milk and set aside.
  2. Stir together 2 1/2 cups flour and salt. Add the yeast/milk mixture and oil and blend until smooth. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup of flour until a soft dough ball forms.
  3. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and drape with a dish towel. Let rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Punch down dough and fold over a few times. Brush a 12 cup muffin pan with melted butter. Pinch off 1 inch balls of dough and quickly roll in palm of hands. Put 3 balls to one muffin cup, brush with more melted butter and sprinkle with coarse salt or sesame seeds.
  5. Bake until crust is light golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Immediately remove from pan and enjoy. (These babies are really at their best right out of the oven with a little butter. In my house there are rarely leftovers, but if you do have some store them loosely covered or they will become soggy.)

* adapted from amanda’s cookin’