Better than the ballpark

It amazes me (and maybe it shouldn’t) that even after five years of marriage, I’m still learning things about Andy. While he loves snacks, I’d never heard him express an interest in soft pretzels. He’ll walk right by the vendors at the ballpark, and he doesn’t give food trucks at the fair a second glance. (Yes, the man has amazing will power.)

Imagine my surprise when he wanted to share my soft pretzel at a hockey game we went to not long ago. Turns out he loves them – he just never wants to pay inflated ballpark prices for sub-par pretzels. (What can I say? He’s all about getting the best bang for his buck.) 

Well then. Let me just move soft pretzels up a few notches on my “things to make” list. I actually ended up making these guys twice – once for our New Year’s Eve party and once for our small group Bible study. They vanished in record time on both occasions. They’re the perfect soft pretzel – chewy without being doughy, and when you combine them with the cheese sauce, well, let’s just say that you’ll never go back to stadium pretzels again. (Although, I suppose you’d have to come up with some way to sneak these bad boys into the ball park. Hmm.) 

I used Alton Brown’s recipe for the pretzels, which I found on Branny’s blog. I decided to go with this one because it gave the amounts in weights, rather than volume, and I thought that might produce a better result. (I also figured that Alton knew what he was talking about.) I went with this recipe for the dip because, well, I thought it sounded the best. 🙂 (Really, do I need a better reason than that? It’s my blog, after all.) I shaped half of the dough into pretzels and half into pretzel bites. I actually think that I’d like to make larger “bites” for pretzel buns. A burger on a pretzel bun with melty cheese and bacon… mmm….

Soft pretzels with beer cheese dip. What’s not to love?

Soft Pretzels with Beer Cheese Dip 

For the pretzels:
1 1/2 cups warm (110-115 degrees) water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
22 ounces all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 cups – I used my food scale and weighed out the ounces.) 
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
10 cups of water
2/3 cup baking soda
oil, for the pan
1 large egg, beaten, with one tablespoon water
kosher salt, for sprinkling

For the cheese dip:
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup “good quality” beer (I really have no idea what this “should” be. I say, if you have something that you like drinking, use it here.)
1 tablespoon horseradish
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 cup freshly shredded cheddar cheese

To make the pretzels, pour the warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the sugar and salt. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Attach the dough hook to the mixer.

On the low speed, mix in the flour and butter. Mix on low until combined, then increase speed to medium and knead until the dough is smooth and cleans the sides of the bowl, about 3-5 minutes. Turn dough out into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough sit in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 450 and line baking pans with parchment paper. (While we’re on the subject of parchment paper, I’m going to share this trick I just picked up from Cook’s Illustrated. If you crumple the sheet and then “uncrumple” it, it lays flat in the pan and won’t roll off the pan and onto the floor… not like that ever happens here…) Brush parchment with a little bit of oil.

Bring 10 cups of water to a full boil in a large (bigger is better here, unless you want baking soda water to overflow all over your stove) pot. Add the baking soda and maintain a rolling boil. Brush your work surface with a little bit of oil (I used my pastry mat) and divide the dough into equal-sized chunks. (Branny suggested 8 pieces; I went much smaller – I made eight pretzels and then cut the rest into bites. I would guesstimate that I divided my dough into 12 or maybe even 16 pieces.) 

Roll out the first ball of dough into a long, relatively thin rope, about 22-24″ long. Shape the rope into a U, then bring one “arm” down and across the bottom of the U. Repeat the process with the other arm to form a pretzel shape. Place the shaped pretzels on one of the prepared pans. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. To make pretzel bites, simply roll out the dough into the rope, then slice with a butter knife into equal-sized pieces (mine were about 1 1/2″ to 2″ in length). When you’re done forming the pretzels, it’s bath time! (For your dough, of course.) 

Dip each pretzel into the boiling water bath, one at a time, and let them hang out for 30 seconds. (For the pretzel bites, I plunged them all in at the same time and had no problems with them sticking together or crowding the pan.) Using a skimmer or wide, slotted spoon, remove the boiled pretzels from the water bath and place on the prepared pans. Brush the pretzels with the egg wash and sprinkle with the salt.

Bake for 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pans and place on a cooling rack. Wait five agonizing minutes (seriously, the longest five minutes EVER) for the pretzels to cool before consuming. Serve with cheese sauce, if desired

To make the cheese dip:

In a microwave-safe bowl (I used one of my Gusto bowls), microwave the cream cheese until soft, about 30 seconds or so. Stir in the beer, horseradish and garlic powder. Microwave again for another 30 seconds and stir in the cheddar cheese. Whisk until smooth, microwaving again if necessary. Store leftover dip in the fridge.

Pretzels from Alton Brown, as seen on Branny Boils Over
Dip from Peace, Love and French Fries, who got it from Jenna’s Cooking Journey, originally from and Sunny Side Up San Diego

Click HERE for a printable version.


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