(Please insert the obligatory desultory comments regarding Neglect of Blog, Promise to Blog More Faithfully, Excuses of Very Crazy Life Lately, Etcetera.)
Since it’s Resurrection Day, and I am Christian, here are two elevating recipes to give a whack. Both look fancier than they are hard, which is really nice for earning bonus Slacker Mom points. And, no pictures, because: Slacker Mom.
(I will freely admit that on several occasions, we either creatively cropped photos, or turned off the date/time stamp, and faked “Easter Sunday” photos for the grandparents.)
Right, so, it sounds really fancy to say, “Oh, we’re making a batch of soft pretzels to enjoy!” but really, what makes soft pretzels pretzels (or Prunt-zulls, if you’re a Little at my cottage) rather than boring bread is simple: a 30-second water bath in baking-soda-fortified H2O.
I also highly recommend using parchment paper when baking the soft pretzels. It keeps things from sticking horribly, and absorbs some of the moisture, so you get a crisper crust.
For 8-10 decent sized soft pretzels, or pretzel sandwich rolls (which are stupendously bliss-making):
- 1.5 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 4 to 4.5 cups all purpose flour (I prefer unbleached)
- 3 tablespoons butter (melted) OR 2-3 tablespoons oil
Mix all of this together and knead or slap around in a stand mixer until a smooth dough is formed. I like to leave my dough a bit on the “wet” side, and pop it into a bread bowl or plastic tub to raise, so I don’t have to knead much at all. Let it double, and if you forget, let if fall and rise again! This will take about an hour. Do other stuff in the meantime, such as getting your pretzel bath ready, and preheating the oven to 450 degrees, and lining a few baking sheets with parchment paper.
Prep your water bath: 10 cups or so of water, with 1/2 to 2/3 cup baking soda in it. Bring this to a nice boil. It foams and fizzes a bit. Do not be alarmed.
Punch down your dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide it up into 8-10 portions. I’m a slacker, to I pinch of “hold it in my palm” sized balls of dough, and however many we come up with, I’m happy.
Time to get kindergarten on the dough: roll each portion out into a snake. Make a U shape, and then twirl the ends together twice, before flipping the ends toward the bottom of the U and pressing them onto the U to seal a “pretzel” shape. Here’s a video, from Canadians, so you know they’re kind and trustworthy. Some people get really fancy and just do a flippity-twisty thing. I am not one of those people.
To make sure you have loads of surfaces for the lovely water bath to pretzelize the crust, make sure your pretzel has space between all the sections. You can use your hands to just stretch them open as needed.
If you want a pretzel sandwich bun/roll, don’t stretch the sections option; when the pretzel rises, gaps will fill in, and you’ll have a whole bun shape that slices through nicely.
Now that the pretzels are formed, you’re ready to start bathing and baking.
Use a shallow, flat-bottomed holey ladle thing (I think it’s technically a large slotted spoon?) to lower one or two pretzels into the baking soda water bath for 30 to 40 seconds. Retrieve and let them drain a moment before placing them on the parchment-lined baking sheets.
Drop another two, and while they bathe, sprinkle the still-quite-wet already-bathed ones with garlic, or salt, or both, or anything else you want stuck on the pretzel. Some recipes call for an egg wash, but I don’t particularly care for that, and the just-bathed dough surface holds onto “toppers” pretty well.
Pop the bathed pretzels into a 450* oven for about 12-15 minutes, until they have a nice deep color. Slip the whole parchment paper onto a cooling rack (or the counter, if your cooling rack was perhaps stolen by your Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Husband last year to serve as a topper for the baby chicks’ brooder box).
I made a quick sauce with a few ounces of sharp cheddar, ditto Monteray Jack and cream cheese, plus a bit of dry mustard and a splash of milk, melted slowly together. But mostly, the kids just buttered them, and they’d be good with spicy brown mustard, too.
I love cream puffs. Here’s some information on How Cream Puffs Work. Here’s the basic recipe:
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- pinch salt
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup eggs (this frees you from the tyranny of wondering what size eggs. Just crack ‘em in until you have about 1 cup total, and whisk them together.)
Parchment paper is helpful for this recipe, too! Line some baking sheets before you get going, and pre-heat the oven to 425*.
Bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a rolling boil. Dump in 1 cup flour, and beat the tar out of it. It will gelatinize, which is cool to watch happen, and may leave a bit of film on the pan as you’re stirring. That’s fine, don’t worry about it. Keep beating/stirring hard for 4-5 minutes over medium heat, and then set it aside to cool off just a bit.
If you have a stand mixer, cool beans! Put the flour dough into the mixer and fit it with the paddle attachment. Get it running on low-ish, and drizzle in the beaten eggs a bit at a time. You’ll notice that the dough will get slimy for a minute, then smooth out nicely. Keep going until the egg is all incorporated.
If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can do it by Ye Olde Sturdy Biceps Method: add some of the egg and beat the tar out of the dough by hand. It will be lumpy and slimy for a bit, then smooth out. Keep repeating until all the egg is incorporated. I will admit to cheating: I put all the egg in at once, and just deal with about 4 minutes of slimy to get to the smooth part. It will take loads of bicep endurance. You are amazing. You can do it.
Cream puffs are great for the slacker baker, because you’re going to succeed by ignoring them. They need an initial fairly-high temperature to create the burst of steam from the moisture in the eggs (this is what puffs ‘em), with a second stage of lower heat to set and dry them out, so they don’t fall flat as soon as you take them out.
Use a regular spoon to grab a nice rounded portion of dough-goop. Scrape it off onto the parchment paper. Repeat, spacing them about 2″ apart, and going for a rounded mound.
Pop them into a 400* oven for 15 minutes. WITHOUT opening the door, turn the heat down to 350* for about 35-40 minutes.
Go do other stuff. Like look up recipes of good junk to put inside the puffs. When that second timer-buzzer goes off, turn off the oven, crack the door, and let them cool for maybe 10 minutes, then remove them to a cooling rack, and use a skewer to jab a hole in the side. It should come out clean, and jabbing the hole in also gives a steam vent as another insurance against collapse.
Even if they do fall flat, they’re still a good platform for Delivering Other Tasty Stuff To Your Face-Hole.
You can make the cream puffs dairy-free by subbing non-dairy margarine (of the sort recommended for baking); you can make them gluten-free by subbing almond flour for wheat flour, 1:1—but definitely use a stand mixer, because it takes longer for the egg to incorporate, and let the mixture cool entirely before portioning it on the sheet. This helps it set up better and puff more in the oven. Almond-flour puffs are more hygroscopic than wheat puffs, so they’ll soften in the ambient humidity, but they taste fantastic, and are still good platforms, as mentioned above.
You can fill cream puffs with just about anything, sweet or savory. The vegan “egg salad” recipes that use mashed chickpeas are great, as are regular egg salad (please use sustainably, humanely raised eggs from happy hens!), tuna salad (ditto, but with fishes), etc.
For sweet, plain whipped cream with berries folded in is always a good choice. You can also use my sister’s secret weapon: pudding mix.
Addictive Pastry Cream
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, combine:
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 3 ounce package of any flavor instant pudding mix you like
Beat the tar out of it until it’s really, really thick. Haphazardly scrape into a bowl and refrigerate until you need it. Use a rubber scraper to gather up all the haphazardly neglected dregs of addictive pastry cream and lick them off the scraper while the kids aren’t looking.
And these two lovely examples of leavened, “Risen” treats, combined with the multiple puns I made regarding Easter Sunday/Risen treats, were part of our day today.