Several recipes for soft pretzel bites have been floating around Pinterest lately due to the Super Bowl coming up this weekend and they looked really good, so I figured I’d give one a try. I used a recipe from the blog Smells Like Home. While I am sure this recipe is great, I had to change a few things based on my baker’s intuition. I found the recipe to require way too much flour and salt. I used almost a cup and a half less than what was suggested and 1/2 tsp less salt in the dough. I also let my dough rise longer and used bread flour. This gave my dough such a light, yet chewy texture. Tara’s blog did give me a good guideline on how to boil and bake pretzels to get that beautiful golden color and crunchy exterior, which is something I don’t have a ton of experience with.
I have made soft pretzels in the past a couple of times, but it has been a while and I never got the great color or crisp outer coating that these pretzel bites had. The idea of making these mini pretzel bites was intriguing because my kids love anything bite sized, I figured I could freeze these really easily, and I am going to my sister-in-law’s house for the Super Bowl and wanted to try a few appetizer recipes out before deciding on what to bring. This one ranks up there for a party, but also could be a good recipe to make and freeze for movie nights or just a neat snack on a snowy day stuck inside (not like we haven’t had enough of those around Chicago this winter).
We all enjoyed trying them out — even the baby loved them, asking for more with a mouth stuffed full of pretzel. He is by far one of my pickiest eaters, so this request is a huge compliment. But seriously, who doesn’t like soft pretzels?
The beer cheese is something I just kind of made up based on a smaller version of my base for mac and cheese — it is a basic roux with flour and butter, then made into a white sauce with some milk. To add to the flavor and the Super Bowl-ness, I also whisked in some of my husband’s Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. A little beer goes a long way. The stronger the hops flavor of your beer, the stronger it will be in your cheese sauce. I added some hot sauce, horseradish and ground yellow mustard seed to the sauce for some kick. It turned out great and made just enough for the amount of pretzels.
If you are looking for a great snack or appetizer, this one may be for you.
What you need to make the pretzels:
1 1/2 Cups of warm (to the touch) water…not hot, just warm
1 Tbs sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 package of active dry yeast, or 2 1/4 tsps
4 Tbs melted butter, cooled
3 – 3 1/2 Cups bread flour (all purpose flour will work fine, but bread flour makes a really chewy pretzel)
1/2 Cup baking soda
10 Cups of water
2 Tbs kosher salt (or less) for sprinkling on top
2 Tbs melted butter
What you need for the beer cheese sauce:
2 Tbs butter
1/4 Cup flour
1 Cup milk
1/2 Cup good beer
1 Cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 Tsp hot sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground mustard seed
1/4 tsp horseradish sauce
Combine your warm (to the touch — not hot) water, yeast and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer or a large bowl. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you will just be doing a lot of kneading by hand instead. Let your yeast bloom for about five minutes. This just means, let it sit and become active. Don’t mess with it!
After about five minutes, your yeast should be foamy. Add your 1 1/2 tsps of salt and stir a bit.
In your mixer with a dough hook, Add 1 Cup of bread flour and start stirring your dough. Slowly alternate adding flour and some of your 4 tablespoons of melted butter to the mixture. Once you reach about 3 Cups of flour, only add flour about 1 Tbs at a time just until the dough starts to pull away from the bowl cleanly. If you are stirring by hand, you should stop adding flour when your dough becomes easy to handle with greased hands. It should be soft, but not too sticky. By not over-adding flour, you are encouraging a nice, light dough. Think opposite of a door stop! Believe me, I’ve had enough of those in my baking history.
After your dough reaches the right consistency, knead for about 2-3 more minutes in your mixer or about 5-10 minutes by hand. The more you knead by hand, the better your final bread will be. It takes a lot of work. I am so thankful my husband bought me a mixer a couple years ago. If you don’t have one, I recommend to beg, borrow, or steal.
Before rising, make sure your dough ball is greased. I just take it and turn in around in the bowl that held the melted butter. If you already threw that in the sink, just pour a tiny amount of oil on top of your dough and turn it around in your bowl. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap tightly and lay a tea towel over the top. Let rise in a warm environment for about 1 1/2 hours. My dough more than doubled. It was a glorious thing.
When you are ready to start making the pretzels, set a large pot of water to boil (about 10 Cups) with 1/2 Cup of baking soda in it. The baking soda is what cures the outside of the pretzel and contributes to that beautiful brown color. I recommend putting a lid on your pot of water as it helps the water boil faster.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and get out two large cookie sheets. Cover your cookie sheets with parchment paper to prevent your pretzels from sticking and help with clean up.
Place your dough on a floured surface and punch it down. Cut it into about 8 or 9 even pieces. Roll each piece into a rope, about 1/2 – 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut the rope into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Set your pieces aside with a towel over them while you are rolling and cutting the rest. By the time you are done,your water should be boiled and your oven should be preheated.
Once your water is boiled, pop the pieces in batches to the water and turn them around for a about a minute. Pull them out with a slotted spoon and arrange them on your parchment lined baking trays.
Brush all of your pieces with the 2 Tbs of melted butter and sprinkle kosher salt on top of each bite.
Bake at 425 for 12-20 minutes (the original recipe said 10 minutes, but mine took closer to 20 to get that deep brown color and crunchy crust). If some are brown more than others, just take them off with tongs and let the others bake longer.
While your pretzels are baking, make your cheese sauce. This takes a lot of whisking. Get those forearms some exercise! Melt 2 Tbs of butter in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat. Once melted, add your 1/4 Cup of flour. Cook the butter-flour roux for 2-3 minutes, moving it around the pan. If you let it sit there, it will burn. If you skip this step, you will have cheese sauce that tastes like flour. Yuck.
After a couple of minutes, add your milk and whisk the hell out of the mixture. Try to get as many lumps out as possible, then add your beer slowly, whisking like there is no tomorrow. Turn your heat down to medium and let your sauce thicken a bit, whisking the entire time.
Remove your sauce from the heat and whisk in the cheese until fully melted. Add your salt, hot sauce, ground mustard and horseradish. Give it a taste to see if it needs anything else. It should be cheesy with an undertone of hops and a little kick of heat. Perfect for dipping soft pretzels. Keep it on a super low heat, whisking every now and then, until your pretzels are done.
Serve on a nice platter with the cheese on the side and you will please a lot of football fans or just some hungry tummies on an ordinary day. So good!