Philly-Style Soft Pretzels

Philly-Style Soft Pretzels

In Philadelphia, soft pretzels are a significant and constant presence in life. Having grown up in that city, their delicious abundance forms the centerpiece of countless memories. Like of my neighbor who made deliveries at pretzel factories, where he would fill up his trunk with sheets of pretzels still warm from the oven. When the kids on my street saw his car pull into the driveway, we’d chant “Sam, Sam, the pretzel man” and run over for our delicious handout. Or pretzel Wednesdays in school where more sheets of pretzels still warm from the factory oven would appear in my classroom. A quarter bought a delicious snack, and when the pretzel was gone, I’d eat the salt off of my desk. Or when my mom was in school and was tasked with buying pretzels for her family, only to reach inside her desk during the day, picking away at each pretzel’s soft, white center. She’d arrive home to deliver hollow, golden pretzel shells. I’ve resorted to pathetic measures to get my pretzel fix during my 9+ years in DC, even getting them mailed and stashing them in my freezer. But everyone knows that soft pretzels are best on the day they’re made. I am now deep in the most pathetic measure of all- making them myself- but they are freaking fantastic, and if you don’t live in Philly, then I urge you to make them too.

Philly-Style Soft Pretzels

For a batch of 8, add 15 ounces (3 cups) of bread flour to the bowl of a stand mixer. Then add 1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of softened butter, and 1/2 tablespoon of active dry yeast. Stir those ingredients together, and then stir in 1.75 teaspoons (1/2 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon) of kosher salt. If the salt makes direct contact with the yeast, it could kill it. Using the mixer’s paddle attachment, stir in 1 cup of warm water until the dough comes together and picks up all of the flour. Touch the dough: it should have a very slight tackiness to it. If the dough feels too dry, mix in 1 teaspoon of warm water, and test it again. Note: If you’re nervous about whether your yeast is good or not, you could add it into the warm water instead of mixing it into the flour. If the yeast disintegrates and begins to puff up, it’s good, and you can pour it and the water into the dough together.

Philly-Style Soft Pretzels

Swap the mixer’s paddle for the dough hook, and knead the dough on a high speed for 9 minutes. Seriously, set a timer– it’s very important to knead thoroughly to develop a proper amount of gluten in the pretzels or else they’ll just be pretzel-shaped breads. The bread flour helps with gluten development too because it contains more than all-purpose flour does.

Philly-Style Soft Pretzels

Remove the dough from the bowl, and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Each piece should weigh about 3 ounces. Set the dough balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and cover them loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes. This resting time is important because it will allow the gluten you developed in the dough to relax enough to shape the dough into pretzels. If you tried shaping the dough now, it would just snap back into its original shape.

Philly-Style Soft Pretzels

Let’s talk about pretzel shape. Philly soft pretzels are shaped like eights, not like the normal pretzels you’ll find just about everywhere else. I don’t know why they’re different, but I do know that the eight shape is more efficient; you can definitely fit more pretzels on a single pan. Once the 30 minute resting time is up, roll a piece of the dough into a long rope. Twist the two ends of the rope together- about 2 twists should do it. Then, fold the twisted ends over and stick them to the center of the rope. Gently stretch the pretzel’s two lobes into an eight shape, and place the pretzel back on the parchment paper, with the folded over piece on the bottom touching the pan so it doesn’t come undone.

Philly-Style Soft Pretzels

Repeat the folding process with the rest of the pretzels. Cover the formed pretzels with plastic wrap again, and allow them to rise for 1 hour. When that time is up, preheat your oven to 425° F.

Philly-Style Soft Pretzels

Now it’s time to turn your pretzels into…pretzels. You’ll need food-grade lye. Yes, lye can be dangerous and corrosive (have you read Fight Club or the Silkworm?), but it’s also easy to manage safely. You’ll definitely want to wear rubber gloves when working with it. I’ve also been rocking my ski goggles for eye protection, but that’s probably overkill because I haven’t had any splashes. Still, better safe than sorry. Plus, it’s a damn fine look. Now, make a lye solution for dipping the pretzels. Set a wide plastic  container or bowl into your sink, and fill it with 2 cups of water. Measure out 1/8 cup of the lye, and slowly stir it into the water until it is dissolved. As the lye begins to dissolve, it will let out a single quick burst of fumes that aren’t pleasant to breathe in, so try not to breathe over the bowl during the mixing process. Once mixed, float one pretzel in the lye solution for 10 seconds, then flip it over, and let it float for another 10 seconds. Transfer the pretzel back to the parchment-lined baking sheet (lye corrodes aluminum), and repeat with the others. When you’re done with the lye solution, it’s safe to pour down the drain. Rinse off your gloves and carefully remove them.

Sprinkle pretzel salt or coarse sea salt (used here) generously over the pretzels. A note about pretzel spacing– Philly soft pretzels come in a sheet, and you pull the pretzels apart from each other. I tried that here, but the lye solution prevented the pretzels from sticking together. My guess is that the pretzel factories arrange the pretzels so they touch and then spray them with lye, but that’s not practical in my small container. So, I recommend spacing the pretzels apart on the baking sheet. Another note about the lye– if you’re totally freaked out by it, you could improvise using baking soda instead. But IT IS NOT AS GOOD. The pretzels won’t get those beautiful, crisp blisters and it just doesn’t taste the same. If you want to try it, however, bring a quart of water to a boil and add 1/4 cup of baking soda. Once dissolved, remove the pot of water from the heat. Allow each pretzel to float in the solution for about 1 minute on each side. You should still try to avoid getting the baking soda solution on your skin. Once treated, brush the pretzels with an egg wash before salting them.

Philly-Style Soft Pretzels

Transfer the sheet of pretzels into the oven to bake for approximately 13 minutes until they are golden brown and crisped on the outside. The smell is like heaven. Once cool enough to handle, serve the pretzels with mustard. SO GOOD!!! If you still have pretzels left at the end of the day, turn them into hard pretzels. Put them back on the baking sheet, and bake them at 325° F until they are crisp and darkly golden. Once completely cool, break the pretzels into pieces and store them in a closed container for an addictive and satisfying snack.

This recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

Shopping list:

  • Bread flour- 15 ounces (3 cups)
  • Brown sugar- 1/2 tablespoon
  • Butter- 1 tablespoon
  • Yeast (active dry)- 1/2 tablespoon
  • Kosher salt- 1.75 teaspoons
  • Lye- 1/8 cup
  • Pretzel salt or coarse sea salt
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Almond Cluster Cookies

Almond Cluster Cookies

Pull out your shopping lists and preheat your ovens…the healthiest cookie recipe I will EVER post is here, and it’s pretty delicious too. A version of this cookie, served by our Thanksgiving hotel, won me and my sister over. Generous mounds of sweet, densely packed sliced almonds made for relatively guilt-free pool-side snacking, and peeling the almond pieces apart gave us something to do when the clouds rolled in. Those cookies are reimagined here– just a tiny bit fluffier, less sweet, more toasted, and amped up with coconut for a bit of variety. We can’t get enough of them. With just five ingredients, these cookies easily please dairy and gluten-free snackers, along with the rest of us.

Almond Cluster Cookies

To make a batch of about 12 cookies, begin by toasting 1 cup of sliced almonds in a 325º F oven until they are lightly browned and fragrant. Once out of the oven, stir in 1/2 cup of coconut flakes. 

Almond Cluster Cookies

Add 1 large egg white to a bowl with a pinch of salt. Rapidly whisk the egg white until it is frothy and can hold soft peaks.

Almond Cluster Cookies

Whisk 1/4 cup of sugar into the egg white. The egg white will deflate somewhat and thicken to the point where it falls from the whisk in a ribbon. If you’re sugar-conscious, you could get away with subtracting a tablespoon of the sugar and end up with a reasonably well-balanced cookie.

Almond Cluster Cookies

Using a rubber spatula, stir the almond and coconut into the egg whites until they are evenly coated and bound together.

Almond Cluster Cookies

Use a 1.5 tablespoon scoop to mound cookies onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Almond Cluster Cookies

Bake the cookies for about 13 minutes until they feel firm to the touch and have browned slightly. Allow the cookies to cool completely and firm up before attempting to remove them from the baking sheet. Eat away. This cookie could be adapted in an infinite number of ways- pumpkin seeds or mini chocolate chips would be welcome additions- just be sure to use 1.5 cups of fillings for 1 egg white. Let me know where your creativity takes you!

Shopping list:

  • Sliced almonds- 1 cup
  • Coconut flakes- 1/2 cup
  • Egg white- 1, large
  • Salt- 1 pinch
  • Sugar- 1/4 cup
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Bacon-Wrapped Banana Bombs

Bacon-Wrapped Banana Bombs

I spent another wonderful Thanksgiving in Jamaica, relaxing with my family. The weather wasn’t the best this time around, but a little bit of sun peeked out right before our flight home. I didn’t want to waste those rays inside the hotel’s buffet, so I asked David to bring some fruit for me to eat by the pool. He and my sister kindly appeared by my lounge chair after breakfast, David bearing a bowl of beautiful fruit, and my sister holding a small plate with a single bacon-wrapped banana. Obviously, I went for the bacon banana first, and it was FANTASTIC. My sister is the best. The banana was warm, sweet, and slightly caramelized, and the bacon was salty and crisp. Pure flavor bomb.

Bacon-Wrapped Banana Bombs

I could only live without bacon-wrapped bananas for three days. Fortunately, these treats are really easy to make and will be the star of your next brunch. Throw one, ASAP. To make them, preheat your oven to 400º F. Lay your favorite kind of sliced bacon on a baking sheet, and cook it until the bacon has rendered a lot of its fat but is still pliable. Don’t let the bacon get crispy, or else you won’t be able to wrap it around the banana.

Bacon-Wrapped Banana Bombs

Remove the bacon from the oven. Then, peel a yellow banana, and cut the banana into coins that are as thick as the bacon’s width, about 1 inch. Take a piece of bacon, and wrap it around one of the banana coins. Allow the bacon to overlap a little bit, and then cut off the excess. Stick a toothpick through the overlapped bacon and through the banana to hold it together. Transfer the bacon-wrapped banana to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (the banana will stick to tin foil). Repeat with the remaining bacon and banana. Place any bacon scraps onto a second baking sheet to bake (they cook faster than the bananas do).

Bacon-Wrapped Banana Bombs

Bake the bacon-wrapped bananas until the bacon renders the rest of its fat, browns, and begins to crisp. Transfer the bacon-wrapped bananas onto a paper towel to briefly drain, then allow the bacon to cool and set.

Bacon-Wrapped Banana Bombs

Remove the toothpicks from the bacon-wrapped bananas, and eat those babies up. The bottom of the bananas should have some beautiful caramelization. I love the warm, soft banana contrasted against the crispy bacon. These little guys remind me of sushi– you can eat them in a single mouthful. But I prefer to take bites and savor the goodness.

Shopping list:

  • Bacon
  • Banana
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