As Vance and I prepare for a week-long vacation in Portland, Oregon we've got street food on our minds. The city is a mecca for food carts, tucked into small food court-like clusters around the city. You're never more than a 15 minute walk from a food cart in Portland, it seems, and a visit to at least one is on our list of must-do's while we're there. One of my favorite food cart indulgences is the pretzel — chewy, golden brown, and perfect with just some coarse salt and a dunk in some simple yellow mustard.
My parents stayed with us one night this week on their way to another one of our favorite places: Brevard, North Carolina. We always cook at least one meal during their stays, and this time I thought we'd try a fusion of the pretzel and the beer brat, one of my favorite street foods and one of Vance's. He kindly prepared the whole meal while I caught up with the 'rents — reason #4,725 why he's a great husband.
Vance's pretzel rolls were huge, more like hamburger buns (the recipe below made 6 hamburger-sized buns). But you can shape them however you like. They'd also be great as a clever substitutes for the traditional dinner roll, or even smaller pretzel bites that could be served alongside some artisan mustard as a hand-held party snack. Or hot ham and cheese on a pretzel roll. Or maybe …
These really do end up tasting like pretzels, but they're easier to make and you don't have to tie them into that fancy pretzel knot. Don't skip the boiling step — that's the secret to their incredible texture. Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, January 1994.
Ingredients (use organic whenever possible)
- 2 ¾ cups bread flour
- 1 envelope quick-rising yeast
- 2 teaspoons celery salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water (125°-130°F)
- 8 cups water
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 egg white, beaten to blend
- Coarse salt
Measure out the first five ingredients; use a digital thermometer if you have one to get the water temperature just right. Combine the first four ingredients (not the water) in the food processor and blend. With the machine running, gradually add the hot water by pouring through the feed tube, until a smooth, elastic dough forms. Process 1 minute to knead. Grease a medium bowl with non-stick cooking spray or some olive oil. Turn the dough out into the bowl and turn it to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then a towel. Let it rise in a warm, draft-free environment until doubled in volume, about 35 minutes.
Flour a baking sheet. Punch down the dough and knead by hand on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide into eight pieces (I use a soap or pastry cutter to do this, cutting the whole ball first in half, then in halves again, then again until I have eight even pieces). Remember that you can make these smaller or larger — cut into as many pieces as you need but make sure they're even.
Place the dough balls on the prepared sheet, flattening each slightly. Using a serrated knife, cut an X in the top center of each dough ball. Cover with the towel and let the dough balls rise until almost doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease another baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add baking soda and 2 tablespoons of sugar; water will foam up. Add 4 rolls and cook 30 seconds per side (you can add more or less depending on the size of your rolls). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rolls to your prepared sheet, with X side up. Repeat with the remaining rolls.
Prepare the egg white glaze. Brush rolls with the glaze. Sprinkle each roll generously with coarse salt. Bake until brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool for at least 10 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature.
Make ahead: You can prepare these 6 hours ahead, letting stand at room temperature. Rewarm in 375° oven for 10 minutes if desired.