In anticipation of the various gatherings that occur this time of year, we've pulled together five of our favorite cookbooks from recent months. Each day this week, CH will feature a different cookbook and a recipe, the sum of which will make up a complete holiday meal. First up: a braided starter from "Salty Snacks."
Cynthia Nims authors this bible for roaming eaters, delivering 75 recipes that range from curry-pickled quail eggs and deviled bacon to onion pakoras and duck jerky. For the holidays, Nims' creations stave off in-laws who insist on whetting their appetite before dinner is served. Musing over the recipes, we decided to give the Mustard Soft Pretzels a whirl, figuring these doughy bread items would make for easy and informal hors d'oeuvres at our next family gathering.
What separates Nims' pretzels from the run-of-the-mill variety is that hers aren't served alongside a pot of mustard. Instead, the rustic, grainy condiment is baked into the bread, resulting in a moist interior and infused flavor. As newcomers to homemade pretzels, we were a bit anxious to embark on a bread that is both boiled and baked. That said, the snacks proved to be surprisingly easy to make. Best of all, most well-stocked kitchens will already have the ingredients on hand—with the possible exception of malt powder.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
3 tablespoons malt powder
1½ teaspoons kosher salt or flaky or coarse sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup warm water (105 to 110° F)
2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons grainy mustard
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 large egg yolk
1½ teaspoons water
Combine the flour, malt powder and kosher salt int he bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and blend for a few moments to mix. Form a well in the center of the flour, pour in the warm water and scatter the yeast over, stirring in gently. Let sit until the yeast is frothy, about five minutes. Add the mustard to the bowl and blend the wet and dry ingredients together at medium-low speed until a cohesive dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for two to three minutes, until smooth. (Different types of mustard have varying levels of moisture; you may need to add a bit more flour if the dough is sticky.)
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough so it is evenly coated. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about one hour.
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Fill a large, broad saucepan about two-thirds full with water and set it over medium heat to warm while forming the pretzels. (If the water comes to a boiled before needed, reduce the heat to low.) Turn the risen dough out onto the counter and punch it down. Cut the dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into thirds, for 12 pieces of relatively even size. Cover the dough pieces with a kitchen towel until needed.
Roll one of the dough portions into a rope about 18 inches long. With the rope horizontal on the counter in front of you, lift up one end in each hand and draw the ends downward toward you, forming a broad loop with the ends overlapping at the bottom by about two inches. Cross your hands in front of you and pick up the two ends of dough, lifting them a couple inches above the counter. Cross your hands back to the left and right sides, twisting the dough as you do. Lay the dough ends up over the top of the loop, so that the twist sits in the center of the pretzel. Gently pinch the dough ends down into the loop.
Set the pretzel aside, covered with a kitchen towel, while forming the remaining pretzels. When all the pretzels have been formed, adjust the heat under the water to maintain a gentle simmer. Stir in the baking soda. Gently add three of the pretzels and simmer for two minutes, turning them halfway through. Lift the pretzels with a slotted soon or spatula and drain for a few moments over the pan, then transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Simmer the remaining pretzels in the same fashion.
Beat the egg yolk with the 1½ teaspoons water in a small dish. Brush the pretzels with the yolk mixture and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pretzels to a wire rack to cool.
Arrange the pretzels in a small bowl or on a platter to serve. The pretzels will be at their best they day they are made. Should you have leftovers, they can be stored in an airtight container for a day or two, then warmed gently in the oven, wrapped in foil, to soften them up a bit.
Images of the book by James Thorne
Recipe reprinted with permission from Salty Snacks: Make Your Own Chips, Crisps, Crackers, Pretzels, Dips, and Other Savory Bites by Cynthia Nims, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.