Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Homemade Pretzels

So… I’ve finally conquered my fear of yeast! YAY! Now, I look forward to making LOTS more bread/yeast recipes. I must say I couldn’t of done it without a great supporting cast of tools. I finally bought a pastry mat. This pastry mat was really cool because it’s cloth, and you scrape and press the flour into it to make it non-stick. It also came with a rolling pin cover. The one I got is very similar to this. I’ve already made a handful of sugar cookies (to be seen on the blog soon!), and now the pretzel dough with the help of the pastry cloth, and I really like it. Another tool that came in super-handy was my handy scraper. It was very useful when trying to move the dough around as I was kneading it, and also, I LOVED it once it came time to separate the dough into 8 equal portions. I easily halved the dough, and continued to do so until I had 8 portions. It cut into the dough very easily. Also, I used the scraper to press the flour into my pastry mat before beginning.

When it came time to make the pretzel shapes, I didn’t have a hard time making the shapes. They were so cute and pretzel-like. The problem I encountered was when I tried to transfer them from the baking sheet to the boiling water. They lost a lot of their shape. Some of them were also pretty slippery when I was trying to remove them from the water. But I think that just takes more practice. If anyone has any suggestions on how to get the pretzels into the water without them practically falling apart, please share your tips!

These pretzels were SO soft, and delicious and chewy. It’s like NIGHT AND DAY comparison between this, and the crap you get at a concession stand. These were addictive! I enjoyed mine with honey mustard, and The Boy had regular mustard. The Boy did have one request. He said next time make them Cinnamon Sugar, like the ones at the mall!


Soft Pretzels

from Joy the Baker, who adapted from Gourmet, March 2004


1 tablespoon sugar
1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
3 3/4 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pretzel salt or grill seasoning
plus 1 heaping Tablespoon baking soda (add it to the boiling water just before throwing in the pretzel dough!)


Stir together sugar, yeast, and 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (105 to 110°F) in a glass measuring cup, then let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Whisk together 3 1/2 cups flour and 1 tablespoon table salt in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough. Dust work surface with 1 tablespoon flour, then turn out dough and knead, gradually dusting with just enough additional flour to make a smooth sticky dough, about 8 minutes. (Dough needs to be somewhat sticky to facilitate rolling and forming into pretzels).

Return dough to bowl and cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, then let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Turn out dough onto a clean work surface and cut into 8 equal pieces. Using your palms, roll 1 piece back and forth on a clean dry work surface into a rope about 24 inches long. If dough sticks to your hands, lightly dust them with flour. Twist dough into a pretzel shape. (Dough will retract as you form the pretzel.)

Transfer pretzel with your hands to an oiled baking sheet and form 7 more pretzels in same manner with remaining dough, spacing them 1 1/2 inches apart.

Let pretzels stand, uncovered, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 425°F. Bring a wide 6-quart pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add heaping tablespoon of baking soda.

Using both hands, carefully add 3 pretzels, 1 at a time, to boiling water and cook, turning over once with tongs, until pretzels are puffed and shape is set, about 3 minutes. Transfer parboiled pretzels to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining 5 pretzels in 2 batches.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper and oil paper, then arrange pretzels on sheet. Brush pretzels lightly with some of egg and sprinkle with pretzel salt. Bake until golden brown and lightly crusted, about 35 minutes (mine did not need to bake anywhere near this long, but mine also appear to be thinner than Joy the Baker's). Cool 15 minutes, then serve warm. (I also only needed to cool mine for 5 minutes or so before serving. But perhaps that's just impatience.)

Cooks' notes:
• Dough can be mixed and kneaded in a standing electric mixer fitted with dough hook.
• Pretzels are best the day they are made. (When they are kept overnight, salt may dissolve.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Malibu Strawberry Lemon Cupcakes

I decided to prepare all the food for my friend’s bachelorette/lingerie shower. When I asked her what flavor of cupcakes she wanted she just shrugged and said “I don’t know, whatever you want to make will be good.” Yes, this is the same friend from my recent brownie-making. Well, you see folks, I’m often incapable of making decisions, and I wanted to be sure and make something she liked. So I began to read from a list of the cupcake/cake combos I had bookmarked. When I got to “Malibu Strawberry-Lemon Cupcakes”, as in MALIBU RUM, she instantly said “Yeah, make that, that sounds good!” Whew! Decision made!

I was a bit intimidated by the cupcakes because they called for an italian meringue buttercream. I’d heard scary things about this type of frosting curdling and not turning out, but I’m happy to report I had no such problems! The frosting was smooth and creamy, and delicious! Because of all the other food I was prepping, my crazy crazy work schedule, and the fact that the shower was being held 1.5 hours away, I wanted to make the frosting 2 days ahead of time. I chilled it in the fridge, but once it came time to frost the cupcakes I didn’t give the frosting enough time to chill. It was hard, and wouldn’t squeeze through my decorator tip. I ended up having to zap it in the microwave at a low temperature, and I was scared death I would melt it and lose the wonderful fluffy creaminess that I got after originally making it. It still turned out ok, but not AS beautiful as when I first made the frosting! *sigh*

And as for the cupcakes, I’m not sure I’ve ever made cupcakes with buttermilk before. These cooked up in an interesting way. It’s like the top became golden, and then the inside bubbled up. They all turned out lopsided. So I ended up shaving them off to make them even. Which is fine with me, I got to test taste them! They were yummy, but I think if I made these again, I would use a different lemon cake recipe. One that might bake up more evenly.

Either way, this was a decadent combo, and everyone at the shower loved the cupcakes! The strawberry drizzle is a great addition, and I’m glad I didn’t leave it out.


Malibu Strawberry Lemon Cupcakes


Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt (I increased this to around 1/4 because I used unsalted butter)
3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) salted butter, softened (I used unsalted)
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Malibu Italian Meringue Buttercream:
2 egg whites at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
12 tbsp (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
1-2 tablespoons Malibu Caribbean Rum, coconut flavor, to taste (I used 2 of course!)

Strawberry Puree:
5 ounces frozen strawberries, thawed (I used fresh strawberries)
1 teaspoons sugar, more or less (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, more or less (to taste)


Preheat oven to 350°F. Line pan with cupcake liners.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and stir to combine. In the bowl of your mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat until well-blended on medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the lemon zest and juice.

Fill each cupcake cup about two-thirds full and bake for about 17-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centrer of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Beat the egg whites in the bowl of your mixer with the whisk attachment until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and beat just before stiff peaks form.

Meanwhile, stir together the sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved and washing down side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. When syrup reaches a boil, put your candy thermometer into it and continue boiling, without stirring, until it reaches about 238-242 degrees Fahrenheit.

Immediately remove from heat, turn your mixer back on (if you had it off like me) and slowly pour the hot syrup in a thin stream into the egg whites, beating constantly at high speed and making sure to not pour directly on the side of the bowl. Beat meringue until the bowl is cool to the touch.

Change out your whisk for your paddle attachment and scrapes down the sides of the bowl. On medium speed, gradually add butter about two pieces at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated. Continue beating until buttercream is smooth. (Mixture may look curdled before all butter is added, but will come back together before beating is finished. If that doesn’t work, try chilling it a bit in case your meringue was too hot.) Finally, add the Malibu and mix thoroughly.

Place the strawberries and their juice into your blender. Pulse a few times until pureed. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice until it’s the taste you want.

Cupcake assembly:
Pipe or spread on IMBC frosting. Drizzle some strawberry puree on top. Garnish with a strawberry.

Sorry I don’t have more/better pictures. I was running around like a crazy woman trying to get everything together before everyone started showing up!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Quinoa Soup, Miracle Food?

If you know me, and know my blog, I do love my sweet stuff, but I’m also a bit of a health stickler. I love a meal full of color that packs a healthy punch. I found this soup recipe that seemed simple and healthy. After looking at too many combinations of sugar, flour, & butter lately (preparing for a bridal shower), I wanted to look at and taste FOOD, glorious food!

Before I share the recipe with you, let me tell you all the wonders of quinoa. Pronounced KEEN-WAH, quinoa is natively South American and often compared to grains, as it is similar to them, but it’s actually a seed closely related to spinach & swiss chard. When cooked it becomes fluffy with a soft crunch. It’s a “supergrain” because it’s high in protein; and is a complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks for muscles). Besides providing all nine amino acids, it also provides enzymes, vitamins and minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, making it one of the most complete foods in nature. It’s gluten-free; acts as a prebiotic that feeds the microflora (good bacteria) in your intestines; a great source of fiber and is easily digested for optimal absorption of nutrients. Also, if you are prone to migraines, try adding quinoa to your diet. Quinoa is a good source of magnesium, a mineral that helps relax blood vessels, preventing the constriction and rebound dilation characteristic of migraines. Increased intake of magnesium has been shown to be related to a reduced frequency of headache episodes reported by migraine sufferers. Quinoa is also a good source of riboflavin, which is necessary for proper energy production within cells. Riboflavin (also called vitamin B2) has been shown to help reduce the frequency of attacks in migraine sufferers, most likely by improving the energy metabolism within their brain and muscle cells. (Sources: WHFoods, BodyEcology)

Now, do you see why I said it’s a miracle food? With all these health benefits, one might assume something so good for you won’t taste good. But quite the opposite! I really enjoy the taste & texture of quinoa. I look forward to cooking with it more often. For some reason my “soup” was not very soupy. Almost every bit of the liquid got absorbed! Also, I adapted this recipe a bit. I saw that it called for corn, but I wanted to sub hominy. I really like the taste & texture of hominy in soups, and I also added in some black beans, because I had them on hand and thought they would taste good in it. Also I used 2/3 cup salsa, instead of 1/3. This recipe came from quite a chain of sources. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so here goes:


Quinoa Soup with Avocado & Hominy

adapted from It's All Happening, as seen on Cheap Healthy Good, as seen on The Seattle Times, originally from the cookbook Whole Grains for Busy People


4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup quinoa
1 cup hominy (or corn)
2/3 cup chunky salsa, to taste
1 ripe but firm Hass avocado, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (not a fan, omitted)
Lime wedges, for serving (optional)


In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the broth to a boil. Stir in the quinoa, reduce heat to medium-high, and continue boiling, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Stir in the corn and salsa, then return to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the avocado. Season with salt and stir in the cilantro. Ladle into large bowls, accompanied with lime wedges.

You can easily reheat the leftovers, but I also enjoyed it cold one night/morning when leaving work at 2:30am.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cocoa Brownies with Peanut Butter Chips

As I mentioned in my meatloaf post, one of my good friends was coming down to visit me. One thing I love about this girl is SHE EATS. Calories schmalories. First thing she did when she walked in my apartment was grab some Peeps and chow down. Not long after she got there we opened some wine and started to prepare dinner. We ate dinner and settled in to watch some NCAA basketball. After watching our Hilltoppers lose to Gonzaga in the last seconds of the game, we needed chocolate to recover. I asked her what she wanted for dessert, and she gave her “typical” response, a shrug of her shoulders and said “I don’t know, whatever you think is good.” I had some peanut butter chips in my cabinet that had been calling my name for a while, so I googled “Brownies & Peanut Butter Chips”. I think there’s a reason this was the second link that came up. These were gooooood. Mmmm… fudgy & gooey, rich & delicious. Wow. I definitely recommend these. It’s hard to eat just one. They were the perfect accompaniment to the girly movie we watched when the games were over.

Now, I know I’ve just subjected you to food porn at it’s finest, if you’re watching your calories, or trying to eat healthier, consider trying these Fantastic Fudgy Brownies from Cooking Light I’ve made in the past. They will DEFINITELY hit your chocolate spot without breaking the calorie bank. But if you are in the mood to indulge (and I was, I had a good workout that morning!), then go ahead and make these!


Cocoa Brownies with Peanut Butter Chips


1 1/4 sticks of unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup of white sugar
3/4 cup PLUS 2 tbsp of cocoa powder (I used about 1/2 Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa, and 1/2 regular cocoa, to intensify the chocolate flavor)
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1 cup of peanut butter chips


Preheat oven to 325 degrees and make sure rack is in the lower third of the oven. Coat an 8 inch baking pan with cooking spray or line it with parchment paper.

In a large heat proof bowl, combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt. Set the bowl in a large skillet of water and simmer over medium low heat. Stir occasionally until the butter is melted and mixture is hot to the touch. The mixture will look slightly grainy. Remove from heat and cool until warm. Add vanilla and stir with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time mixing thoroughly after each one. When the batter looks well blended, smooth and shiny, slowly add the flour and stir until it's combined thoroughly, then stir vigorously for 30 strokes. Stir in the peanut butter chips. Pour into the baking pan and place a few more peanut butter chips on top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely then lift up ends of the parchment paper (if used) and transfer brownies to a cutting board where you cut into bite sized pieces. Enjoy.