Friday, January 31, 2014
Stuffed Soft Pretzel Bites
I don't know how long I've been waiting to make and share these soft pretzel bites with you, but I can assure you that it's been a while. A really, really long while. I first had this idea, oh I don't know, maybe way back in the day when I first made these amazing soft pretzels. That was only like 2 and a half years ago or so. I knew the idea for pretzel bites was a good one, I just needed time to actually sit (or stand, I guess) and make them. I always wanted to make them around this time of year, and since the idea first popped into my head, two Super Bowl Sunday's have come and gone, and no pretzel bites were ever made. This year, I decided, would be a year of change. I was going to make sure I made these pretzel bites no matter what! I took some time on Sunday to mix up a big batch of soft pretzel bites, and I can say that I have no regrets. These pretzel bites were some seriously amazing snacking material that need to make an appearance at any and all Super Bowl/football/sports/midnight snack parties from now on.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted to make stuffed pretzel bites, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to actually stuff them with. I knew it had to be something easy that I already had inside my kitchen (as is the case for most of my baking predicaments). The first thing I thought of was a jalapeño cream cheese. I love anything with hot jalapeños, so a homemade cream cheese spread studded with spicy peppers and sharp cheddar seemed to be a perfect solution. I also wanted to create a sweet version of these pretzel bites, to resemble my favorite mall soft pretzels. Deciding what to fill the sweet pretzel bites with was easy, since I still had some Hershey's chocolate spread left after working doing some work with them. I used the hazelnut flavor, and I'm so happy I chose to use chocolate in half of these pretzel bites. The combination of the rich chocolate spread and the coarse salt on top of the pretzel bites was just too good for words. It was the perfect sweet and salty snack!
I'll admit, making these pretzel bites takes a bit more time compared to other game day/party snacks, but I really think the results are so worth it. In fact, the only thing that may deter you from making these is the time commitment, although, as I will explain, it's really not that bad. For starters, it takes all of about ten minutes to mix up the dough, and maybe 8 of those minutes are spent letting the yeast get foamy in some warm water and having your mixer knead the dough (so essentially, you're not actually doing anything). After that, you put the dough into a bowl, and let it rise for an hour in a warm spot in your kitchen (it may sound weird, but I always stick my batches of yeasted dough inside my cereal cabinet, because for some reason, that cabinet is always toasty warm...). During this hour-long rising period, feel free to exit the kitchen and take a nap, do laundry, get a quick workout in, or watch two episodes of Modern Family. Once the dough has risen, it becomes time to actually work with the dough and actively make these pretzel bites. It's a simple process though, I promise. All you have to do is divide the dough into four equal portions, roll them into long ropes, and then cut them into one inch pieces. Easy. Then, working with one piece at a time, flatten it out a bit, and add a bit of your chosen filling. Then roll up that flattened circle of pretzel dough into a ball by pinching in the edges of the circle to create a pretty little pouch of dough. Repeat that with all of the pieces of dough (there's a lot, but that just means there's more for you to eat). This is a good time to catch up on more television shows that you've missed recently, because once you get the hang of the stuffing process, it's all smooth sailing from then on.
Eventually, you'll need to boil the pretzel bites. While I've seen some recipes that do not call for boiling the pretzel bites, I decided to stick with the method that I knew worked well enough to yield perfectly golden brown, slightly cracked textured pretzel bites. I wouldn't skip boiling the pretzels though because in mind it's that special technique that makes a pretzel a pretzel. It's kind of like a bagel in that sense. The boiling may take a little bit of time, but since you are working in batches that get boiled for only 30 seconds, it shouldn't take terribly long. Once they've been boiled, they're ready for a quick brushing of egg wash and then a 12 minute trip to the oven to finish cooking. Once you've made it through all that, you're left with about 7 dozen stuffed soft pretzel bites. I'd say the ends justify the means, in this case!
This is the kind of snack where you'll find yourself having a really hard time stopping yourself from eating all of them. The pretzel bites, when eaten warm, are one of the most delicious things you'll ever put inside your mouth, I can pretty much guarantee that. They taste like those soft pretzels we always crave when shopping at the mall, only better. The pretzels themselves are soft and the perfect blank canvas for introducing some new flavors. Get creative! If chocolate and jalapeno aren't really your things (if this is the case, who are you!?), peanut butter and Biscoff spread would probably make really good substitutions. Or pepperoni. Or straight up cheese. Whatever you decide, these pretzel bites will have you hooked the moment they come out of the oven. I can guarantee it!
Stuffed Soft Pretzel Bites
pretzel recipe modified slightly from Alton Brown
For the Soft Pretzels
1 1/2 cups warm water (about 115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
For the Chocolate Filling
about 1/3 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (I used Hershey's)
For the Jalapeno Cream Cheese Filling
3 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 jalapeno, chopped (it's up to you if you want to leave the seeds in or not!)
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
10 cups water
1/2 cup baking soda
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Begin by preparing the pretzel dough. In the bowl of a standard electric mixer, combine the water, sugar, and salt. Sprinkle the yeast over the top, and allow to sit undisturbed for 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to look foamy. Add the butter and flour, and with the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium, and knead the dough until it becomes smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, and lightly spray it with nonstick spray. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 1 hour.
While the dough is rising, prepare the jalapeno filling. In a blender/Magic Bullet/food processor, combine the cream cheese, jalapeno, and cheddar cheese, and blend/process until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a plastic bag and snip off a tiny bit of the corner to make a makeshift piping bag. Add the chocolate spread to its own plastic bag and snip off the corner as well. Set aside.
Gently punch down the dough and turn it out onto a clean work surface. Divide the dough into four equal parts (a kitchen scale is handy for a job like this) and then roll each part into a 20-inch rope (approximately). With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut each rope into roughly 1-inch pieces. To fill the pretzels bites, simply flatten out each 1-inch piece a bit, and pipe a small amount of your chosen filling into the center. Then, gather up the edges to form a little pretzel pouch, and seal them shut by pressing them together. Roll the little pretzel tot into a ball and place on a lined or greased baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pretzel pieces.
As you're nearing the end of your pretzel filling and rolling, take a moment to wash your hands and place the 10 cups of water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan, as well as preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Then, go back to filling your pretzel bites.
Once you've finished and your water is boiling, drop the pretzel bites into the boiling water and boil for no more than 30 seconds. You have to do this in small batches (I worked with batches of 4 or 5 at a time), so that no pretzel bite is in the water for too long (otherwise, they'll taste too much like baking soda, and that's definitely not what we're going for here). It takes a little time, but it's not difficult. I used a potato masher to easily and quickly remove the pretzel bites from the water and transfer them back to the lined sheet pan (don't worry about the excess water that may drip onto the pan, it's fine).
Brush the tops of the boiled pretzel bites with the egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake the pretzel bites until they become a deep golden brown color, about 12-14 minutes. Let the pretzel bites cool for a few minutes before serving. They're delicious while they're still warm!
Makes a LOT of pretzel bites. I got about 75 total!