Yes, it’s that time again! Settle in, grab a cup of hot coffee, and share our latest baking shenanigans! For our latest installment of Baking Day, it was my turn to host again! I spent a lot of time thinking about what recipes to try. We’ve done cupcakes/muffins three times in a row. So that was out. We did some form of filled-rolled-baked-rolls. So that too, was out. I also had to take my brother in law into consideration – who doesn’t like cream cheese frosting. I know, I know! Absurd! Who doesn’t like cream cheese frosting?? Be that as it may, (and that being incomprehensible), I just knew I couldn’t whip out my cream cheese again. I would get some serious stink-eye action from him. I also thought about how we always tend to bake sweets. Which isn’t necessarily what Baking Day is about. The only rule is to choose recipes that we haven’t baked before. And that’s when I decided – to hell with sweets! (Wait! Wait just a minute before you chastise me. I didn’t mean it. Only for the purpose of hosting baking day would I give up sweets. Promise.) So I chose two savoury recipes. I also decided that in between all the baking and drinking, I should whip up some real food too – to feed the masses as it were. We were baking for 8 this time and 6 would stay for dinner. I’ll do a lasagna recipe later, because I forgot to photograph it before we dove into the well deserved dinner.
I chose to make two forms of doughy delights. The first, being a deliciously dense, somewhat sweet, somewhat salty Bacon and Sweetcorn Bread. I got the recipe from one of my work friends, who brought a loaf in for us a couple of weeks ago. We finished it before lunchtime was even close. I decided to add bacon to the recipe. Because BACON. And sweet and salty goes so well together. It is intensely satisfying, and ridiculously easy to make. If you’re a novice (much like me), and afraid to jump into baking – start with this. It is absolutely foolproof. The second item on my savoury menu was actually quite easy to decide on. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try, and regret not having when I had a 12 hour layover in New York on my way to Cancun two years ago. I decided to get my Americana on, and go for Soft Pretzels with a Beer Cheese sauce. Yeah. Think about that for a minute… I’ll wait. Now, all together… USA! USA! USA!
The day started out quite frantic. I had to race to the shops, to get my ingredients. Then to the liquor store (obviously). On my way home, my sister phoned me to tell me they were already at the gate. I got home, dropped the groceries, my sister and I jumped back in the car, liquor store again (for her and her husband’s consumption), grocery store again (for dinner ingredients), and when we got back, my beau’s sister was already there. Her husband would join us after his round of golf. Also joining us for the first time was the beau’s younger brother’s wife. (What a description… From now on I’ll just refer to them as my sister-in-laws. It’ll be true soon enough anyway.)
If you’re planning to try the pretzels, make sure you have quite a bit of time. They have to proof twice. And the rolling part takes some patience too. But I’d like to start with the Bacon and Sweetcorn Bread.
Bacon and Sweetcorn Bread (makes 1 Loaf)
500g Self-Raising Flour
1 can (415g) Creamed Sweetcorn
1 can (385g) Condensed Milk
125g Back Bacon (cut into bite-sized bits)
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius/ 360 degrees Fahrenheit
Fry your bacon until just crispy. Don’t let it get too crispy, or it will get too hard while baking. I added some salt and pepper to the pan, as well as a healthy dash of sweet chilli sauce. You want enough sweet chilli to just coat all the bacon bits and get them sticky.
In a large mixing bowl, add your self-raising flour, sweetcorn, condensed milk and cooked bacon and mix thoroughly by hand. The mixture will be quite stiff, but don’t worry. That’s how it’s supposed to be. When all the flour is incorporated, tip mixture into a greased loaf pan. Bake for 60 min, or until a knife comes out clean. The top should have a gorgeous golden colour. When you take the loaf out of the oven, immediately rub the top of the bread with butter. You can remove the bread from the pan and cover the whole bread with butter to melt, but we didn’t find it necessary. When you’ve slathered the butter onto the bread, cover the bread with a clean dishtowel to steam. You can remove it when the bread has cooled.
That’s it! Easy right? I told you. Now I should note that this recipe makes one loaf, if you have a standard 30cm-ish loafpan. We were using disposable tins so everyone could take one home. In the slightly smaller loaf tins that we used, each batch of dough made 1.5 loaves. So the four batches of dough made 6 loaves. (And I’m glad they did – because it’s delicious and I’m still eating bread!) It’s scrumptious with just a bit of butter on, slightly warm. As the bread gets older, it doesn’t lose it’s moisture. I bring some with me to work in the morning, pop it onto a panini press and lightly toast them. Add to that some golden melty butter and a cup of coffee and breakfast is a treat!
Looks good right? It really is. Try it. And you know what? Even if you don’t love sweetcorn, the taste isn’t really overpowering. It just adds a sweet, creaminess to the bread. Delectable. I wish I brought some extra today…
On to the more challenging part of this post. The soft pretzels. These are baked until golden and puffy, the crystals of salt baked on to the tops. We did half with salt, and half with sesame seeds, which added a nutty depth which I found delightfully surprising. We found the rolling of the dough into strips quite challenging, since the recipe didn’t give us any helpful tips. But don’t fear! That is why we endeavour these challenges. So that I can give you the tips that you might not find in a normal recipe. But more on that later. I found the recipe here and here.
Soft Pretzels with Beer Cheese Sauce (makes 8)
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup baking soda
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup, rice syrup, or dark brown sugar (We used dark brown sugar)
1 large egg, whisked with 2 tablespoons warm water
Coarse sea salt or pretzel salt
- Make the pretzel dough: Combine the warm water and yeast in a medium-sized bowl. Let stand a few minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast. Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour, sugar, and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a floury, shaggy dough.
- Knead the dough: Knead the dough against the counter for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft, slightly tacky, and holds a ball-shape.
- Let the dough rise: Clean out the bowl, film it with oil, and return the dough to the bowl. Cover and let rise somewhere warm until the dough is doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
→ Make Ahead Tip: At this point, the pretzel dough can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for three months. Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator before using. Refrigerated dough can be shaped into pretzels while still cold, but allow some extra time for the pretzels to puff up before dipping and baking.
- Divide the dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Use a bench scraper to divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.
- Shape the pretzels: Working with one piece of dough a time, roll the dough into a long, skinny rope against the counter using the palms of your hands. Aim for a rope about 20 inches long. If it shrinks back on you, set it aside, roll another piece of dough, and come back to it after it’s rested a few minutes. We found that this way was extremely hard, and we couldn’t get the dough to 20 inches long. What we did was this (it was easier and made for a good couple of dirty jokes and many a giggle…I was also very unceremoniously slapped in the face with a rope of dough by my sister): I rolled the dough into a rope that was about 6 inches long. You can do that easily between your hands or on the counter. Then, my sister held the top part of the rope, and with a back and forth motion of my hands, I rolled the dough thinner and thinner towards the end of it. Then we would just swop the ends and repeat to get a long rope of even width.
- Lift the ends of the rope toward the top of your work surface and cross them. Cross them one more time to make a twist, then fold the twist back down over the bottom loop to form a pretzel shape. Set the pretzel on a parchment-lined baking sheet and continue shaping the rest of the pretzels. When all the pretzels are shaped, cover them loosely and set them aside to rise until puffy, 20 to 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F. Place a rack in the middle-bottom position.
- Prepare the water bath: When the pretzels are starting to look puffy, measure 8 cups of water into a large, wide pot and set over high heat. Make sure the pot has high sides because the water will foam, nearly doubling in volume, when you add the baking soda. Bring the water to a rapid simmer, then add the baking soda and the dark brown sugar/barley malt syrup/rice syrup. The baking soda will make the water foam up the sides of the pot. Stir to dissolve the baking soda and syrup, then reduce the heat to medium to maintain a simmer.
- Boil the pretzels: Lower 2 to 3 pretzels into the water bath — as many as will fit without crowding. Simmer for 30 seconds, then use a slotted spoon to flip the pretzels over. Simmer for another 30 seconds, then scoop the pretzels out of the water and return them to the baking sheet. While in the water bath, the pretzels will puff and take on a doughy, puckered appearance. Repeat with the remaining pretzels.
- Brush with egg and sprinkle with salt: Once all the pretzels have been dipped in the water bath, brush them with the egg and water mixture and sprinkle them with salt.
- Bake the pretzels: Bake the pretzels until they are deep brown and glossy, 12 to 15 minutes.
- Cool and eat! Transfer the pretzels to a cooling rack and let sit until cool enough to handle. Pretzels are best when eaten fresh and hot, but will still be good for up to a day later. Store them in a paper bag at room temperature. While they’re cooling, you can make your Beer Cheese Sauce.
Beer Cheese Sauce
2-3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups light beer
1 cup heavy cream
2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a saucepan over medium heat, add the butter, stirring until melted. Add in the garlic and cook until the garlic is golden brown.
- Add in the flour, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. The color will begin to change to golden, and this is what you want to achieve. Add in the beer and the heavy cream, continuing to constantly stir the mixture. Bring to a simmer and remove the saucepan from the heat.
- Begin adding in the shredded cheese in small amounts while whisking the sauce mixture until you have reached the desired consistency.
Now take that happy, soothing, pale yellow cheese sauce and serve with your warmish pretzels. As you tear off a piece, dip it and greedily pop it in your mouth before you waste one little bit of a drop, you’re transported to what I imagine going to a Baseball game would be like. Or having a bunch of people over for Superbowl Sunday.
It was everything I imagined. It made me happy. And that, my darlings, is what baking is ultimately about, isn’t it? Doing what makes you happy. And boy, it does.