Homemade Soft Pretzels

I have met one person in my life who doesn’t love, or at least like, pretzels. While she has exquisite taste in friends (ahem, she loves me) I can’t understand her taste in food (she also hates ice cream.)  But for the rest of us, luckily fresh, delicious, chewy, warm homemade pretzels are a super easy treat.  Don’t be intimidated into thinking they take too long or are too hard to master – they are easy and take about 2 hours, half of which is rising time – time to play a board game, binge watch Grace and Frankie, or take your small children for a run in the park.  You can top these with coarse salt, cinnamon sugar, garlic salt, or whatever spice and flavor combo you are craving.  Making these is  a fun activity for children, too.  

  • 1 ½ cup warm water
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 2 Tbs kosher salt
  • 1 package dry yeast (2 ¼ tsp)
  • Approx 4 ½ cups flour (as needed)
  • 2 oz unsalted butter, melted (you can substitute oil for this)
  • Oil for greasing the pan
  • 10 cups water
  • ⅔ cup baking soda
  • 6-8 tbs unsalted butter, melted for topping
  • Pretzel salt, cinnamon sugar, sprinkles, garlic salt, etc for topping

Mix warm water, yeast, sugar, salt, and ½ cup flour in the bowl of a mixer.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes (it should get bubbly as the yeast activates.) Add 3 cups of flour and the small amount of melted butter and mix with the dough hook.  (You can do this by hand, using a large bowl and a sturdy spoon if you don’t have a mixer.) Add more flour as needed to create a smooth, elastic, not sticky dough.  Don’t add too much, you don’t want this to be a very dry dough. Knead with the dough hook (or by hand) until the dough pulls away from the bowl and forms a smooth ball.  Remove the dough from the bowl, wipe the bowl if necessary, grease the bowl, and put the dough back into it. Cover it with plastic wrap and set aside in a warmish place to rise, 50-55 minutes.  (At sea level it will take that long to double in size. At our altitude the dough will double in size much faster, punch down and allow to double again.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Line sheet pans with parchment and brush lightly with oil.  In a large flat pot or pan bring the 10 cups of water and baking soda to a boil.  Divide dough into 12 even parts. Roll each part into a long, thin snake then twist into a pretzel shape.  One by one put the pretzels into the boiling water then remove with a spatula or flat slotted spoon. Place them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving room for them to expand.  Bake until brown, about 12-14 minutes. Remove from oven. While still hot, brush the pretzels with the melted butter then sprinkle with whatever you wish to top. Cool slightly and eat!


Top 10 Things My (and all) Children Want to Discuss at Dinner

  1.  Poop
  2.  Anuses
  3.  TV shows
    1.  Ones that no adult in the universe is interested in
    2.  Ones that everyone at the table has already seen
    3.  Ones that no one at the table has seen
  4.  The First Grade War (alternatively, The Fourth Grade War)
  5.  People with bad table manners at school (thereby ruining each other’s appetite)
  6.  Blood, surgery, accidents, gore in general
  7.  Boogers, teeth problems, ear wax (thereby ruining my husband’s appetite)
  8.  Politics (thereby ruining everyone’s appetite)
  9.  Chemistry, cars, horses, money
  10.  Food

Just wait until they are adults and their father and I show up at their houses for dinner.  We’ll flop around, take our shirts off, cry, pick at the food, make rude noises, fart loudly, shriek like banshees, talk about wildly inappropriate subjects, leave the table multiple times, and cry.  I just hope we have enough of our wits left to enjoy it.

Lemon Cake with Sour Cream Chocolate Ganache

Double Layer Lemon Cake with Sour Cream Ganache: many words for a simply delicious cake

OMG, this cake is so good.  Moist lemon cake, rich chocolate frosting – my mouth is watering just thinking about it.  There are several steps  but none are difficult.  Make sure you’ve got all your ingredients before starting and pretty shortly you’ll have a new favorite cake on your kitchen counter.

Lemon Cake with Sour Cream Chocolate Ganache

  • 1/2 lb butter (unsalted if you’ve got it, or use salted and half the amount of salt you add to the batter)
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs or 5 large eggs
  • zest of 6-8 lemons
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (unless you use salted butter, then use 1/2 tsp)
  • juice of 6-8 lemons
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk*
  • 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 cups full-fat sour cream

If you have 6-8 lemons sitting looking at you (if they are large use 6, if they are small use 8) wash then zest them (a microplane grater works best for this task.)  Set aside zest.  Roll the lemons on the counter for 10 seconds before juicing to release all the pulp and juice.  Juice lemons, set aside juice.  

Grease two 9″ cake pans and either line with parchment rounds cut out to fit the bottom of the pans or flour the well-greased pans.  (You can also do this cake in one layer in a Bundt pan.  Grease and flour it.)  Preheat oven to 350F.

In a mixer beat butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy.  

Add the eggs, one at a time beating between to incorporate.  Beat in the zest.

In another bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  

Measure 3/4 cup of lemon juice and add to the buttermilk*.  Into the butter/egg mix add the flour mix and the buttermilk mix, alternating.  Start with 1/3 of the flour mix, beat in.  Add 1/3 of the buttermilk mix, beat in.  Etc, finishing with the last of the buttermilk mix.  Scrape the sides of the mixing bowl then beat the batter for a couple of minutes.  Pour batter evenly into the pans (or one Bundt) and gently tap on counter to distribute evenly.  

Bake cakes 20 minutes then check with a thin knife or toothpick inserted in the middle.  Bundt cakes will take much longer, 45 minutes – 1 hour.  Thinner cake rounds will take less time, 20-30 minutes.  As soon as the cakes are done, remove from the oven and set on a cooling rack until you can handle the pans without burning yourself (about 10 minutes).  Remove cake and allow to cool on the rack.  

While cake is cooling, make the glaze and ganache.  Into a small saucepan put 1/2 cup lemon juice and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar.  Over low heat, stirring often, melt the sugar and make a simple syrup.  Once the cakes are cool to the touch, use a pastry brush and brush all over (tops and sides) with the lemon syrup.  While that glazed cakes are cooling, melt the chocolate chips (either use the microwave or double-boiler).  Remove the melted chocolate from heat and using a hand mixer beat in the sour cream.  If you have any lemon juice left throw it into the ganache.  Scrape the sides and beat the ganache until well-mixed.  Use 1/4-1/3 of the ganache in between the layers of the cake and use the rest to frost the tops and sides.  You want to use the ganache before it cools too much to be pliable.  If it hardens up, melt in the microwave a few seconds at a time just until it is soft enough to spread easily.  Cut slices and eat.  You can hold out a pinch of the lemon zest and use to garnish the top of the cake, if you like.

*A note on buttermilk.  If you aren’t someone who always has it on hand or you don’t want to buy a whole carton you can make your own easily using regular milk and vinegar.  Measure your milk just shy of 3/4 cup then add 2 tsp white vinegar or, you know, lemon juice.  If you need to top it up to make 3/4 cup add milk.  Stir and you’ve got buttermilk perfect for baking.

Pomegranate Gingersnaps

These cookies bake up delicate, flavorful, sweet, tangy, and utterly delicious.  If you are looking for a light and fresh take on a gingersnap this is the recipe for you.  Never heard of pomegranate molasses?  Check out your local Mediterranean market and get a bottle.  It is heady stuff.  (Make sure to buy one that is 100% pomegranate, not one with extra sugar or preservatives.)

Pomegranate Gingersnaps

  • 12 Tbs butter
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (you can use half whole wheat for a heavier cookie)
  • 1 cup sugar, plus another half cup for rolling
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp granulated salt (leave out if using salted butter)
  • 1 large egg

Melt butter, stir in molasses, and set aside to cool.  Meanwhile mix dry ingredients together, leaving out the extra sugar for rolling.  (A word here about the spices.  You can play with the ratio of these.  Traditionally all of these make an appearance in gingerbread and snaps but if you like one more or don’t have one, try using different amounts.  For an even more exotic gingersnap leave out the cloves and substitute 1/4 tsp ground cardamom.)  Once the butter molasses mix is cool to the touch, beat in the egg.  Mix the wet into the dry, cover well, and refrigerate for at least half an hour.  Preheat oven to 375F.  Put the extra rolling sugar into a small bowl.  Form cookie dough into balls – between 1/2″ and 1″, depending on how bit you want your cookies – then roll in the sugar.  Place cookie balls on ungreased or parchment lined baking pans.  Bake for ~10 minutes until the bottoms are lightly brown.  Cool and enjoy.

One of Those Moments

It’s been a long time since I’ve done this (write a post here) so, you know, please be patient while I get back into the swing of things.  This evening I had one of those moments – those ones when you think, I don’t want this to end.  We were out to eat at a local place where the food was very good, the service was friendly and efficient, there was live music playing, and I just loved my children so much I started to cry.  You ever read the children’s book Frederick, by Leo Lionni?  While all the other mice are frantically gathering food for the long, cold, impending winter Frederick gathers colors, words, sunshine which he then doles out to keep the other mice happy when the winter is (as expected) long and cold and the food runs out.  That’s what this evening felt like:  I was gather moments, memories, feelings for when the children grow up, for days when I adore them less, for times when I am sad or lonely or distracted or frustrated.  I will dole them out when I am hungry for them and need them.  For now, I will just bask in the glow of a nearly perfect evening.  That feeling might, just might, last through bed time.