Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Soft Pretzels

My favorite cookbook of 2011, the one that I've returned to again and again, is Good to the Grain, Baking with Whole-Grain Flours by Kim Boyce.  I continue to find inspiration in the innovative recipes and rustic, understated photography. 

To celebrate Oktoberfest this year I turned to Soft Rye Pretzels.  I was captivated by the recipe from the first moment I thumbed through the book, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also intimidated.  I think it was the word "bath," and that I would be required to bathe my pretzel dough in the cooking process.  A half cup of baking soda is nothing to sneeze at either.  Baking soda is cheap, but I don't always have large quantities on hand.  In fact baking soda is sold in such small containers here in Denmark that I doubt Danes use it for anything other than baking .  Forget about orange boxes of Arm and Hammer found in U.S. fridges to ameliorate orders.

So one day I had some time, which is a must when making Soft Rye Pretzels, and enough baking soda to get the job done.  The small number of ingredients makes up for the fussy-factor in making homemade pretzels.  Nothing is particularly difficult, it just takes time--and a little patience--to rest the dough, form it into pretzel shapes, let it rest again, bathe it, and then, finally, stick it in the oven to bake.  The bathing is key because it's what seals the dough and gives it its chewy texture.

Rest assured, the pretzels are worth every step of the effort.  The texture is amazing as is the deep rye flavor.  A few words of advice before you start though:  Make sure you use a large and deep saucepan when bathing your pretzels.  I made the mistake of using one that was too small; when I added the pretzels the baking soda water bubbled over and flooded my stove and drawers under my stove.  I'm still finding dried bits of baking soda in surprising places.  Also, these pretzels are best eaten the same day they are made.  The next day the texture is compromised, and it sort of feels like eating a rubber shoe. 

Serve the pretzels warm with a side of good mustard. 

Soft Rye Pretzels
From Good to the Grain, Baking with Whole-Grain Flours

2T unsalted butter, melted, for the bowl and baking sheets

1 package active dry yeast
1T honey
1c rye flour
2 1/2c all-purpose flour
1T kosher

1/2c baking soda

Coarse sea salt, such as Maldon


1.  Measure the yeast into a large bowl.  Heat 1 1/2c water in a small saucepan over low heat to a temperature that is warm to the touch, about 100F, and pour over the yeast.  Add the honey and stir to combine.  Add the flours and salt and stir again.

2.  Dump the sticky dough onto a floured surface and knead.  Add up to 1/2c all-purpose flour, as needed, until the dough is tacky but not sticky.  Knead for 10-12 min until soft and supple.

3.  Lightly brush a large bowl with melted butter.  Using a dough scraper, scrape the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic or a towel, and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

4.  While the dough is rising, place two racks at the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 450F.  Brush two baking sheets generously with butter.

5.  Once the dough has doubled, gently pour it from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.  Cut the dough into 12 pieces.  Take each piece of dough and roll it into a snake about 17 inches long, with thinly tapered ends.  Form the dough into a pretzel shape by folding one-third of the left side over the center of the snake, and then one-third of the right side over the left.  Place the shaped pretzels onto the prepared baking sheets.  Let the pretzels proof (rise) for 15 to 20 minutes.

6.  Meanwhile, for the bath, fill a large pot with 10 cups of water and bring it to a boil.  Once the pretzels are proofed and the water is boiling, add the baking soda to the water.

7.  To poach the pretzels, lift 2 or 3 pretzels, depending on the surface ares of your pot, into the bath.  Boil each side for 30 seconds, use a strainer to remove the pretzels, pat any excess water with a towel, and transfer them back onto the buttered baking sheets.  Boil the remaining pretzels.  Sprinkle with salt.

8.  Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.  The pretzels should be dark mahogany in color.  Transfer them to a rack to cool.  These pretzels are best eaten the day they're made, ideally within the hour.

Makes 12

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Magic Homemade Ice Cream

Note:  This post appeared in last week's edition of The Copenhagen Post.

I just moved, and now I have a freezer. It sits nicely atop my fridge. Never mind that both are not much bigger than what you’d find in a child’s dollhouse. I’m just happy they’re there. After all a freezer is not necessarily a given in housing rentals here.

It would be fair to say that I’ve lowered my appliance standards considerably in the three years I’ve lived in Denmark. I remember the moment I walked into the kitchen of my first rental and spotted the place--not much larger than a shoebox--where I would be keeping my food cold. What folIowed was an endless rant about the restrictions that such a fridge represents. Unless you had a mini-fridge in your college dorm room, where I come from people are simply unaccustomed- and ill-equipped to dealing with the diminutive European refrigerators. Coping with one sheds a whole new light on grocery shopping, meal planning, and food storage. You mean I can’t fit two liter bottles of Pepsi and boxes of home delivery pizza in my fridge? I’m kidding. I know some of you think that’s all we Americans consume. But I have news for you. We eat hamburgers, too.

In the beginning a week wouldn’t go by that I didn’t whine about the lack of adequate fridge space. But fast forward three years, and I’ve made incredible strides. As least that’s what my therapist tells me. Through the years, I’ve gradually learned how to optimize my small fridge and--now that I’ve moved--freezer. I’ve adapted my food shopping, meal planning, and cooking in a way that fits my lifestyle and, as luck would have it, the inside of my fridge. Tall items such as milk, orange juice, and white wine are tucked into the door. Dairy, bacon, and lunch meat go on the top shelf. Alas, this kind of transformation does not happen overnight. Every couple of months things still get out of control in my fridge. That’s when I take a step back and say, Okay, you can either make a therapy appointment or organize this fridge. And you know what, a clean and tidy fridge is the best therapy.

But back to the freezer. As a way to inaugurate mine, I made ice cream. For months I have been guarding this special ice cream recipe like a hawk protecting its young, in anticipation that I would one day have a freezer again. This is not your run-of-the mill frozen dessert. It’s magic. Truly. What gives it special properties? First and foremost, it requires no ice cream maker or throwing a coffee can back and forth until your arms ache. Better still, it’s comprised of basic kitchen staples and is, quite simply, extraordinary. The texture is sublime and the taste will leave reaching for “just one more spoonful.” Only make sure you have enough room in your freezer.
Magic Homemade Ice Cream

Recipe courtesy of Christopher Kimball

Note: You know that cherry sauce that is ubiquitous in Denmark this time of year? Sure, you can serve it over the traditional Danish ris a la mande, but why not heat some up and spoon it over your ice cream. I guarantee you’ll love it. Also, since the vanilla flavor tends to be sweeter than the chocolate variety, try serving it with a plain cake, such as pound cake, almond cake, or other lightly sweetened cake.

Ingredients (in U.S. and metric measurements)

1/2c...200g sweetened condensed milk
1 oz...30g white chocolate (if you are making chocolate ice cream use 20g white and 30g dark - 70% or higher - chocolate. The chocolate flavor requires more chocolate than he vanilla variety.
1T...1 soup spoon of vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1/4c...60g sour cream (creme fraiche)
1 1/4c...300g cold heavy cream (38%)


1. Make base. Gently heat sweetened condensed milk and chocolate. Stir until chocolate melts, this should take less than a minute. Let cool. Stir in vanilla, salt, and sour cream. Set aside.

2. Whip heavy cream with electric mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks begin to form, about 2 minutes. Fold one-third of the whipped cream into the chocolate mix until well incorporated. Fold remaining whipped cream into the chocolate mix until completely incorporated and smooth.

3. Scrape mixture into an airtight container and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours or up to 2 weeks. Serve.