Archive for February, 2011

Homemade Soft Pretzels

February 15, 2011

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  Why post a recipe for a perfectly fitting Superbowl snack, something that you could have easily wowed friends with, two weeks after the Superbowl?  For one, I made these on Superbowl day.  A little scheduling mishap…sorry about that.  (But they were a hit at my Superbowl potluck!  No, really, I’m sorry.).  But secondly, there are a lot of great sports that these pretzels would be appropriate for!  The aforementioned college basketball, for one – I hear that March Madness is coming up.  And isn’t baseball supposed to start soon?  But anyway, sports have no business being in this conversation because these soft pretzels are just so yummy that you won’t even need a sporting event to justify making them!

Oh, wait.  You’re saying that that wasn’t all that you were thinking?  You’re also thinking that who in their right mind would even attempt to make soft pretzels at home?  Who would go to the trouble of rolling little balls of dough into long, snake-like pieces just to twist them again in these weird shapes that never look quite the way they’re supposed to?  Especially when you can buy perfectly acceptable soft pretzels at your local mall.

Well, friends.  I have wonderful news for you.  These are a breeze to make!  You have to believe me!  Remember…I’m afraid of yeast!  There is usually a ban on yeast in my person kitchen!  And yet, the dough worked beautifully again – just like the last time I ventured into yeast-land!  As for the twisting, you can honestly make these any shape you like!  These babies, they’re about the taste (notice the picture where I just cut the long strips of dough into cute little soft pretzel bites!).  Homemade soft pretzels are out of this world.  These are no-need-to-host-a-Superbowl-party-just-make-for-yourself-on-a-Tuesday-night good.  Yep.

Homemade Soft Pretzels (original recipe from Brown Eyed Baker)


1 cup warm water
1 package dry active yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

6 cups water
1/4 cup baking soda

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand for 10 minutes, until yeast is foamy. Add the water/yeast along with the oil, sugar, salt and flour to a bowl and mix.  Transfer to a floured surface and knead until the dough is soft and slightly sticky, but very smooth. Place dough in a large oiled bowl, and let rise, covered, for 1 hour, until doubled.

Punch the dough down to release air, and divide the dough into 12 equal shapes and form them into small balls. Cover and let them rest for 15 minutes. Roll them into 18 to 20″ length rope-like pieces and form them into pretzel shapes, or pretzel bites, if desired.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow the pretzels to rise for 1/2 hour.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large pot, bring the baking soda and water to a boil. Add the pretzels one at a time to the boiling water for 1 minute, flipping midway.  Remove and place on a cooling rack. When cooled, transfer each pretzel to a parchment lined sheet pan. Brush with egg wash, and sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until dark brown.


Pecan Cornmeal Cake

February 8, 2011

Have I told you that I’m from North Carolina?  I’m what they call “a Tarheel born, a Tarheel bred (..and when I die, I’m a Tarheel dead)!”  And oh so proud of it.  Not only do I think that The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the greatest school in this country, I also think that Chapel Hill is one of the greatest towns in the nation.

Now, if you know anything about schools, rivalries or college basketball, you also know that my love for UNC directly correlates with my disdain for Duke.  With the universities (and towns) just being 8 miles apart, I really, really do not like anything Duke.  Dark blue, Cameron Indoor Stadium and…Durham.

So you can understand that the recent love that Durham has been receiving from national publications has been a little much for me to bear.  The New York Times is saying that Durham is one of the 41 places in the world to visit this year?!  It’s on the list with such places as Iceland, Zanzibar and Turkey?!  How can this be true??  And then an article last year tells me that Durham has become a foodie town??  Where is Chapel Hill in all of this?!  In my ridiculously biased opinion, I think that Chapel Hill’s greatness must have just seeped into Durham.  That’s gotta be it.

To ensure that this was the case, I went ahead and read that article about Durham’s “great” food.  It turned out that the article had a recipe from a restaurant in Durham that sounded, well, delicious.  So I tried it.  I’m deeply saddened to say that it was nothing short of spectacular.  This cake, made with cornmeal and pecans, and browned butter was just the perfect balance of light and nuttiness and rustic and unique.  It had a simplicity to it that needed nothing to dress it up – though a dollop of freshly whipped cream put it over the top.  It was, to my dismay, a yummy cake.  The Durham-based restaurant that serves this deliciousness must be on the border of the two towns.

*A little FYI about this timely post: one of the two scheduled UNC/Duke men’s basketball games is on the 9th.  Meaning, yep, tomorrow.  I don’t feel like I need to say this, but I expect you to root for the true blue.  You know, with a piece of this cake in hand.

Pecan Cornmeal Cake (from The NY Times via Smitten Kitchen)

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for pans
1/2 cup pecans, toasted over a medium low heat for about 5 minutes, until they smell fragrant
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whipped Cream, for serving

In a small pan, melt the butter and let it heat until it browns and smells nutty (about 10 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Strain out the brown bits and set aside to cool.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, cornmeal and salt in a large bowl.  In a food processor, pulse pecans, and both sugars until powdery.  Don’t over mix, otherwise it will become pasty.  Add to the flour mixture.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites and vanilla together, just to combine. Whisk this and the browned butter into the dry ingredients. Refrigerate batter overnight.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Thickly butter the sides of a 9-inch round tart pan.  Line the pan with parchment paper.  Pour batter into pan and spread to make sure that it has covered all sides.

Bake until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool 10 to 15 minutes in pan, then turn out on a rack.  Serve (warm, if you like – it’s delicious if you do) with whipped cream.


February 2, 2011

Picking the right dish to bring to a potluck can be very tricky.  I always want to bring something that not only tastes great, but is also outwardly spectacular.  The dish has to be striking enough for people to ask me for the recipe, but accessible enough for the other guests not to think that I went out of my way just to impress them.  And the entire time, I have to act cool about the whole thing.  It’s seriously such an extremely delicate balancing act!

You know what I’m talking about.  Or…do you?  …am I a potluck snob?

Regardless, bringing tiramisu will accomplish all of these potluck requirements.  Seriously.  Can you think of a classier dessert than tiramisu?  It has espresso and marscapone and shaved chocolate.  This dessert is practically screaming class!  A five star dessert that is surprisingly simple to throw together.  Honestly, it really did just take minutes to make!  Oh!  And it’s delicious.  All points accomplished!  Next stop, dinner party.

Tiramisu (minimally adapted from David Lebovitz)

1 cup prepared espresso, at room temperature
1/4 cup Kahlua, or any coffee flavored liqueur
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
8 oz. marscapone
14 ladyfingers
barred chocolate (to use to for shaving on top)

1. Mix together the espresso and Kahlua.

2. With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they begin to get stiff. Beat in half of the sugar until stiff. Scrape the egg whites into a small bowl.

3. In the same bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until stiff and light-colored.  Mix in the mascarpone until the mixture is smooth.

4. Fold in half of the beaten egg whites, then the remaining half, just until fully incorporated.

5. Place a spoonful of the marscapone mixture on the bottom of a standard loaf pan.

6. Dip each ladyfinger into the espresso mixture.  Really keep them in there and flip them until they are completely absorbed by the espresso liquid.  It will be delicious this way, believe me.  Place the ladyfingers in a single layer over the marscapone.

7. Place another spoonful of the marscapone mixture until the ladyfingers are covered.  Shave a generous amount of chocolate on top of the marscapone.

8. Repeat with remaining ladyfingers and cream.

9. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or at least for four hours.