Rye Pretzels

Rye pretzels

It takes very little to send me into an obsessive recipe-research mode. Last week, I started thinking about soft pretzels (and then rye pretzels and then rye pretzels with caraway seeds) and, after discovering that none of my bread-focused cookbooks cover them in sufficient detail, was trying to learn all the things the internet wanted to tell me. I promptly came to an impasse – to lye or not to lye?

Rye pretzels

Traditional soft pretzels are treated before baking with a lye or baking soda bath, which gives them their distinctive flavor and texture through a Maillard reaction. Lye is said to produce the darkest, crackliest, pretzeliest pretzels. But many recipes substitute baking soda as a milder, alternative alkali because lye has to be handled with care – gloves and goggles come recommended — to avoid chemical burns.

In the end, my impatience made the decision for me. Getting food-grade lye was going to take a week or more. Baking soda was already waiting in the kitchen.

Rye pretzels

So I got to work kneading and shaping. The dough came together quickly and was easy to roll out and shape. I didn’t need additional flour to prevent sticking. The boiling baking soda bath was quicker and easier than I’d expected. The pretzels poached for 30 seconds per side, drained briefly on a kitchen towel, and then needed only a sprinkle of flaky sea salt before baking. I topped half of my pretzels with caraway seeds, which are traditional in rye breads and I highly recommend.

Maybe my pretzel standards aren’t as high as they should be, but I was thrilled at the result. These rye pretzels have the perfect chew and pretzel flavor. I’m already dreaming of more pretzels — stuffed pretzel bites, sourdough pretzel sticks — and possibly some bagel experiments, given my new enthusiasm for poaching dough.

Rye pretzels

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Checking In, Part 1

Japanese Milke Bread with Benne Seed Butter at Rose's Luxury

We’re more than halfway through January – a little late for resolutions – but I’ve been thinking that I need to start cooking more at home. In my former life as a communications consultant, I would spend most of my “mental breaks” sitting at my desk reading about food (and as all my coworkers knew, I took a lot of those breaks). I never had a problem coming up with ideas for dinner that night and would head into the kitchen to take stock of the pantry as soon as I got home. I went out a good deal, too, but I was cooking dinner at least three times a week.

Now when I get home from the restaurant, I tend to want to sit down. And once I sit down, standing in the kitchen and waiting for inspiration to strike seems rather unappealing. I’ve been standing and thinking about food for about 10 hours already and I’m not really into it.

I’ve never been great with planning meals for the week (real talk: my food shopping strategy is grabbing whatever looks good) and I generally like coming up with a meal based on what I have on hand. So, I’m going to need to shop smarter to ensure I can have some components of meals prepped for the week in addition to making sure I have a well-stocked vegetable drawer.

As part of getting the new Japanese milk bread (pictured above) on the menu last week, we had to work out a recipe for the whipped honey and benne seed butter that would accompany it. I was tasting butter all day on Monday. Tiny spoonful after tiny spoonful. All. Day. After that, I was ready to EAT ALL THE VEGETABLES.

I’m having three very January cravings right now: brothy soups, hearty salads, and avocado toast. The last one is the easiest since I really only need to remember to get bread and avocados. Here’s some of my inspiration for dinners this week:

 

Cinnamon Swirl Challah

Cinnamon Swirl Challah

I make a lot of bread at work. It started off slowly, when I’d help another cook with the 160 mini-loaves of challah that needed to be ready to go to every table for dinner service. Then, I started making brioche once a week – it’s then frozen and used a few loaves at a… 

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Spiced Chocolate Cranberry Cake

Spiced Chocolate Cranberry Cake

Last year, I bought quite a few bags of fresh cranberries over the course of the season. Some became cranberry sauce, but I also hoped to find some interesting, new-to-me takes on the seasonal berry. I experimented with candying and a maple-sweetened pie. They weren’t bad, but I when I picked up my first bag… 

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Apricot Glazed Salmon with Pomegranate-Scallion Relish

Apricot-Glazed Salmon with Pomegranate-Scallion Relish

Every three weeks or so, a group of my friends get together for a themed potluck dinner. Our first dinner was over a year ago and mainly engineered to take advantage of a friend’s spacious and well-appointed backyard. By number three, we were in a rhythm and just kept scheduling through the winter, despite moving… 

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Chocolate-Cherry Chess Pie Bars

Chocolate-Cherry Chess Pie Bars

Some recipes take a lot of tinkering before I get them right. Others never quite turn out at all and, for the purposes of this blog, are abandoned. Some ideas get scribbled down and then never go anywhere. Even in my day-to-day cooking, I tend to try new variations rather than stick to favorite recipes…. 

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Scallion-Ginger-Sesame Sauce (to put on everything)

Scallion-Ginger-Sesame Sauce (to put on everything)

I’m still getting used to my new work routine. I started biking this week, which is faster (and better for me) than taking the bus, but I still leave earlier and get home later. There’s lots of food for snacking at work, which means I don’t eat as many real meals. Every day, there are… 

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