I love the fall. I love the cold and the wonderful excuse it makes for me to crank the oven up and bake, or the way that cold also makes me think of nothing but soup for endless days. So, naturally this is something for both of those fall loves, baking and soup – because what’s a good soup without something warm and bready to dip into it? These pretzels started as an idea – germinating in the recesses of my brain as away to make yeast bread and maintain the deliciousness that is a fresh soft pretzel. I have made them time and again since they first showed up in the issue of Bon Appetit where I found them. And the soup – the soup is a symphony of tomato – it was the perfect late fall soup, especially with the plentiful amount of late summer tomatoes on the farmer’s market recently.
When childhood memories come up for me I usually see some sort of florescent mac and cheese or the time when I was 6 and made my mom Spaghetti-O’s for dinner, so the whole grilled cheese and tomato soup thing is just not something I ever ate as lunch on a cold fall Saturday. But here I was – friday night, clean kitchen, and tomato soup and grilled cheese were on my mind, so I morphed it. I created my favorite pretzels but riffed them with some cheap grated cheese stuffed in and roasted tomato soup – a little more decadent than Campbell’s but damn, that was divine. And while I am not usually a fan dipping my pretzels in anything but mustard, they were perfect in their cheese-filled goodness as something to dip in this soup.
I know I already talked about my love of soft-pretzels recently, but is there anything better, seriously? With their rich dark crust and that heady soft interior – it’s one of my favorite taste and texture combinations. And these ones are great because they are a little bit sweeter and darker than the average bear – something to do with brown sugar, and let’s face it brown sugar makes everything so-much-better. The tomato soup was a really wonderful set of flavors – dark, with the roasted flavor, but still so light as to marry brilliantly with this pretzel.
I won’t tell you that pretzels are an easy feat; they’re not – you need patience to make pretzels with the two risings and the par boiling in beer/baking soda/brown sugar but it’s totally worth it. So here you go – take the time to make these – you won’t regret it or feel like your Saturday was wasted. I promise.
Cheese Stuffed Pretzels and Roasted Tomato Soup
Note: These are superb together but don’t be afraid to make them separately. Also I’ve recently been thinking that the pretzels would be great with some sort of cream cheese filling. If you try it, let me know how it goes!
Roasted Tomato Soup
8 large tomatoes, cut into eighths (about 4 lbs)
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion quartered
1/2 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
Line tomatoes and onion on a large parchment paper lined baking sheet (cut side up) and drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until the tomatoes have started to caramelize. Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes. In a large pot, add a little more olive oil and sauté the garlic over med heat for 2-3 mins. Add the thyme and rosemary, and saute for another 30 secs or so. Add the roasted tomatoes and onion to the garlic and herb oil and stir it all together. Let the whole thing come to a simmer and, using an immersion blender, pulp it all together until it is smooth and even. If you don’t have an immersion blender, just let the soup cool and blend it in batches in either a blender or food processor. Serve warm, garnished with some fresh basil and grilled cheese (or cheese stuffed pretzels) on the side.
Adapted, fairly closely, from a recipe in Bon Apetit, March 2009
1/2 cup warm water (you should be able to hold a finger in it for about 5 secs and it should feel warm)
1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp packed dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
2 cups flour, if you have bread flour go ahead but All purpose is just fine
1 1/2 tsp salt, I used kosher
Oil, for the bowl and rising dough
2 Oz shredded cheese (cheddar is better, next time I’ll probably use fresh, grated, extra sharp cheddar)
Mix the yeast into the hot water and let it rest for about 5 minutes, until bubbles start to form and you get a nice “yeasty” (that’s a very technical term there, you see?) smell. Add your buttermilk and both sugars to the yeast mixture, mix well. In a large bowl, mix flour and salt together with a wooden spoon. Create a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the yeast mixture gently. Stir this in until fully combined (this is sometimes a little bit sticky). Oil the bottom and sides of a clean bowl and scrape your dough mixture into the bowl. Drizzle some oil on top of the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator to rise; about an hour, until it’s puffy and about half again as much.
1/4 cup amber beer (I used Shipyard Pumpkinhead but any amber would do – something like Magic Hat No. 9 is good)
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 Tbs vegetable oil
1-2 Tbs pretzel salt (for sprinkling post-poach)
Water to make the liquid 2 inches deep. Depending on the pot, this varies – the less water you need, the more flavorful your crust, but don’t skip it!
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bring the beer, water, baking soda, dark brown sugar, and vegetable oil to a simmer in a reasonably large wide pot – I use a soup pot which is great, but a dutch oven, if you have one, is a solid option here too. Remove the risen pretzels from the fridge and prepare to poach! I find it easiest to poach these knots using a slotted spoon and poaching one pretzel at a time. Place one pretzel gently in the bowl of the spoon and lower it into the liquid. Let it poach on each side for 30-45 seconds and then place it on a parchment lined baking sheet. Do this for all eight pretzels. Sprinkle cheese stuffed pretzels with more of the cheese filling, and regular pretzels with coarse or pretzel salt. Put them immediately in the oven! These can’t dawdle around on the counter while the oven preheats, the poaching liquid will seep in and cause the salt to melt resulting in a gummy pretzel (this is bad)! Bake the pretzels for 12-15 minutes in the middle of your oven, if your oven heats unevenly make sure you rotate the baking sheet or some of the bottoms will be burnt. Let the pretzels cool for 10 minutes (if you can) and enjoy. These are particularly good the next day!