January 27, 2015

Pretzel Nuggets with Beer Cheese Dip

Your superbowl snack menu is probably filling up by now, especially if you have plans to make some chorizo-stuffed poblanos or some bacon jalapeno poppers, but I think I can convince you to make one more dish: pretzel nuggets with a cheese dip infused with beer. Why this dish? Well, the Packers should have made it to the superbowl (and they would have if the overtime rules weren't so stupid), so we might as well recognize them in spirit with all things Wisconsin--namely cheese and beer and carbs. Betcha didn't think I knew much about football did you, Dad?

Even if you're a Seahawks fan, though, you can still enjoy these delicious little nuggets of happiness. Be warned: these will ruin you for mall pretzels, but they aren't too difficult to make and it's definitely possible to just make the pretzel rolls by themselves so you can munch on pure carbs when they start calling for you.

Pretzel dough is pretty similar to regular bread dough. You have to let the yeast activate in some warm water before you do anything else; I stir in a spoonful of sugar and sometimes a few pinches of flour to give them something to start feeding on so they foam more. After a few minutes, I start stirring in the flour and some melted butter as well as some salt, but I'm really careful to not put the salt directly on the yeast mixture since it can kill it. I then gradually add more flour until the dough pulls away from the bowl and isn't quite so sticky.

If you've made bread before, you know making the dough is only part of the ordeal. These pretzels have to proof twice: once as a cohesive lump of dough for an hour and then for 15 minutes as nuggets. However, pretzels have an extra step. You have to boil them in a baking soda solution, too. Boiling in general gives them that chewy texture that all good pretzels have, and the baking soda gives it that gorgeous mahogany sheen. It's the same thing as with caramelized onions: the baking soda makes the solution basic, which promotes Maillard reactions (browning). I like to use a deep, wide pot and cook them in batches because the nuggets do expand when they boil. I transfer them to a cookie tray and then arrange them in the skillet because it's just too difficult to manage a pretty dish and boiling nuggets of dough and everything else for this recipe.

Now for the cheese dip, which is what really makes this dish special. It couldn't be easier; it's all in one bowl and you can do it all by hand. The key for the simplicity is making sure your cream cheese is thoroughly softened to room temperature since you won't be able to mix it well if it's a cold brick. I start by whisking my spices and the beer together; it's easier to dissolve the spices in a liquid than it is to make sure they are evenly mixed through a glob of cheese. Anyway, I gradually stir the beer/spice mixture into the cream cheese (using a silicon spatula works best at the beginning and after a few splashes you can probably use a whisk). For the stringy gooey factor, I stir in about a cup of shredded cheese. You can use whatever kind you like best as long as it's a good melting cheese, so cheddar and monterrey jack are always good options.

Once all the components are finished, you can start assembling the dish. I like to use a big skillet, but a cake pan or even a baking dish would work equally well. I arrange the nuggets around the perimeter of the dish; depending on how big or small they are you can do one or multiple rings. I then pile the cheese mixture into the center of the dish and spread it so it almost touches the dough; the pretzels will expand and the cheese will melt to fill the gaps. To enhance the color and flavor of the pretzels, I brush them with egg wash and sprinkle them generously with coarse salt. For presentation purposes, I use food scissors to cut a small x onto each pretzel but that's totally optional. I'm sure people will be so into the game and so busy shoving these little bites into their mouths that no one will notice.

2 1/4 tsp Yeast
1 T Sugar
4 1/2 - 5 Cups Flour
1 tsp Salt
1/2 Stick Butter, Melted
1/4 Cup Baking Soda
1 Egg, Beaten
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1 Cup Shredded Cheese
1/2 Cup Beer
1/4 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Paprika
1/8 tsp Cayenne

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, sugar, and 1 1/2 cups warm water. Let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy. Using the dough hook, stir in the butter, 3 cups of flour, and the salt. Knead for 5 minutes, gradually adding the remaining flour as necessary until it's not too sticky.

Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour. Line cookie trays with parchment or silpats. Roll the dough into nuggets, place on the prepared trays, cover, and let rise for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Gradually stir in the baking soda. Boil the nuggets in batches for 1 minute per batch, stirring to flip often. Remove with a slotted spoon and place back on the trays.

Heat oven to 375F.

Whisk the beer, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne together. Gradually stir into the cream cheese, then add the shredded cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Grease a large skillet or cake pan. Arrange the nuggets around the edges; place any extras back on the cookie trays to bake separately. Pile the cheese dip in the middle of the skillet. Brush the pretzels with the egg and use food scissors or a sharp knife to cut an x in the center of each one. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and bake for 20 minutes or until the pretzels are brown and the cheese is bubbly.

Recipe Adapted from Host the Toast

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