Recipe: Soft Pretzel Buns, Brats, and Blue Cheese Slaw

A month or so ago, my boyfriend and I met up with one of his friends from law school and went to the downtown Memphis Farmers Market. On that beautiful sunny day, we played with shelter dogs out for a visit, noshed on food truck food, and filled up a bag each of goodies, including Nutella “Pop-Tarts,” fresh baked ciabatta, and jam. One of my finds that we were quite enthusiastic about was a package of beer-and-cheddar bratwurst from West Wind Farms. While I was dreaming up tasty sides for them (cole slaw, potato salad), John was dreaming up the perfect beer to pair with them, but there was one thing we both thought up that we knew we had to have with them: pretzel buns. Our favorite restaurant in Memphis, Hog & Hominy, has a house-made cheddar beef hotdog served in a homemade pretzel bun that we absolutely adore and I wanted to recreate that taste. After a little research online, I came across a recipe from Jeff Mauro, Food Network’s “Sandwich King,” and I figured, if he’s the king of sandwiches, he oughta know how to make a damn good pretzel bun. Well, these buns weren’t just good, they were phenomenal, and even after we’d had our meal of brats and buns, we’d toast up the leftover buns and eat them as a snack. A touch of honey adds sweetness to the bread, while garlic and little butter adds a salty element, and, when prepared properly, they’ve got that perfect shellacked outside and fluffy-chewy inside.

Pretzel buns

Yields: Approx. 8 buns

Prep. time: 20-30 minutes

Inactive time: Approx. 1 hour

Cook time: 15 minutes

 

Ingredients 

  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 small cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • Approx. 1/2 cup baking soda
  • Coarse salt for dusting pretzels

Directions

In a small pot, heat honey, brown sugar, water, and milk to 105*F to 110*F, then pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle packet of yeast over the liquid mixture and let sit for 10-15 minutes, until the yeast blooms.

In a separate pot, heat butter and garlic together over medium-low heat until butter is melted and garlic is fragrant.

Mix together the flours and add them to the bowl of the mixer with the yeasty mixture, then pour the butter and garlic mixture into the bowl and mix on medium speed until the mixture becomes smooth and elastic in texture and pulls away from the walls of the bowl, approx. 6-8 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat, like Silpat, or parchment paper (or other nonstick product). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Cut into 8 equal pieces, then roll each piece into a ball and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a dish cloth and let them rest in a warm place for 12 to 15 minutes (I left mine out on the counter in the kitchen).

After allowing the dough balls to rest and rise a bit, dust your work surface again and roll the 8 balls into logs about 6-7 inches long. Place back on the lined baking sheet, cover with the dish towel, and let rest in a warm spot for an additional 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425*F and place one oven rack high and the other one low. Line a second backing sheet with Silpat or parchment paper. In a large pot, bring approx. 8 cups of water to a boil, then add the baking soda. In batches of one pretzel at a time, drop a dough log in the water and cook on both sides each for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spatula, lightly dust the outside with coarse salt, place on one of the two baking sheets, and repeat until all of the logs have been dipped and salted. Cut three shallow diagonal slits in the top of each roll.  Bake for 10-13 minutes, rotating the pans between the top and bottom of the oven, until they are shiny brown and fully baked.

 

Brats & Slaw Serving Suggestion

Fully cooked brats can be cooked in a nonstick pan until crispy and browned on the outside and warmed through. To create the blue cheese slaw, blend a few tablespoons each of mayonnaise, sour cream, and blue cheese (or gorgonzola; use a creamier variety for easier blending) with a little salt and pepper. Toss with a prepackaged cole slaw blend (cabbage and carrots) until evenly coated. Serve the brats on pretzel buns topped with the slaw.

The bun, complete with beer-and-cheddar bratwurst and blue cheese cole slaw

The bun, complete with beer-and-cheddar bratwurst and blue cheese cole slaw

Cook’s Commentary

While this most certainly didn’t qualify for the “healthy” category we’ve been aiming for with our dinners lately, this meal was well worth it. The pretzels had that perfect chewy texture that you expect in a soft pretzel, with a little crunch from the coarse salt. The honey and garlic created a sweet-and-savory flavor that make these pretzels perfect with hotdogs, brats, or burgers (if you changed the bun shape), but would pair perfectly with a sweetened cream cheese spread or a dipping of cinnamon sugar. These pretzels are dynamite right out of the oven, but reheat quite well in a toaster oven (don’t cut them open, that way, you get a warm and crispy outside, while the inside still stays fluffy, chewy, and warm).

Recipe: Cheddar Biscuits

Ingredients

Biscuits

  • 2 1/2 cups Bisquick
  • 4 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sharp (yellow) cheddar cheese, shredded*
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • Dash of salt

*Better/higher quality cheese will yield better results. Sharp cheddars have more flavor, and full fat is also better.

Butter mixture for biscuit tops

  • 3 tbsp. salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 3/4 tsp. dried parsley flakes
  • Dash of paprika

Directions

Preheat oven to 400*F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet (with Pam or butter) or line the cookie sheet with parchment paper, then set aside. In a medium bowl, add together Bisquick and butter and use a pastry cutter (or fork) to cut the butter into the Bisquick—the butter should be broken up into pea-sized chunks through the Bisquick. Add the shredded cheese, milk, garlic powder, and dash of salt and gently mix together by hand—don’t over mix, because it will make the biscuits tough. Drop 1/4 cup portions of the dough onto the cookie sheet, being sure to keep each biscuit a few inches apart so they don’t expand into each other while baking. Bake for 11-13 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly golden brown. While the biscuits are baking, stir together the warm, melted butter with parsley flakes, garlic powder, and a dash of paprika. Brush the butter mixture onto the tops of the fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuits, and sprinkle with just a bit of salt, if necessary.

Yields: 1 dozen

Total cooking time: Approx. 20 minutes

Cheddar Biscuits

Cook’s Comments

When I was a kid, Red Lobster was a near-weekly dinner staple (along with Olive Garden and Max & Erma’s—clearly, we dined high class in small town 1990s Indiana). I loved getting a big ol’ batch of popcorn shrimp with a baked potato (I’d scrape all of the salt off the side of the potato, and let the butter from the potato pool on my plate so I could dip the shrimp into it); however, it was those fluffy, cheesy, garlicky Cheddar Bay Biscuits that really made my night. This recipe I shared here is pretty spot on and it’s very easy to make. Do yourself a favor and go whole hog on this—get a good, sharp cheddar cheese (I am actually quite fond of Cracker Barrel brand) and don’t try to cut calories with margarine or skim milk—your taste buds will thank you.

These biscuits are fluffy on the inside, slightly crunchy on the outside, and absolutely perfect fresh out of the oven, right after the luscious melted butter mixture has been brushed on (in fact, I’d argue that the butter on top is what actually really makes these shine).

Recipe: Fluffy, Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

A little while ago, I made these delicious peach cupcakes and used buttermilk as part of the cake recipe. That carton of buttermilk has been hanging out in the fridge since then, just begging me to figure out what else I can use it in. Well, I don’t know about you, but when I hear “buttermilk” I immediately think about buttermilk pancakes and buttermilk biscuits. I’ve got a pancake recipe that I love, but I’ve yet to try biscuits, so that’s what I made this afternoon, working off of Alton Brown’s recipe.

Yields: 12 (one dozen)
Prep. time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 15-20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tbsp. shortening (I used Crisco), chilled and cut into a few chunks
  • 2 tbsp. butter (unsalted or salted), chilled and cut into a few chunks
  • 1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Directions
Preheat the oven to 450*F. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the chunks of butter and shortening. Using either your hands or a dough/pastry blender (I recommend using the latter because it offers more consistency and you’ll create less heat than if using your hands), rub/cut the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks crumb-like and the pieces of butter and shortening are pea-sized or smaller (do this quickly, as you do not want to let the butter and shortening melt at all). Make a well in the middle of the mixture, pour in the buttermilk, and stir until the mixture is just combined. Place the dough on a floured surface, put a little flour on the dough and on your hands, and gently knead the dough/fold it over on itself 5-7 times (don’t work it too much because it will make the dough tough). Press the dough ball into a 1-inch thick round and use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits, being sure to press straight down into the dough as you cut. Take the scraps and form them into another 1-inch thick round and cut out remaining biscuits (work these pieces as little as possible, because, as I said, the more you mess with them, the tougher the finished biscuits will be). Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until they are tall and lightly golden-brown on top (about 15 minutes). 
Whether you spread jam on them, drizzle them with honey, or smother them with sausage gravy, these biscuits are sure to please. Buttery, fluffy, and flaky, they’re perfect for breakfast or a light snack (especially when they’re hot out of the oven).