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).

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Recipe: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

When I was a little girl, my Grandma Nan and Opa (grandpa) lived in a small home in southern Pennsylvania, with a swimming pool and vegetable garden out back and an old weeping willow out front. My cousins and I would spend days there in the summertime, playing “mermaids” in the pool and helping my Opa pick raspberries and dig up potatoes. During these warm months, my grandma would always make homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie—buttery crust dusted with sugar, filled with sweet-and-tangy fruit filling. At the moment, I have no idea where her recipe has disappeared to, but the other day, as I was huddled in my apartment, dealing with a late winter sleet storm here in Memphis, I thought about that pie, and warm weather, and sunshine and I’ve been craving that pie ever since. I found this recipe on Food Network’s website and the title “Grandma’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie” pulled me in. This recipe combines sour rhubarb, sweet ripe strawberries, tangy lemon juice, spicy cinnamon, and lots of sugar to create a rich fruit filling.

 

Makes: 1, 10 inch pie

Prep. time: 20-30 minutes

Baking time: 1 hour

Difficulty: Easy

 

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for dusting and rolling the dough (approx. 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup cake flour*
  • 3 tsp. powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup (butter-flavored) shortening, like Crisco
  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp. vinegar
  • 1/4 cup ice cold water

*You can make cake flour with regular flour if you don’t have cake flour on hand. For every 1 cup of all-purpose flour, removed 2 tbsp. flour and replace with 2 tbsp. cornstarch. Sift well to blend.

For the filling

  • 2&1/2 cups fresh red rhubarb, chopped
  • 2&1/2 cups ripe strawberries, de-stemmed, washed, and cut into halves or quarters
  • 1&1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. minute tapioca
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp. water, for egg wash
  • Large granule sugar, for dusting the crust
The fruit filling mixture; the filling in the pie crust, topped with butter; the pie in the oven; the pie right out of the oven

The fruit filling mixture; the filling in the pie crust, topped with butter; the pie in the oven; the pie right out of the oven

Directions

For the crust

Cut the butter and shortening into the flours, sugar, and salt with a pastry blender. Whisk the egg, vinegar, and cold water in a bowl or measuring cup and pour over the dry ingredients, then gently blend by hand to combine—do not overwork the dough or it will become tough. Shape the dough into two equal-sized balls, wrap separately in saran wrap or wax paper, and chill in the fridge for a few minutes. Remove one dough ball from the fridge, roll it out to fit the pie pan, then place it into the pie dish and return to the fridge to chill.

For the filling

Preheat the oven to 425* F. Add the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, tapioca, flour, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon, and vanilla to a large bowl. Mix well and and pour out into chilled pie crust in the pie pan, then dot the top of the filling evenly with the butter cubes. Brush the edges of pie crust with egg wash. Roll out the other piece of dough and place over filling, then crimp to seal the edges. Brush the whole top of the pie with egg wash and sprinkle with large granule sugar. Wrap the edges of the pie crust with foil to prevent burning and bake at 425* F for 15 minutes. Decrease temperature to 375* F and bake for an additional 40 to 50 minutes, or until the filling starts bubbling and the pie crust is golden brown. Remove from oven when done and cool before serving. Great with vanilla ice cream!

My boyfriend and I were too eager to wait for the pie to cool properly, so we made a bit of a mess. :)

My boyfriend and I were too eager to wait for the pie to cool properly, so we made a bit of a mess. 🙂

Cook’s Commentary

This variation of strawberry-rhubarb pie has a unique blend of flavors that makes it a big winner in my books. Strawberries add their sweetness, while rhubarb adds a tangy-sour flavor, but then you get this pop of brightness from the lemon juice and zest and warmth from the cinnamon and vanilla. Flaky buttery crust is perfect with this sweet, gooey filling. Be sure to be patient and let it cool completely before cutting into it, otherwise you’ll get the fruity mess that you see in the picture above (totally tasty and worth it though!). It’s not my Grandma Nan’s recipe, but it’s pretty damn good and I’ll definitely be making it again once summer arrives.