Continuing on with the March/Irish theme this month, I had a short train of thought that led me to my next baking idea.  Of course, March means St. Paddy's Day.  Which means beer.  And what goes perfectly with beer?  Soft pretzels!  So I decided to tackle the mild challenge of making homemade soft pretzels.  Let me tell you, they are delicious!  Paired with a beer cheese sauce, well what could be better?

Soft Pretzels (from Alton Brown)
Makes 8 pretzels

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt (I just used kosher salt - tastes the same!)
1. Bring water up to a temperature between 100-115 degrees (no more or it will kill the yeast).  Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. 
2. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. 
3. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. 
4. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. 
5. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size. (Try putting it in the oven with the oven off but the oven light on)
6. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees 
7. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
8. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.  (I reduced it to 5 cups of water and 1/3 cups baking soda)
9. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. 
10. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.
11. Place the pretzels into the boiling water, one at a time, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. 
12. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. 
13. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. 
14. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Beer Cheese (modified from The Curvy Carrot)

Ingredients
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups beer (whatever you have or taste you want)
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch nutmeg
2-3 cups cheddar cheese, grated (I used a sharp cheddar and a cheddar/pepperjack blend for an added kick)

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.
2. Add the chopped onion and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
3. Add a pinch of salt and the flour, stirring to coat the onions completely, and cook, stirring constantly for about 3-4 minutes.
4. Slowly add the beer to the roux, whisking constantly.
5. Next, slowly add the heavy cream, again, whisking constantly and breaking up any clumps of flour that may have formed.
6. Bring the mixture to a gently simmer, and add the cloves and nutmeg, and cook, whisking occasionally, for about 30 minutes.
7. Remove the sauce from the heat and slowly whisk in the grated cheese, adjusting the amount of cheese to your desired taste and thickness.

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