This recipe is a tribute to my favorite brewpub, The Alchemist of Waterbury, Vermont. At the end of August, when tropical storm Irene flooded downtown Waterbury, water inundated their building destroying everything inside. Thankfully, they plan to rebuild and open this winter. One of my favorite menu items is their platter of bread pretzel pieces served with a fondue of beer and cheese. I don’t have their recipe, but I wanted create one using their Heady Topper IPA, now available in cans, in the dip. The extra hoppy flavors of this ale sing a duet with the earthy, herbal qualities of Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar.
A perfect Sunday afternoon snack to enjoy while watching football on TV, Hockey Night in Canada, or any time you get together with friends: chewy bread pretzels to break and dip into a warm sauce of sharp Cheddar and hoppy India Pale Ale. Malt powder adds qualities to both the crumb and the crust of pretzels. Plunging them in a high pH solution before baking gives them the snap and coloring you want in a bread pretzel. The kind of malt powder required (diastatic) is available at beer brewing or baking provision stores. These pretzels are as much fun to make as they are to eat.
Ingredients: 6 Pretzels
1 pkt dried yeast (2¼ tsp) (21 g)
1 tsp malt powder (5 mL) (substitute 1 tsp brown sugar)
¼ cup warm water (60 mL)
2 cups plus 6 Tbsp all-purpose flour (280 g)
¾ cup warm milk (180 ml)
1 tsp salt (5 mL)
1 egg, beaten with 1Tbsp water (15 mL)
Coarse sea salt to sprinkle on pretzels
Solution for Dipping Pretzels
2 qt water (2 L)
½ cup washing soda (125 g) *see note for explanation
Ingredients: Warm IPA Cheddar Dip
8 oz India Pale Ale (240 mL)
8 oz grated seriously sharp Cheddar (230 g)
4 tsp cornstarch (20 mL)
1 tsp Dijon mustard (5 mL)
Preparation: Washing Soda
Making your own washing soda is a simple and easy. It is a secret ingredient that will give your pretzels the desired snap, crust, and color. I know that most people don’t have lye kicking around the pantry, nor do they have washing soda unless they’re washing a lot of cloth diapers, but everyone has baking soda. It’s easy to make washing soda.
If you recall your high school chemistry, a neutral pH is 7, numbers below 7 quantify levels of acidity and numbers above describe how base a solution is. Baking soda has a pH of 8.1, washing soda has a pH of 11, lye has a pH of 14. The only difference between baking soda and washing soda is that washing soda has gone through a further process to raise the pH.
I made this batch in the toaster oven while the pretzel dough was rising. All you have to do is spread the baking soda on a sheet of foil laid out on a baking sheet, and bake for an hour at 275° F (135° C). This will make the baking soda more caustic, so you don’t want to handle it with your bare hands. Pick up the foil by the edges and dump it into a shallow pot filled with warm tap water. Stir to dissolve, and let it sit for a while, it doesn’t dissolve as quickly as baking soda.
In a small bowl, mix together the yeast, malt powder and ¼ cup (10 mL) warm water. Leave in a warm place to get foamy while you measure the ingredients.
Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl; stir to combine well. Microwave the milk for 20 seconds to make it just over skin temperature. Add the milk and yeast mixture to the flour and work into a smooth dough. Knead this for at least 5 minutes. It should be neither dry nor sticky, but a very pliable, workable consistency. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about an hour.
Prepare a sheet pan by spraying with vegetable oil. Punch down the dough, and roll into a log. Cut into 6 equal pieces; this is easiest to gauge if you cut it in half first, and then portion each half into 3 pieces. Lightly dust a counter top with flour and roll a piece into a rope about 2 feet long (60 cm). It will be as big around as your index finger. The finished pretzel will be twice that thickness.
Preheat oven to 400° F (205°)
Now comes the fun part. Grab each end of the dough and bring it into a circle. Crisscross the ends, and crisscross them again. Bring the ends down onto the front part of the circle and press the ends into the dough with your thumbs. You now have the classic pretzel shape. Line up the pretzels on a lightly floured counter. Repeat this process with the remaining pretzels.
Put two quarts (2 L) of warm tap water and the washing soda in a wide-mouth pot—a fairly shallow one is easiest to use. Stir and let it rest to ensure the washing soda is dissolved. Use a wide spatula to pick up the pretzels and immerse in the magic potion for 15 seconds. Remove from the water, and place on a sheet pan that has been sprayed with vegetable oil. Leave room between the pretzels to allow for expansion while baking.
Brush the pretzels with a light coating of the egg beaten with water. Sprinkle the pretzels with coarse sea salt, and bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes. They will be beautifully brown and shiny when done.
Preparation: Cheddar IPA Dipping Sauce
Put the cornstarch in a small bowl, and add 2 tablespoons of the beer, and stir into a paste. Put the rest of the beer in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce to a simmer and stir in the cornstarch paste. When the mixture has thickened remove from the heat. Add the grated cheese and stir until melted; when it is smooth, stir in the mustard. Pour the mixture into a warm bowl and serve. It’s easiest to make the sauce ahead of time, and reheat when needed. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap and microwave till warm.
Surround the sauce with pretzels so people can break them and dip into the sauce, or cut the pretzels into bite-sized portions and put next to the sauce.