The Pretzels that Weren’t

If you ever get me talking about my neighbors, you’ll inevitably hear the story about the time the gentleman across the street told implied that Nick and I didn’t deserve to live in the neighborhood and maybe we ought to move back to Chicago.  When I tell this story, it always concludes with me sharing my utter confusion at such bald rudeness.  I’m Southern.  When we don’t like our neighbors, we go about being nasty to them entirely differently.  That was one of the few moments of genuine culture-shock I’ve ever had.

In the last couple months, we’ve acquired new neighbors.  One house just around the corner and another just up the street have been sold and the new people have moved in.  I was determined to make sure relations with these new neighbors took a more Southern approach.  I mean, sure, passive-aggressively calling the cops is a perfectly valid way to open channels of communication, I suppose.  Me, I’d rather use cookies.

So it was that the next recipe out of the Individual Pastry chapter was the “Brandy Pretzel.”  The recipe itself looked fairly straightforward, but came with technique requirements that would force me to stretch my skills and make the recipe worth playing with.  Plus, the yield was big enough on the recipe that I could give batches to both sets of new neighbors, and have leftovers for Crit group and pleasing the roommates.  Everybody wins.

The base recipe was basically just a sugar cookie dough with brandy added.  The hardest part was remembering to take out the butter in time for it to be soft when I was ready to make the dough.  Popping it into the microwave is always an option if you screw up, but it’s not quite the same, the outside getting meltier and the inside staying harder.  It did occur to me that since the first step of the recipe was to slap the soft butter into the mixing bowl, I could have done that while it was hard, making portioning partial sticks easier and leaving less residue on the wrappers.  Details like that are what experience is good for.

The recipe then described a complicated technique for portioning out the dough.  Divide it into four 9 oz portions.  Roll each portion into 8 inch logs.  Cut each log into eighteen pieces.  Turn each piece into a cookie.  I read through that a couple times, started to follow the instructions, then got lazy.  “So each cookie needs half an ounce of dough?” I said to myself.  “Let’s just do that.”  This was, perhaps, particularly clever since portioning eight inches into eighteen cookies is rather challenging to my visu-spatial acuity.  (I have none)

Now it’s time to cue the part where I bitch about the recipe.  There’s a note to, “Chill the dough if it is too hard to work with.”  This is common so I thought nothing of it, and happily tucked the dough into the fridge for twenty minutes when it was being ornery with me.  Then I put it in for a little while longer, because it still wasn’t cooperating.  Then it took a brief trip to the freezer, because I was impatient and the dough had to chill into compliance eventually, right?  Right?

No.

You’ll note a learning curve as the cookies go across the tray.  I started with the one in the upper left.  The bottom right was the last of this tray that I shaped.  Part of the learning curve was definitely me.  I’ve never made pretzel-shaped things before, so getting the dough to twist into the right shape was not immediately intuitive to me.  The more important element, though, was that the chilled dough would break, rather than bend, or just plain fall apart as you rolled it.  This got better the longer I worked, because the dough warmed up, and I started to figure out the relationship between squishy dough and, you know, it behaving.  Chilling the dough?  Absolutely the wrong thing to do to make it behave.  Thanks, Professional Pastry Chef, for once again being full of useful tips.

I did learn things.  By the time I was done, my pretzel cookies were reliably looking like pretzels.

Tricks I learned:

1) Warm up the ball of dough in your hands until it’s pliable

2) Start to roll it out between your palms, but stop before it gets long enough to go all the way across them.

3) Roll on the counter with the heels of your hands.  Fingers make the dough roll out in a very un-useful blorpular fashion.

4) Really do make sure it tapers at the ends.  Having the dough get thicker at the ends makes the cookies look weird.

Once all the cookies were baked, the next step was to dip them in chocolate.  I’ll confess, this is the point where I bailed on any pretensions of elegance or really caring about the presentation of the cookies.  Several of them were definitely the right shape, but I didn’t have enough really good ones for even one batch to go to the neighbors.  Also, it’s really hot.  Really, really hot.  I am disinclined to spend lots of time fiddling over the stove tempering chocolate when I could just be done.  So I didn’t temper the chocolate.  I didn’t leave the house to go buy pre-tempered chocolate, either as that would have entailed going outside.  That’s not safe; somebody let the sun out.

That’s me melting chocolate in a non-burny fashion.  I then very gracefully pressed each cookie into the melted chocolate, and put it on a cooling rack for the chocolate to harden.

I’m not going to lie; these cookies are far from beautiful.  They are, however, tasty.  And just as soon as the new neighbors are actually home when I knock on their door, they’ll agree with me.

Next time, eclairs…

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