Bavarian Pretzels and Beer Cheese Sauce

For us, one of the simplest and most satisfying snacks for the cold months remains the freshly baked soft pretzel with a beer sauce. Of course these have been appearing on every gastropub and craft beer bar menu for the last few years now, but we’ve never taken the plunge to make our own. In Milwaukee, the best options while out on the town are always house-baked when available or the “Bavarian Beast” from Milwaukee Pretzel Company, who gives us a good working definition on their website of what we enjoy most in a soft pretzel:

 Unlike their American counterpart, Bavarian pretzels pack a denser, chewier inside and a darker, crispier outside. And there’s a certain “tang” to the Bavarian-style pretzel that sets it apart from other soft pretzels. But best of all, it doesn’t need to be dipped in cheese or drenched in butter to taste delicious! We even suggest eating them at room temperature – just like the Germans do. (Of course, the true German way would be with a dash of mustard and a nice, cold Weiss beer!)

A still-chilly spring week-end with the sun shining, seemed like a fine time to try our hand at creating these tasty morsels ourselves.

Pretzel

Soft Pretzels with Maibock Cheese Sauce

1 cup warm water
1 package yeast (2¼ tsp)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbs melted butter
1 Tbs sugar
½ tsp salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine ½ cup of the warm water and yeast, allow to dissolve for five minutes. Add flour, butter, sugar, salt. Mix while gradually adding remaining water to create a moist, but not sticky dough. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth. Place in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap to allow to rise to double in volume (1 to 2 hours).

Remove from bowl and place on silicone mat or lightly oiled sheet pan. Divide into 12 pieces and roll out each into a 18 inch long rope, then form a pretzel and place on another lightly oiled sheet pan. The dough has the melted butter so it should be easy to manipulate without any additional flour. There is a technique to twisting the rope into a pretzel, but you can simply form it into a pretzel, which is what we did. Cover pretzel and allow to rise again for another 30 minutes. Heat oven to 400º F. In a big pot, bring 8 cups of water and 2 heaping tablespoons to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Slide a pretzel into the pot and allow to simmer for 30 seconds each side, then place back on oiled sheet pan. Repeat for all pretzels. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. These are delicious on there own, but we served them with a beer cheese sauce which we adapted from Joy of Cooking, which makes the notable addition of blue cheese to kick up that cheese flavor and cream cheese to enhance the smoothness.

Maibock Beer Cheese Sauce

1 cup Maibock Beer (see note)
1 Tbs corn starch
1 Tbs cold water
2 cups grated aged cheddar
1 ounce cream cheese
1 ounce blue cheese
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard

Note: We made this version with Lakefront Brewery’s Maibock as an homage to spring. You can read a bit more about Maibock as a style here. We’ve made this with a nice malty amber or a simple pilsner. As the basic ingredients are the cheddar and the beer, give some thought to how the flavors might marry.

Bring the beer to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Mix the cornstarch with the water and slowly stir into the beer. the mixture will thicken in a minute or two. Then stir in the remaining ingredients until melted and smooth. Serve with pretzels.

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Restaurant – Honeypie, Milwaukee, WI

Bay View is in many ways a quintessentially Milwaukee neighborhood. Within a year of the opening of The Milwaukee Iron Company in 1868, the village of grew as a company town around the steel mill. According to the Bay View Historical Society, “Cottages erected for mill workers became the center of the village. Many of these cottages are still occupied today and are a part of the diverse architecture of the Bay View neighborhood.”

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The neighborhood borders Lake Michigan and the factories shown billowing smoke in the picture above have long ago been replaced with far more modern industry. Portions of the neighborhood fell into disrepair beginning in the 1970s as the entire Midwest began to adjust to the changes in heavy industry, but a recent resurgence of the neighborhood has been lead by chef-led restaurants, craft beer bars and craft brewers. Thankfully, much of the architectural identity of the area has not only been retained, but highlighted.

One of the early chef-led restaurants in the area was Honeypie. Long a personal favorite for lunch, we recently returned for dinner and were reminded of the reasons we love this place. The description offered on their own site captures many of the key ideas we treasure in Great Lakes Cuisine:

Honeypie was opened in 2009 and from the very beginning our goal has been to make great, Midwestern-inspired food from scratch. From our pickles to our pie crust we believe that good food is rooted in the way our grandparents used to cook. Real food made by hand with real ingredients. We use as many local meats, produce and other ingredients as we can. In fact, the majority of our ingredients at Honeypie are sourced from Wisconsin.

Local, scratch-made, inspired by generations of culinary traditions – these are many of the elements in our definition of Great Lakes Cuisine. What their self-description does not capture is the inspired innovations they also bring to their menu. Our dinner consisted of the following:

 

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Pork Fries – thin cut french fried potatoes topped with succulent shredded pork, a decadently rich and creamy cheese sauce, and green onions.

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Mac & Cheese – Just because we can never get enough of that decadently creamy cheese sauce, we went with bacon topped macaroni.

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Hot Brown – Thick sliced toast is topped with sliced turkey and then loaded with a mushroom cream sauce and topped with dressed arugula. More an open faced turkey sandwich than the classic Louisville Hot Brown, but still comfort food in the very best sense.

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Burger – A return of the fries, but this time as the side show to the main attraction, a burger of Wisconsin grass fed brisket, fresh ground, topped with cheese, bacon, and a dripping sunny side up egg. Impossible to eat with any delicacy, it’s so good you will end up just mopping up bits of goodness with the house made, brioche bun.

More recent menu offerings have included the Cornish Pasty, house-made pretzels with aged-cheddar beer cheese sauce, and chicken pot pie. All items we have featured here as well. They also serve a wide array of award-winning pies, so keep that in mind as you order.

The menu at Honeypie definitely brings a fair amount of global fusion, and it seems that same sense of culinary adventure infuses even their local offerings, which fits them into our vision of Great Lakes Cuisine. Much like the Bayview neighborhood, the cuisine of Honeypie has adapted to new flavors and new approaches with out loosing the character of long-standing traditions from the area.

Red Cabbage Slaw with Hot Bacon Dressing

A couple years back we wrote about our love for red cabbage served rotkohl-style which, as part of our Bavarian heritage, finds its way to some of our Thanksgiving tables. Traditional rotkohl brings a welcome sweet and sour contrast to rich, fatty meats, but this time around we wanted to make something a bit different. Our approach was to soak the red cabbage overnight in malt vinegar, then drain and top with a variation of a hot bacon dressing. Many of the same elements as rotkohl are coming into play, but soaking the cabbage rather than cooking, leads to a crisper end result and a bit of contrast between cabbage and dressing.

Red Cabbage Slaw with Hot Bacon Dressing
1 small head red cabbage, quartered, cored and sliced thin
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and grated
1 cup vinegar (see note)

4 slices smoked thick sliced bacon (Nueske’s is a great choice)
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
8 whole peppercorns
8 whole juniper berries
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbs. brown sugar

Note: We have been using house fermented malt vinegar in many of our recipes for the last few years. A quality apple cider vinegar, such as Bragg’s Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, will do just fine and is more widely available, but adding a dash of your favorite Oktoberfest beer wouldn’t hurt.

Combine the cabbage and grated apple in a small, non-reactive container and cover with vinegar. Allow to steep for at least one hour or as long as overnight, tossing occasionally to ensure even soaking.

After soaking period, strain the cabbage and save the soaking liquid in a glass bowl. Dice the bacon and place it into a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the spices and stir frequently until the bacon is crisp. [That may look more like 20 juniper berries, but you gotta use your own discretion on this one.]

red-cabbage

Strain bacon and spices and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan. Add 1 cup of the soaking liquid to the pan slowly, while stirring. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Reduce by half, then add sugar and stir until dissolved. While mixture reduces, remove spices from bacon and discard. Add the crisped bacon to the drained cabbage and top with the warm bacon fat dressing. Serve immediately.

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This is an ideal accompaniment for a rich fatty dish, such as a sauerbraten, but can also work nicely with the dark meat of a smoked turkey.

Potage Colcannon – Potato Leek Kale Soup

The bounty of the farmers’ market created the inspiration of a Pottage Parmentier meets Colcannon – a potato leek soup with the addition of garlic sautéed cabbage. Potato leek soup served cold and topped with cream and chives is most often known as vichyssoise, but the classic warm soup owes it’s name to Antoine-Augustin Parmetier, who reportedly popularized the potato in Europe after it was brought back to the Old World from the New by the Spanish. I love potato. Parmentier may become my patron saint.

The French were slow to adopt the potato, seen at the time of introduction as peasant food, or even worse, animal fodder. The Irish took to the tuber a bit more readily and one of the classic dishes of the Emerald Isle is colcannon, which is basically mashed potatoes with onions, cream, and cabbage added. We were inspired by some beautiful kale (which basically is just a cabbage variety), leeks, and a selection of fingerling and traditional potatoes.

potato

Potato Leek and Kale Soup

2 cups fingerling potatoes, large dice
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
4 Tbs vegetable oil
4 tsp sea salt

4 leeks, minced (see directions)
2 quarts vegetable broth
8 medium potatoes, peeled and thin sliced
1 pint heavy cream (or almond milk)

6 leaves kale, or enough to yield 2 cups chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss fingerlings potatoes with thyme, 1 Tbs oil, and 2 tsp salt and spread on a sheet pan. Roast for about one hour, or until browned and crisp in the exterior and still soft internally. While potatoes roast, proceed to make soup.

Wash the leeks and thinly slice the lower eight inches, which is mostly white. The remaining greens can be saved for other uses. The slices should then be further chopped fine or processed in a food processor until finely chopped. Place 2 Tbs oil in a large soup pot over medium heat on the stovetop, add the leeks and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Stir until softened but not browned, about 20 minutes.

Add broth and sliced potatoes. Cook until potatoes are softened, about another 20 minutes once broth comes to a boil. Add cream and just heat through. Do not overcook the cream or it will separate and   Puree until smooth and set aside.

While soup comes to a boil, slice kale into 1/2 inch pieces and rinse then drain well (a salad spinner works well). In a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 Tbs oil and minced garlic. Cook until beginning to brown and very fragrant. Add kale, sprinkle with remaining 2 tsp salt and toss well. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes. Cook times will vary depending on the variety of kale, but the result should be softened and yet retaining some structure. The result should be along these lines:

potato3

Gather the roasted potatoes into a pile and top with cheese, then melt cheese until just browned under the broiler. We used a dill and garlic cheddar cheese curd. There are many great uses for Cheese Curds, but it turns out this wasn’t one of them. We should have gone with some grated white cheddar or similar strong, melting cheese, because the curds retain some of their spongy texture even when melted, which was not ideal in this application. But it looked pretty awesome:

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We served our soup with a healthy pile of kale in the center and then topped with our crispy roasted potatoes and cheese. The smooth, rich flavors of the potato created a wonderful vehicle for the garlicky kale. Our fingerling potatoes were a stand-in for croutons. We’ve done grilled cheese croutons before in our tomato soup, which would have worked here as well.

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Playing with our ethnic traditions, local farm-grown products, and giving it a new twist is right in line with our definition of Great Lakes Cuisine. It was also a lovely, warming autumn meal. Thank you St. Parmentier.

Cheese Tasting – Fall 2016

The Dane County Farmers’ Market in Madison, WI, is a treasure trove of culinary delights. Madison may just be the perfect place for a farmers’ market – centrally located for local farmers, a populous which appreciates locally harvested, organic foods, and a setting on the Capitol Square. For those of you who have not had the pleasure to visit Madison, the Wisconsin state capitol building is a classically beautiful, white granite clad structure, topped by the largest granite dome in the world, located in the center of an isthmus created by two pristine lakes, surrounded by lawns, walkways, and sculptures. The greater area around Madison includes the Driftless region, an area untouched by glacial flows, which boasts many farms and more than a dozen artisan cheesemakers. The setting helps explain why the Dane County Farmers’ Market is the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country. The farmers, bakers, cheese-makers are likely to be the one behind the table, handing you your new favorite culinary discovery.

capitol_exterior
Photo credit: Wisconsin.Gov

A recent trip produced more than the usual number of treats, but the highlight was a few offerings from Bleu Mont Dairy. Willi Lehner has received many national accolades for his bandaged cheddar, made from locally produced milk, wrapped and smeared with lard, then aged on cedar shelves in a cave he built into the hillside. This is old-school cheese making folks. And he can also yodel like a boss.

Willi Lehner Yodels at American Cheese Society from Colleen | GlassBottle on Vimeo.

We selected the sheep milk Tomme and Alpine Renegade. The Tomme is an Alpine style, but with sheep milk in this variety rather than the more traditional cow milk. According to Steve Jenkins’ Cheese Primer, the term is an ancient word which meant “chunk” or “round”. Basically, the washed rind makes the Tomme look like a small boulder as it ages. Alpine Renegade won top honors in the American originals open-category at the 2013 American Cheese Society awards and is classic alpine-style, washed rind, cow’s milk cheese. Take a look at the beautiful color and texture of this offering –

cheese-plate-fall-2016a

Our cheese plate also included a hearty Five Grain Sourdough bread from Madison Sourdough, slices of apple, and a quick apple chutney. The apple, a golden russet variety from the market called Ashmead Kernel, has a texture which veers toward Asian Pear and a tartness which mellows out to a honey sweetness. The apple chutney was prepared with onions caramelized with thyme, unsweetened cranberries from Honestly Cranberry, several varieties of apple and a dash of cinnamon and cloves.

 

cheese-plate-fall-2016

The Tomme starts with a toasted bread aroma and blends into the grassy/herbaceous/dry straw nuances of sheep milk but a more caramelized finish than many sheep milk cheeses we’ve enjoyed. The texture of the Alpine Renegade is smooth with small holes rather than grainy and the flavor strikes me as starting with cooked milk solids (you know those bits of cheddar that ooze out of the grilled cheese and get crunchy in the pan? Like those smell) and then melts into a wonderfully funky and long lasting finish. This Renegade is no wilting flower, providing a lovely counter-point to the tart sweetness of the apple and the sour punch of the cranberry in the chutney. Some cheeses might get overpowered by the pronounced flavors of the chutney and fade into background notes – this cheese demands equal billing.

The lovely bandaged cheddar from Bleu Mont Dairy is often available for shipment from Fromagination in Madison and will also sing beautifully with this combination of flavors. But if you can find the time some fall Saturday morning, the drive to Madison to find Bleu Mont Dairy on the square is well worth the trip. Who knows, maybe you’ll get a chance to hear Willi yodel.