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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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.

red-cabbage1

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:

potato2

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.

potato4

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.

Apple Cranberry Crumble

The find of our autumn trip to the apple orchard was a bountiful crop of Pippins. As one of the varietals in an apple pie it has the advantages of enormous size (which cuts down significantly on peeling and coring!), a tart flavor, and a surprising ability to hold shape through the cooking process. If you can’t find Pippins, Honey Crisps will work as well which were in abundance for our next trip.

apple-crumble1

Our end goal was to recreate the amazing hand pies we stumbled upon in an early morning trip to the farmers market in Sheboygan, WI. These beauties were made by an Amish baker and I suspect the flaky crust may have been from the use of lard rather than just butter. I swear to you, the crust was as good as the filling. My daughter and I sat looking out on Lake Michigan in the warming glow of the early autumn sun and ate them as breakfast.

apple-handpies

Our own attempt to recreate the hand pies was good, not great. I regret not going with the lard and instead using vegetable shortening. The crust did not have the flaky, golden texture we were craving (and that you can see in the picture above). But by happy accident, we had prepared twice as much filling as we needed. To the two-thirds Pippin, we added one-third Gala, which breakdown in cooking and add sweetness. The apples were tossed in sugar and cinnamon and the left to marinate for a few hours in the refrigerator. A quick, throw-together crumble seemed like any easy way to use what we had left over and the result was surprisingly great. The addition of sweetened dried cranberries added a very nice textural addition and a dash of sour to the sweetness of the apples. Thought we’d share:

Apple Cranberry Crumble

2 cups cored, peeled, diced Pippin apples (Honey Crisp or Granny Smith can be used)
1 cup cored, peeled, diced Gala apples (Red or Golden Delicious can be used)
½ cup refined sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
½ cup butter,
¾ cup sweetened dried cranberries
¾ cup brown sugar
½ tsp grated or ground nutmeg

Mix the diced apples with the sugar and cinnamon and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Remove apples from the refrigerator. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the apples into a 9 inch baking pan. In a separate bowl, mix all remaining ingredients and mix until just crumbled together, then spread over apple mixture. Bake for 50 minutes or until apples are tender and mixture bubbles at the edges. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

apple-crumble

We enjoyed this as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and house-made caramel sauce. But with a nice cup of coffee, it would make a lovely breakfast as well. Particularly if you can enjoy it looking out over a lake as the autumn sun rises.

Check our our previous apple post here.

More Hoppel Poppel Variations

Frequent readers here know that we have an unhealthy obsession with this creation known as Hoppel Poppel (read more on our earlier post here). Quick synopsis of the required ingredients:

Basic Hoppel Poppel – Diced, par-boiled potatoes cooked until browned and crisping, sauteed with diced onion, and diced “salami” (see comment below), topped with egg, scrambled and then optionally topped with melted cheese.

Variations – Any root vegetables diced. Any member of the allium family. Any leftover meat, diced. Any egg, any style. Cheeses, many beautiful cheeses.

In some ways, the variations may be closer to the original than the Basic given above. The Basic is based on the dish as it appeared on a number of diner menus in the Great Lakes region over the last 50 years. Particularly in Milwaukee, the recipe always included “salami”, which is understandable in the home of Klements and Usingers. But what is called “salami” on these menus is really much closer in style and moisture content to beef summer sausage, rather than the much harder Italian-style true salami. The alleged origins of hoppel poppel was as a simple a way for the Germans settling in the Great Lakes region to use leftovers. The boiled potatoes from the previous evenings dinner were diced and fried in butter with onion and a bit of leftover meat.Mix in a few eggs and you have yourself a hearty and economical breakfast.

It is in this tradition that we have the most fun. Leftovers create some of the most memorable dishes. Bits left from a labor-intensive dinner preparation re-appear in the morning as effortless additions. One of my favorite all-time dishes was made by my good friend Tom after an epic roasting session with a whole leg of lamb went into the wee hours of the morning. The whole leg of lamb dinner was a labor. The lamb hash the next morning was all bonus; beautiful, effortless. We present two variations on Hoppel Poppel here – one  in the spirit of leftovers and and another which is a bit more fanciful.

Sweet Potato Hoppel Poppel with Duck Egg

hoppel-poppel-duck-egg

We began with leftover potatoes and sweet potatoes which had been cooked over the campfire the previous evening, fried in butter with onions, and topped with a slow-fried duck egg and goat’s milk jack cheese from Caprine Supreme.

“Royal” Hoppel Poppel

The purple potatoes we used in this preparation were a local farmers market find and inspired a pairing with a Lavender Jack, also from Caprine Supreme.

hoppel-poppel-royal

 

So go forth and experiment. Please feel free to share your creations with us here or on Twitter at @greatlakesfood.