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.

Advertisements

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.

Central Waters Beer – Root Cellar Dinner

A recent barrel-aged beer throwdown occurred at my local drinking establishment between Central Waters Brewing and Potosi Brewing, two Wisconsin breweries enjoying most-favored-brewery status in my house. Seven offering from each, ranging from their respective ambers and IPAs to fully loaded, barrel-strength stouts. They were glorious.

They were also inspirational. An recent dinner gave us the perfect opportunity to pull out a selection of old favorites from Central Waters (and one extravagance from O’so) and pair them with seasonally inspired fare. Seasonal fare for the Great Lakes in winter would be root cellar offerings – the hardy remains of the late fall harvest, which were traditionally kept in cellars dug into hills throughout the region. We’re talking preserved meats, root vegetables, and anything dried. Our dinner used those elements as inspiration, rather than rigid restrictions, because…well…I can go to the store. We focused on freshly smoked meats, rather than salted or fully dried offerings. We did make everything on the grill, actually on a Green Egg, which is a bit like cooking in a old cast iron oven. Here’s the run-down:

First Course: Smoked Whitefish Dip with Central Waters Honey Blonde Ale

Lake Superior whitefish is a very light, small flake fish without a particularly strong flavor profile. The texture is often fairly soft, similar to an Icelandic cod. Once plentiful throughout the Great Lakes, it was over-fished and can now really only be found commercially in Lake Superior. We sprinkled a fresh skin-on fillet with sea salt and lemon, let it sit for about 30 minutes and then on to the grill for a slow smoke. The grill was at 250 degrees and we used mesquite chips, though I prefer applewood for this application when available. The fish was smoked through in less than 30 minutes, but we allowed it to firm up on the grill for another 15 minutes for our application. The fish was allowed to cool, then removed from the skin and flaked into a bowl. In an electric mixer went cream cheese, mayonnaise, spritz of lemon, then whipped until well blended. The cheese mixture was then folded in with the fish and a handful of diced scallions and chilled for over an hour.

We served the smoked whitefish dip on pumpernickel rye toasts with house-made yellow zucchini pickles on the side. We paired our initial offering with the Honey Blonde Ale. The beer is really bright and refreshing, with just a hint of sweetness from the honey. It is an easy opener and cleansed the palate between each bit of the whitefish. Simple, complementary flavors.

Second Course: Wild Rice, Roast Vegetables with Central Water Horicon Session IPA

Beer Dinner1

Early in the day, rainbow carrots and pearl onions were slow roasted on the grill in butter and kale was later dried on the grill until crisp. At time of service, cooked wild rice was heated with butter and shredded Sartori Family Heirloom Parmesan and the carrots were caramelized in buckwheat honey and malt vinegar. The sweet carrots were offset by the savory kale and the rich, nuttiness of the wild rice. We paired this with Central Waters Horicon Session IPA, looking for the more pronounced hop flavors to harmonize with the earthy flavors of the dish. A lovely combination, the slight bitterness in the beer made every bite of the carrots sing.

Third Course: Smoked, Maple-Glazed Chicken Thighs, Corn Puree, Roasted Mushrooms with Oisconsing Red Ale

We adapted our Smoked, Maple-glazed pheasant approach to chicken thighs and then served them on the corn puree we recently featured, inspired by Morel Restaurant. The corn was caramelized on the Green Egg for about 45 minutes, yielding a puree that was reminiscent of summer corn on the cob. The Oisconsing Red flavors tend towards the caramel malts with enough hop balance to keep it interesting. A nice pairing, though we might have considered something a bit more contrasting to set the smoky, sweetness of the dish off to a greater degree.

Fourth Course: Smoked Beef Short Ribs, Dried Cherries, Rutabaga Puree with Mudpuppy Porter

Beer Dinner2

Our Door County cherries make an appearance in this dish, with a marinade based on the spices we used for our Epic Beef Short Rib we had a few summers back. The dried cherries had been re-hydrated in a reduced beef broth and the then marinated the beef overnight. The ribs were then slow smoked over mesquite wood on the Green Egg at 275 degrees for three hours. We placed it on a puree of yukon gold potatoes and rutabaga, which we boiled until soft, then into a food processor with almond milk and butter. We finished it back on the stove top with brie and Creama Kasa from Carr Valley, which is a triple cream, adding a real richness to the dish. We paired Central Water Mudpuppy Porter with the dish to offer a deep, dark note, accenting the smoky beef flavors.

Fifth Course: Blueberry Slump with O’so Convenient Distraction (Imperial Porter with Coffee and Vanilla Bean)

A slump is basically a pie filling topped with dumplings. As we were cooking everything on the Green Egg, this was a easy way to finish the meal. We took about 4 cups of blueberries, added a dash of vanilla extract and about a 1/2 cup of maple syrup. Then we made a dumpling dough with flour, baking soda, butter, and water. We hand flattened the dough and tore irregular pieces to layer on top of the blueberries in a heavy enameled pan. Onto the Egg for 45 minutes at 300 with a top and it was perfect. We paired it with Purple Door Vanilla Ice Cream and O’so Convenient Distraction – an Imperial Porter with Colombian coffee and Madagascar vanilla bean. The bright fruit flavors were a superb complement to the dark chocolate nuances of the beer.

New Bar Added – Stubby’s Gastrogrub and Beer Bar, Milwaukee, WI

“We’re kind of like your favorite local dive bar — but with a killer craft beers and a robust menu packed with locally-sourced offerings.” – Stubby’s Gastrogrub and Beer Bar website

Yeah, that about covers it. Stubby’s has a great selection of draft beers with healthy selection of local Wisconsin brews, an equally healthy selection of some of the best Great Lakes brews, all supplemented with a number of world beers which are high-end representatives of their style. It took me ten minutes to select my first beer because I knew I was limited to only having a few. I’m glad I started with Karben4 Fantasy Factory.

Stubby's4

Karben4, out of Madison, WI, has created a beautifully balanced IPA which leans towards the citrus end of the hop spectrum, but the English malted barley adds plenty of body. Stubby’s is located on the Milwaukee River, on the edge of a newly revitalized neighborhood. It was a sunny, breezy, happy hour kind of night. We ordered a selection of appetizers for the group – fried mac-n-cheese, fried cheese curds, and nachos topped with pulled pork.

Stubby's

Apart from the obvious artery destroying power of this display, it was ton of fun. The fried mac-n-cheese were lusciously creamy and complemented with a spicy marinara-style sauce. The nachos were topped with pulled pork and a ridiculous amount on cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. This is not subtle folks, this is a full-on bar food binge. And yes, those barrels are painted with the Central Waters logo. So what do you pair with deep fried cheddar cheese cords with a Parmesan bacon dipping sauce?

Stubby's2

Well, the Black Husky Pale Ale was exceptionally nice as the bright hop flavor cut through the richness of the deep-fried cheese and bacon sauce. Then you slip slowly and blissfully off into a food coma. Oh, it’s so worth it. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. We’re happy to add Stubby’s Gastrogrub & Beer Bar to our Restaurant page as another representative of Great Lakes Cuisine.

A Celebration of Wisconsin Cheeses

Due to a fortuitous turn of events, we found ourselves with an overabundance of beautiful, Wisconsin cheeses. A quick consult of the composed cheese courses Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook provided inspiration as well as past courses created with my good friend, Tom. In sequence of how they were served, here they are:

Cheese Course1

Oven roasted beets with Milwaukee Craft Brew Vinegar’s American Amber vinegar and buckwheat honey vinaigrette served on Growing Power sunflower sprouts with chèvre and a malt vinegar glaze.

Cheese Course2

Farmers’ market shredded carrots over a golden raisin puree with Saxony Alpine Style from Saxon Creamery, inspired by a recipe from Thomas Keller.

Cheese Course3

Roasted tomato tartar, salami-wrapped grilled asparagus, chive oil, Parmesan crisp. This owed inspiration to a Thomas Keller dish which he serves with dressed haricot vert.

Cheese Course4

Stuffed and grill-smoked Cremini mushrooms on micro-greens with Great Midwest Morel & Leek Jack cheese. We served the greens dressed with a play on warm bacon dressing – We used our bacon-wash technique on the vinegar to transfer the bacon flavor and then make a standard olive oil vinaigrette with crumbles of bacon added.

Cheese Course5

Grilled cheese with goat cheddar from Carr Valley and caramelized onions with a tomato “soup”, which was a puree of oven-roasted tomatoes and red onions. Tom and I have made a version of this in the past, though that past version benefited from an amazing onion and fennel jam Tom had created.

Cheese Course6

“Au gratin” potatoes – thin sliced Yukon gold potatoes were stacked with a blend of shredded Carr Valley Mobay and Menage between each slice, then oven roasted until crisp. The oils released in cooking were used to wilt arugula, used as the bed of the dish. Topped with a poached egg, the dish is then topped with another strip of Mobay.

Cheese Course7

We finished the meal with individual chocolate chip cheese cakes, courtesy of my daughter.