Saturday, December 29, 2012

Recipe | The BEST Soft Pretzel You'll Ever Eat!!

I attribute my deep love of good soft pretzels to the few years we lived in Germany when I was little.  There was a little bakery in our village that made salzstangen,  more like a salted breadstick/pretzel, and it was my favorite treat.  I have memories of eating them on my walk home from school.  Sometimes I would get to bring one to school for a snack and I looked forward to it all day.  Of all the things I bake and cook for my children, soft pretzels are at the very tippy top of their list of favorites too.  I began making them from scratch a couple years ago {blogged about them here} and since then I've tinkered a bit with the recipe I was using and now have what I believe to be the most perfect soft pretzel.  They do take a couple hours, from start to finish, to prepare and result a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, but let me assure you THEY. ARE. WORTH. IT.   It's a special treat. You'll oooo and ahhhh with every bite, I promise!    


Homemade Soft Pretzels
1 1/2 cup warm water {the water temp should be 110-115 degrees in the bowl}
1 pkg dry yeast {make sure it hasn't expired!!}
2 TBS light brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1/2 stick melted butter + 1 tsp sugar
cinnamon + sugar {optional}
kosher or pretzel salt for garnish

Sprinkle yeast and brown sugar over warm water in a mixing bowl.  Combine gently and quickly with your fingertips and wait about 5 minutes.  I watch closely to make sure yeast activates.  It will start to bubble and foam up.  You want to make sure it happens before proceeding.  If your yeast doesn't properly activate, your dough will not rise sufficiently.

Add flour, salt, melted butter and knead with an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment.  Start on low to combine ingredients and then move up to medium speed. Knead until dough pulls away AND is smooth in consistency. Don't over knead.  I do find the dough pulls away from the bowl quickly, but I knead it a little bit longer to get it gorgeous and smooth. {Somewhere between 3-5 minutes} Then remove dough from the bowl, clean out the bowl and oil it with vegetable oil.  Place the dough in the oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Place it in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Once dough has risen, turn it out onto an oiled board.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough in half, and then each half into 4 or 5 equal portions.  One at a time roll into a skinny rope, make a big U and twist the center twice into a pretzel.

Place onto parchment lined baking sheets.  I oil the parchment sheets too.  Bring 10 cups water and baking soda to a boil in a large pot. Working with one pretzel at a time, drop into the water/baking soda bath for 30 seconds, the return to the baking sheet.  Once you've done this for each pretzel, place them in the oven to bake for 10-12 minutes.

Remove them from oven, dip in melted butter and top with salt or dip into a cinnamon and sugar mixture.  

You can also make sticks!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Putting a Fresh Christmas Tree in a Basket

My apologies that this post is coming after Christmas.  Tuck it away for safe keeping till next year if this idea intrigues you!  Right before we went to pick out our tree this year, I decided I wanted to give the "tree stand in a basket" idea a whirl.  I'd been inspired by the likes of these images for the past few years...

I was able to find a basket that fit out tree stand very snugly and tested it out before we found the tree.

We placed the tree in the stand outside and then lifted it up and placed it in the basket before bringing it in.  I also trimmed a bunch of lower limbs.  We then tilted the tree and basket to bring it indoors.  After straightening everything up it fell down once, then twice and then a third time.  Boo.  The basket was just too snug!  Sooooo, off to Homegoods I went in search of a larger basket.  The diameter of our tree stand in about 14 inches and I choose a basket that iss about 16-17inches in diameter.  The second time was a charm.  

{oops, never quite got around to hunting down an extension cord for the lights.}

I got a little carried away stringing the lights.  Forgetting that our old house outlets can only stand so much - four strands burned out this year.  After the ornaments went up, of course.

The next obstacle came a few days later.  I started to notice water spilling out of the basket.  It was soaking through the little mat I have underneath and going right through to the wood floor.  A few people had suggested I line the bottom of the basket with a plastic liner, but in my haste I skipped that step.  Next year I will find a liner or large tub to fit inside the basket because angling the water can perfectly to get it only in the tree stand was a little harder than I expected.  At least in the beginning, it seems we now have the hang of it.  What we did was move the basket off of the mat, then place a double thickness sheet of plastic {cut shower curtain} underneath the mat so the water wouldn't reach the floor.  This seemed to do the trick.  {And I made that sound a whole lot easier than it was, trees are heavy!}

We also didn't keep many gifts out just in case of leaks.  Which worked just fine, because Charlie was far too curious about the presents this year.  They likely would not have remained wrapped till Christmas.  Santa made sure there were no spills on Christmas Eve!

We will definitely do this again. I loved the way it looked and now that we have a little know how under our belt, next year should go much more smoothly!  I do think a flat bottomed tree stand is a must though if you are going to attempt this with a live tree!  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Our Christmas in Pictures

From our little family to yours, we wish you all a very Merry Christmas!
May your hearts by be happy + light.

Santa brought a karaoke machine....
{the adults may have enjoyed it more than the kids...}
{"call me maybe"...}

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas in Our Kitchen

I can't get over how quickly Christmas has snuck up on me this year.  Maybe it was because we went to Disney after Thanksgiving, maybe it was the late start we got on shopping, or maybe it's because I have been far more laid back than normal about all the preparations.  While I've been very busy in my kitchen, that is relaxing for me, and what I do when I'm procrastinating other things.  There are a number of things I want to blog about and still plan to, so hang in there, you might be reading about Christmas on here for another few weeks!  I promise to take pics of the Christmas tree before the needles start to fall off, because I know there are a lot of questions on the basket instead of a tree skirt experience.  But tonight I just have a few minutes to blog before I grab a glass of wine and watch a Christmas movie {er, fall asleep on the couch}.  Here are a few pictures of our kitchen this month.  For the record, open shelves have changed my life.  Best thing I ever did!

{my first gingerbread house! {not from a kit} I used this recipe with my royal icing.}

{Charlie is always at my side when I'm baking, his rolling pin is tucked in the bottom shelf bracket.}

{dark chocolate cut-out cookies, recipe here}

{Do not be deceived by the above pic. 
 Jimmy is warming up left over soup, not cooking! haha! 
I feel like we have been eating soup 3x, at least, per week lately.  
It's been so cold and soup is easy and so comforting.}