Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pigs in Pretzel Blankets

Gathering together for game night is one of my absolute favorite things. I've always enjoyed board games growing up, but have gotten more involved in actually planning get-togethers with my family and friends to hang out and have fun. I'd have to say my all-time favorite game is actually Clue! It's a classic :)

My aunt recently invited over a bunch of family to play Armenian bingo (called "lotto"). Her mother-in-law was visiting from out of town and it was a great excuse for us to all get together, nosh on some yummy food, have some drinks, and play lotto for quarters (my family came out on top--we're winners all the way, haha).

I can't show up at someone's house empty-handed. I love a good excuse to made something yummy and share it with my loved ones, especially when fun and games are involved. I was recently craving homemade pretzels and decided to make the perfect appetizer using pretzel dough: Pigs in Pretzel Blankets. Basically, they're the old-fashioned pigs in blankets but with homemade pretzel dough on the outside, and homemade sweet Bavarian mustard on the inside (and for dipping)!

I used turkey cocktail franks for this recipe, but you could use beef or pork ones as well. I also halved the recipe and only made two dozen instead of four. It's easy to divide the recipe if you choose to do the same. Just keep in mind that pretzels taste best when they are fresh, which is why I don't make them unless I know most or all of them will be eaten within a day or so.

Although the recipe looks long and daunting to make (yes, there are quite a few steps), it's easy to break down the recipe into a couple days. First off, if you plan to make your own mustard, make it a week ahead of time if possible. And I do recommend you make your own mustard because this mustard in particular is absolutely stellar! It's sweet, not spicy, but so tangy and flavorful. It just might be my favorite type of mustard now!

The night before you plan to serve these you can actually prepare your pretzel dough and then let it proof in the fridge overnight. The following day, you can roll out your dough and assemble the pigs, proof them for about 20 to 30 minutes, then wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 8 hours more.

Finally, shortly before you're ready to serve them, you brew up your baked baking soda solution, poach your pretzels, arrange them on a tray, eggwash and salt them, and bake them in a really hot oven until dark golden. And then comes the best part: eating them!

These Pigs in Pretzel Blankets were the hit of the party! I actually topped half of mine with Hawaiian black sea salt and the other half with Guerande gray sea salt. Not only did this create a beautiful contrast, but the pigs were not overly salty (I hate super salty pretzels). The mustard was perhaps even more popular than the pigs, and I had several people ask how it was made. In any case, I highly recommend these delicious Pigs in Pretzel Blankets for your next gathering.

Pigs in Pretzel Blankets
Makes 48
(Adapted from Pretzel Making at Home)

Baked Baking Soda:
1/4 cup (70 grams) baking soda

Pretzel Dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons (one 1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water, plus more as needed, [between 100° and 115°F (38° and 45°C)]
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup, or 1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 1/4 cups (420 grams) unbleached bread flour, plus more as needed
1/2 cup pilsner-style beer, cold
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature, plus more for the bowl
2 teaspoons fine sea salt, such as fleur de sel or sel gris

Unbleached all-purpose flour, for dusting
3 tablespoons sweet Bavarian mustard (see recipe below), or the mustard of your choice
48 cocktail franks
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon cold water
Coarse salt, for topping (optional)
Poppy seeds, for topping (optional)

To make the baked baking soda: Fire up the oven to 250°F (120°C).

Spread the baking soda in an aluminum pie pan or on a small rimmed baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Bake the baking soda for 1 hour. The baking soda will lose weight as it bakes but maintain about the same volume, so you should end up with about 1/4 cup baked baking soda. Let it cool completely. Keep the baked baking soda in an airtight container at room temperature until you’re ready to make the soft pretzels. (If you see more than one batch of pretzels in your future, consider baking a whole box of baking soda in one shot, since it keeps indefinitely. Sift the baked baking soda before using.)

To make the pretzel dough: Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl. Add the barley malt syrup or brown sugar and stir until it’s dissolved. Set aside until the yeast is foamy, 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir in the flour, beer, butter, and salt and continue stirring until a shaggy mass forms. Attach the bowl and the dough hook to the stand mixer and begin kneading on medium-low speed. After about 1 minute the dough will form a smooth ball that’s quite firm and maybe slightly tacky but not sticky. (If the dough is sticky, add a little more flour, about 1 tablespoon at a time, and knead it in until the dough is smooth. Conversely, if the dough is too dry to come together, add more warm water, 1 teaspoon at a time.) Continue kneading on medium-low speed until the dough is elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. Alternatively, turn the shaggy dough out onto an unfloured work surface and knead it by hand.

Lightly butter a bowl that will be large enough to contain the dough after it has doubled in size. Transfer the dough to the bowl. For slow-rise pretzels, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place the dough in the refrigerator to rise for at least 8 hours and, for optimal flavor, up to 24 hours. For quick pretzels, set the bowl aside at room temperature (in a warmish spot) and let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

To assemble: Line two 2-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and firmly press it down to deflate. Cut it into 4 equal portions. Work with 1 piece of dough at a time and keep the rest covered with a damp, clean kitchen towel. Gently pat the piece of dough down with your fingertips and then use a rolling pin to flatten it to an 8-inch square, gently pulling and stretching the dough with your hands to form straight edges and sharp corners. If the dough is sticky, lightly dust the rolling pin and the dough with flour. Brush any excess flour off the bottom and top of the dough. Use a pizza wheel or knife to cut the dough in half through the center, and then cut each half into 6 triangles for a total of 12 triangular strips.

Spread a thin smear of mustard at the base (the widest part) of each triangle. Place a cocktail frank on the mustard and roll it in the dough from the base to the tip, gently pressing the tip to seal. Place the pig in pretzel dough on a prepared baking sheet with the point tucked under and cover with a damp towel. Repeat with the remaining dough and franks, arranging the pretzels at least 2 inches apart.

Allow the pretzels to rise at warm room temperature until they’ve increased in size by about half, 20 to 30 minutes. (The pretzels can be covered tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 8 hours.)

At least 20 minutes before baking, position 1 rack in the upper third and another rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 500°F (260°C).

Select a large stainless-steel pot and add about 8 cups water. Be sure to choose a pot that’s at least a finger’s length wider than the diameter of the pigs in a blanket and tall enough so that the water comes up no more than 2 inches from the rim. (Avoid other metal surfaces, such as aluminum and copper, and nonstick surfaces, which may react with the baked baking soda.) Add the baked baking soda and bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once the baking soda dissolves, reduce the heat to medium and maintain a gentle simmer. Use a large skimmer to gently dip the pigs in a blanket, 1 or 2 at a time, in the baked baking soda solution. Leave them in the solution for about 20 seconds, carefully turning them once after 10 seconds. Remove the pigs in a blanket from the liquid, drain, and return them to the baking sheets, spacing them at least 1 inch apart. If the tips come detached, simply reattach them. Repeat with the remaining pigs in a blanket.

Beat the egg yolk and cold water together, and brush the tops of the pigs with the egg wash mixture. Sprinkle the tops with coarse salt or poppy seeds or both, as you desire. Immediately bake the pigs in a blanket until they’re deep mahogany, 8 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans from front to back and top to bottom after 5 minutes. Transfer them to a rack to cool for 5 minutes before serving. The pigs in a blanket are best enjoyed warm from the oven or within an hour of being baked. (To store the pigs in a blanket, tightly wrap them in plastic, place them in a resealable plastic freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. Reheat the pretzels in a 350°F (180°C) oven for 12 to 15 minutes.)

Sweet Bavarian Mustard
Makes about 1 cup
(Adapted from Pretzel Making at Home)

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/2 onion, diced
3 tablespoons (38 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, such as fleur de sel or sel gris
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
3 whole allspice berries
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 cup (50 grams) yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons (25 grams) brown mustard seeds

Combine the vinegar, water, onion, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon stick, allspice, cloves, and turmeric in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow the liquid to boil rapidly uncovered to reduce the volume by half, about 10 minutes.

Put the yellow and brown mustard seeds in a medium heat-proof bowl. Strain the hot vinegar mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl of mustard seeds. Use a heat-proof silicone spatula to press the onions into the strainer to extract all of the liquid. Push the  mustard seeds down to completely submerge them in the liquid, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Transfer the seeds and liquid to a food processor and process until it forms a smooth paste (mine thickened but still retained the whole-grain texture). Put the mustard in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 3 days, and preferably 1 week, before serving to allow its pungency to mellow. After about 2 weeks, the mustard is at its prime.  it will keep, refrigerated, for several months. If the mustard becomes too thick as it matures, thin it out by adding a splash of vinegar or water.

*Note* I've halved the original recipe to make about 1 cup instead of 2 cups mainly because I didn't have enough mustard seeds in my pantry, and didn't need a lot of mustard for this recipe, or even to accompany the Pigs in Pretzel Blankets. You're welcome to make a bigger batch if you'd like. Simply double all of the ingredients except for the cinnamon stick--you'll only need one of those.


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