As my back heals and I try to follow the directions my physical therapist has laid out for me which include wearing a back brace, and not bending or twisting, Rich has done more than his fair share in the kitchen. This is a mixed blessing, as his repertoire consists mostly of cocktails and cooking large pieces of meat. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and I do love gin.
Last week I heard him rummaging in the spice cabinet – my guess is to find the nutmeg for a hot toddy – and I heard him call out to me, “You know you have an unopened container of Ghirardelli baking cocoa back here?” I thanked him for the reminder and tucked the knowledge away for another time.
When we heard that winter storm Hercules was coming our way, Rich went to the market to load up on supplies, which just meant more milk for White Russians and hot cocoa with the aforementioned canister. But I actually had a plan for that unsweetened cocoa, one I hadn’t had a chance to work on. And so, with both our offices closed on Friday because of the snow storm, and Lilli off taking her morning nap, I got to work on the dark chocolate soft pretzels I’d bookmarked in a cookbook that was sent my way a few months ago.
I’ll admit the title of the book captured my attention immediately. I mean, who wouldn’t be intrigued by a cookbook called Crazy About Chocolate? It contains more than 200 sweet and savory recipes written by Krystina Castella, author of Crazy About Pies, Crazy About Cupcakes, Crazy About Cookies and Crazy About Cakes. (There was a photo of her on the back cover, and no, she doesn’t look like she eats sweets all day long.)
There were the expected candy, cake and cookie recipes (a natural progression by someone who’s written books about those subjects) but there were also savory recipes like apple-smoked ribs with cocoa barbeque sauce, and grilled corn on the cob with milk chocolate butter. I also got a kick out of the holiday section, which ranged from chocolate-coated, almond-flavored Easter eggs, hamentashen for Purim and hazelnut meringues for Passover, and even chocolate pineapple moon cakes for the Chinese New Year.
But it was these dark chocolate soft pretzels that caught my eye. They were actually in the “Weddings” section of the book:
Celebrate tying the knot with soft chocolate pretzel twists. Based on recipes used by classic New York street vendors, these pretzels have a chocolaty, salty flavor combination that’s sure to please.
Or, as Rich noted after eating one, “They taste like the chocolate bread they serve at The Cheesecake Factory.”
There’s something nice about rising a yeasted dough on a heating vent on chilly winter days (so long as the heat is working). And yes, like last week’s rugelach, the directions might seem complicated but aren’t at all: Make a yeasted dough, let it rise, shape the pretzels, boil them and bake them. The rolling out the dough into long ropes and twisting them into pretzels would be a great task for young helpers in the kitchen. If you can’t find a ruler, do what I did and use a measuring tape.
I will say that the author and editor slipped up a bit in the recipe, forgetting to include when the yeast mixture is added to the flour mixture, so I have included that step here. I also kneaded the dough with my dough hook on my Kitchen-Aid mixer, lightening the load on my back.
When I posted the photos of the finished product on Facebook, my friend Gayle asked where I’d found the lye, which is traditionally added to the boiling water when making pretzels. Goodness, no, I wouldn’t have lye in the house with a little one. Baking soda replaced the lye when it was time to boil these babies. Feel free to get creative with your toppings. The recipe makes eight pretzels, so I made two each of Maldon salt, Turbinado sugar, chopped mini peanut butter cups (a tub of which lives in my freezer, ahem) and mini chocolate chips leftover from last week’s rugelach.
Dark Chocolate Soft Pretzels from Crazy About Chocolate by Krystina Castella
1 ½ cups warm water
¼ cup plus 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
Pretzel salt, sea salt or Maldon salt
½ cup nuts, sprinkles, nonpareils, or white chocolate chips
Combine the water, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and the yeast in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to foam.
Combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, remaining sugar, and butter in a large bowl. Or, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, remaining sugar, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the foaming yeast mixture and mix it all together in an electric mixer on low speed until well blended. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead the dough until it is smooth, 8-10 minutes. Or, if you are using a standing mixer, switch over to the dough hook and knead the dough on high speed until the dough is smooth.
Grease a large bowl with vegetable oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with either plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and set in a warm place for 50 – 60 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly brush with vegetable oil.
Fill a large pot with water (10 – 12 cups) and stir in the baking soda. Cover and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U shape with the rope and, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other to form the shape of a pretzel. Press the dough to secure the shape, then place on the baking sheets.
Add the pretzels one at a time to the boiling water for 30 – 40 seconds, 15 – 20 seconds on each side. Remove the pretzels from the water using a slotted spoon. Return to the baking sheet, brush the top of each pretzel with the egg-water glaze, and sprinkle with the salt, nuts, sprinkles or candies. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, until dry and dark. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.