Real Rye Pretzel Bites with Cheddar-Bacon-Ale Dip
Pretzels are one of those foods I think I love – I get one whenever we go to a hockey game (and they always come with that neon orange cheesy dipping sauce that is slightly worrying). That first bite is wonderful, teeth sinking into that smooth mahogany crust with that wonderful sour tanginess. But then, after ripping satisfyingly into the steaming white center, the pleasure starts to dull. A few chews later, the crust is still wonderful, but the doughy, white-flour center is just . . . disappointing.
I’ve started wondering whether it is impossible to find a soft pretzel made with real, whole grain flour – preferably some rye! Aren’t they always called rye pretzels on the bags?—with an inside that matched the wonderful chewy crust. There are so many copycat recipes promising “Just like the Ballgame” pretzels out there. But I don’t want “Just like the Ballgame.” I want “Better than Ballgame.” So, I had to experiment.
The version I’m happiest with so far is made with Hodgson Mill Rye Flour and Hodgson Mill White Whole Wheat Flour to fortify the center against its usual vapid commercial all-white-flour fate. I made them into pretzel bites, because they’re easier to snag at a party table and pop in your mouth. These would be a great thing to make for a Super Bowl party! (Let’s be honest, I’m pretty much there for the food.) Plus, since I love the crust the best, pretzel bites gave these the best crust-to-dough ratio, and maximum crunch and chewiness.
Are you with me? Interested in “Better than Ballgame” pretzels? They’re better for you, too, since they are made with whole grain flours. You can see the three flours above –Hodgson Mill Naturally White Flour keeps it light, but adding a full cup of both Hodgson Mill Rye Flour and Hodgson Mill White Whole Wheat Flour gives it some body and whole grain goodness, too. Rye adds its own distinctive taste, kind of spicy and tangy. I like it, and it adds a little complexity you won’t find at most pretzel stands.
Stir together the flours, salt, and Hodgson Mill Fast Rise Yeast in a large bowl. Fast Rise Yeast is special, because it can be added directly to dry ingredients, unlike Active Dry Yeast, which needs to be proofed in warm water to activate it.
Add the warm water and honey to the dry ingredients, and stir until it’s too difficult to use a spoon.
Turn it onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes. It’s a bit sticky, and you might need to add up to ½ cup more Hodgson Mill Naturally White Flour as you knead. Don’t add any more than that, or it will get tough. When it’s ready, it can be rolled into a ball with a fairly smooth, tight surface that will bounce back when you poke it gently with a finger.
Coat your bowl with nonstick spray (or oil or butter, whatever you prefer), and put the dough into it. Cover and let it rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 ½ hours. A warmed oven is a great draft-free place for dough to rise during the winter--just turn on the oven for a minute, then turn it off when it feels warm. Here’s my dough after rising, and you can see how big, light and bubbly it got.
Turn the dough onto a clean surface – you don’t need any extra flour at this point (The white streaks above were just leftovers on my worktop. I’m lazy sometimes.)
Cut the dough into eight equal pieces using a sharp knife or a dough scraper.
Take one section, and roll it gently with both hands into a long snake, 1-inch wide.
Cut that snake into 1-inch sections, so you have little pretzel pillows. Repeat with all the other sections.
These pretzel pillows need to have a quick second rise. Let them rest 15-20 minutes.
You can use this time to prepare for the baking soda bath and baking. Preheat the oven to 450° and set a large pot with 5 cups of water to boil on your stovetop. When the water is boiling and the pretzels are just about ready for bath time, add ¼ cup baking soda to the water. Add it slowly, because it foams and boils when the soda hits the water! The bath is the step that creates the distinctive dark, chewy crust on a pretzel. (Bagels are another thing that get a bath, but they need honey or malted sugar instead of baking soda.)
When the baking soda bath is ready, carefully add a few pretzel bites at a time. Give them 30 seconds on the first side, then turn them and let them simmer for 30 more seconds on the other side.
Remove them with a slotted spoon, letting them drain, and arrange them on the baking sheets. Sprinkle them liberally with sea salt, then pop them in the oven.
It’s shocking how dark and gorgeous they get in only 10 minutes!
You can stop there and just enjoy real, whole-grain rye pretzel bites, warm from the oven . . . . or you can get decadent, like me. In my determination to upgrade the ballgame pretzel experience, I decided the neon orange cheese dip needed some love too. Real cheese, bacon, and for good measure, add real beer – this might be the manliest thing that’s ever come out of my kitchen.
Fry up some bacon over medium heat. Remove the bacon but leave the bacon fat, and add flour. Stir until it’s all smooth and combined, and cook for a few more minutes until it’s slightly browned.
Add a whole bottle of beer, stirring until it’s combined and it starts to thicken up. Pick a good beer for this -- I like brown ale here, or amber. A light beer, like a lager or pilsner, would get lost in the big flavors, so look around for a dark, malty, flavorful ale.
The process for building this sauce goes, 1.You add an ingredient, 2. You wait for it to melt. Then repeat the process. After adding the beer, turn the heat down to low and add the cream cheese, stirring until it’s melted and the sauce is thick again. Then add the cheddar cheese in several batches , waiting for each addition to melt and become smooth before adding the next.
Voila. When all the ingredients are melted and it’s smooth, bubbly and delicious-looking, you’re done. Turn off the heat, add about ¾ of the bacon pieces and stir. Save the rest for the top. Some chopped green onions are a zesty, pretty addition too. Serve it immediately, or put it in a covered crock pot so your partygoers can work on it for the whole game.
Don’t you just want to grab one of those little morsels, scoop up some Cheddar-Bacon-Ale dip, and pop it in your mouth?
Yeah, I thought so.
Real Rye Pretzel Bites with Cheddar-Bacon-Ale Dip
- 1 pkg Hodgson Mill Fast Rise Yeast
- 1 cup Hodgson Mill Rye Flour
- 1 cup Hodgson Mill White Whole Wheat Flour
- 1 1/2 cups Hodgson Mill Naturally White Flour, plus more for kneading
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt, plus more for finishing
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- nonstick spray, oil, or butter for bowl
- 4 slices bacon, diced
- 3 Tbsp. Hodgson Mill Naturally White Flour
- 1 12-oz. bottle brown ale or amber ale
- 1 1/2 tsp. mustard powder
- 4 oz. cream cheese, cut into pieces
- 2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, or less to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- green onions sliced, to top (optional)
In a large bowl, stir together Fast Rise Yeast, all three flours, and salt. Add warm water and honey and stir until it becomes too difficult to use a spoon. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 10-12 minutes, adding up to ½ cup more white flour if needed to keep it from sticking to hands or surface. Dough will be somewhat soft and sticky, and will feel slightly tacky on your hands. It should form a ball with a fairly smooth surface when you are done. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook attachment for 6-8 minutes.)
Coat a large bowl with nonstick spray (or oil or butter if you prefer) and place kneaded dough inside. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1- 1 ½ hours.
Preheat oven to 450° and start a large pot with 5 cups of water to boil. This will be the baking soda bath. Covering the pot will help it boil faster. Prepare several baking sheets (you will need 2-3) with parchment paper, silicon mats, or butter. When dough has doubled in size, turn it out on a clean surface and cut it into 8 equal pieces. Take each piece and roll it with flat hands into a 1-inch wide snake. Don’t use flour at this stage – it will be slightly tacky, but that will help you roll it smoothly. Cut the snake into 1-inch pieces. Repeat with all 8 sections of dough.
Let the pretzel bites rest and rise again for 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, make sure the water is on its way to boil. When pretzel bites have risen and water is boiling, add 1/4 cup baking soda to the pot (add it slowly in several batches, because it will bubble and foam when it hits the water). Carefully drop pretzel bites, a few at a time, into the boiling baking soda bath. Let them boil for 30 seconds on one side, then turn them to the other side to boil for another 30 seconds. They will puff and brown slightly. Use a slotted spoon to remove, drain and arrange them on prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle immediately with coarse salt, such as sea salt, kosher salt, or flaky maldon salt. Bake 10-13 minutes until bites are very dark brown and slightly crispy. Serve warm, preferably on the day they are made.
To make Cheddar-Bacon-Ale Dip: In large pan over medium heat, cook diced bacon until browned and crispy. Remove from pan, and drain on paper towels. Leave 3 tablespoons of bacon fat behind in pan, and discard any extra. Stir in flour, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 3-5 minutes, until slightly thicker and darker. Add beer and stir until it starts to thicken. Stir in mustard powder and cayenne pepper. (½ teaspoon cayenne gives it a nice kick, but add more or less according to your taste.) Turn heat down to low. Add cream cheese and stir. When it is melted and smooth, add cheddar cheese slowly, in 2-3 batches, waiting until one addition is melted before adding next. Stir until cheeses are melted and dip is smooth and bubbling. Turn off heat. Fold in about ¾ of the bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use the rest of the bacon for garnish. Serve immediately, or keep warm in a covered crock pot. Dip can be made in advance and kept up to 3 days in fridge and reheated to serve.
Makes about 144 pretzel bites, and about 2 ½ cups of Cheddar Bacon Ale Dip.
Pretzels adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce, Cheddar Bacon Ale Dip from Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts.
You can find Real Rye Pretzel Bites with Cheddar-Bacon-Ale Dip and other recipes from Hodgson Mill by visiting the Recipes page.