Pretzel Success, Chemistry Fail


As I mentioned last week, I finally gave in to my intentions of making pretzel bread over the weekend and, let me tell you, it’s definitely too easy to make. As in, I could make a batch every weekend without allotting much time and that’s dangerous.

But before I get into the specifics, I need to tell you how this whole thing got started.

On one of the digital scrapbooking forums I frequent, there was a thread about football foods, and a picture was posted of some doughnut-hole acorns made by dipping the top of a doughnut hole into Nutella, and then rolling them in chopped nuts or chocolate sprinkles. Finished off with a pretzel stick stem, they do sorta look like tasty acorns.

I thought, I can do that!

But I also wondered what sort of savory applications this illusion food technique could apply to. Someone suggested mini-corndogs, so that was a definite option, but I thought if I made mini pretzel rolls, dipped them in a cheese & mustard dip (I was thinking more like a fondue, but it turns out there’s a standard pretzel dip that more than fits the bill), and then rolled the tops in crumbled bacon, it’d be quite a hearty snack for that weekend’s game.

So of course I did all three.

Corndog, Doughnut, and Pretzel Acorns

(sorry about the glare, I was going for easy clean-up and the foil didn’t play nice with the camera)

Rather than re-post other people’s recipes, here are the 2 I used for the homemade portions of this project:

Bretzel Rolls (Bavarian Pretzel Sandwich Rolls) from

Cheese and Mustard Dipping Sauce from

Both of these recipes are simple and straight-forward. I made the pretzel rolls as directed but I divided each of the 12 pieces of dough into 3, for 36 mini rolls. I did change one other part of the pretzel recipe, and that’s where the other half of my title comes in…

Pretzel bread isn’t really that different from any other yeast bread, it’s how they’re cooked that make them pretzels. Like bagels, the pretzels are first poached or par-boiled before baking to give them the chewy exterior. Unlike bagels, however, the water for poaching pretzels gets baking soda added to it, which gives it that distinctive flavor.

I decided, however, that using plain water was boring. Why not use something a little more flavorful, I thought, so for the 2 quarts of poaching liquid, I started off with 12 oz of beer, then made up the rest with water. Sure, once the liquids came to a boil it foamed up a bit (unanticipated consequence number 1), but that was easy to deal with.

It was when I had to add the baking soda to the boiling liquid that I discovered unanticipated consequence number 2.

Who remembers their science classes on combining vinegar and baking soda to make a volcano? The acid in the vinegar reacts with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to create carbon dioxide (and some other things), i.e. bubbles. Did you know that beer also contains an acid? Alpha acids, to be specific, found in the hop plants.

Yes, In the midst of making bagels, I made a beer-cano, too.

Alas, there are no pictures of this debacle as I was too busy trying to get the spewing pot from the stove to the sink. In fact, I’m lucky there are pictures of any of the process as my camera was on the counter between points A and B–I’m still cleaning off bits of baking soda out of the lens, but the camera appears to have escaped otherwise unharmed.

And speaking of unharmed, turns out baking soda can be used to treat burns. Which might account for the fact that two fingers on my left hand got doused in boiling, bubbling over water/beer/soda mixtures and only got a little red and puffy, didn’t blister, and were totally fine by the time I went to bed. So I suppose you could call that 2 crises averted, though I could have avoided the whole thing if I’d just given half a thought to the chemical make-up of what I was doing!

At any rate, the pretzels eventually got their dunking in the bicarb’ed water (with remnants of beer) and then baked to a golden brown.

Pretzel Rolls fresh from the oven

They were delicious. So delicious I was a little concerned I was going to eat them all before I could transform them into their acorn disguises!

Enough survived my carb-lust, however, and they made excellent appetizers for Sunday’s game, even if they weren’t as acorn-y as the mini-corndog versions.

MiniCorndog Acorns

mini corndogs, dipped in mustard-cheese dip, and rolled in crushed pretzel sticks

Pretzel Acorns

pretzel bread, dipped in mustard-cheese dip, and rolled in crumbled bacon

Doughnut-hole acorns

doughnut holes, dipped in Nutella, and rolled in chocolate sprinkles

I’d heated the Nutella spread on the stove before starting to dip the doughnut holes, but even then it got clumpy and lumpy pretty quick as the glaze from the doughnuts got mixed in. Unglazed or cake-style doughnut holes might hold up a bit better to this treatment.

And, then, from the just-because-it’s-there file:

doughnut acorns with nutella and bacon

I had leftover bacon crumbles and figured what the hell, right? When first dipped, though, the Nutella totally overpowered the bacon, but once they’d had a chance to sit out for a bit, the flavors equalized and it wasn’t half bad. Not something I’d be seeking out in the future, but I can see why some people are all over the bacon and chocolate craze.


Random Appetites: Party Food!


Nothing like being fashionably late, no? (actually, a day off is a bit more than that but I’ll hope you’ll forgive me, I come bearing treats! or, well, at least recipes for them!)

The annual party season is soon to be upon us and the realization that I have not hosted a single, solitary party this year is rather sobering. Of course I plan to rectify the situation just as soon as feasible (looking like November at this point) but, in the mean time, I’ve been thinking about some of my party nibble stand-bys that have come to be known as the various sorts of “crack” served at my parties. I think I’d be lynched if I didn’t serve them!

Bacon-Wrapped Artichoke Hearts (aka Bacon Crack)

Quartered artichoke hearts

Seriously, folks, this is as easy as it gets! Wrap each quartered artichoke heart with a half-slice of bacon and set it seam side-down on a baking sheet. I suggest one covered in foil for easy clean-up and definitely one with a lip to catch the bacon grease. You can also skewer the bundles on toothpicks or several on a kebab skewer (usually 5 or 6 will fit per skewer and remember to soak them first!) but I’ve found, when making these in quantity, that it’s actually more trouble than it’s worth. Either bake them at 350 degrees F until bacon in crispy and transfer to a foil pan for storage/reheating just before serving or broil just before your guests arrive.

I’ve served those at just about every party I’ve thrown since the late 90s after a coworker introduced me to them. They’re based on rumaki which is marinated chicken livers wrapper in bacon and broiled. I once tried the marinade on the artichoke hearts and it just didn’t translate well. Even people who don’t like artichokes tend to like this, it’s the bacon fat! You can substitute turkey bacon for a slightly healthier version, just don’t reheat them in the microwave or you’ll have artichokes wrapped in bacon-flavored Pringles-wannabe! I can usually get a small party’s worth out of 4 cans of quartered chokes and 3 pounds of bacon but the actual quantities vary.

Spicy Black Bean Dip (aka Black Bean Crack)

1 can black beans, partially drained
1/2 c prepared salsa
1/2 c prepared guacamole
1-2 tsp cumin (or to taste)
1-2 tsp garlic powder (or to taste)

Combine it all and puree til smooth. Honestly I don’t really measure this anymore and I usually make a double batch because it’s VERY popular. This is one of the reasons I own an immersion blender, frankly, and I couldn’t imagine having to do it in a regular one: messy! If you puree the beans a bit before adding the other ingredients they’ll mix together better. Give it a bit of stir once pureed and taste so you can adjust seasonings a bit. Makes about 2 cups.

This one originally came from The 5 in 10 Appetizer Cookbook and I think I started making it around the same time as the artichoke hearts. I’ve tweaked it a bit, adjusted it to my preference, but the main difference is the use of prepared guacamole that gets blended in: the original calls for fresh avocado to be diced and sprinkled on top. While it might look pretty (at first: avocado will brown when exposed to air, icky!) it means that only a few people will get the taste benefit of the avocado. Most prepared guac’s are spiced, as well, so this helps the flavor of the dish overall. Seriously, make a lot, if there’s any left over it’ll store for a couple weeks in the fridge. And it if doesn’t taste salty enough, try a bit of lemon juice before reaching for the kosher*; citrus will “brighten” a flavor without adding extra sodium. (Palmie has been known to raid this with the leftover chips for breakfast the morning after!)

Smothered Spuds (aka Potato Crack)

Baking potatoes
Olive oil spray
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
Shredded Cheese (mozzarella and cheddar, preferably, though co-jack works)
Crumbled bacon
Sliced green onions
Jalapeños (optional)
Sour cream

Wash and pat dry your baking potatoes and then bake on 350 degrees F for about an hour. Let them cool for a little bit. No, really, they will fall apart if you continue without letting them cool. Ask me how I know! Slice the potatoes into rounds about half an inch thick and lay them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray the slices with Olive oil (this is the best way for making them in quantity, you could also brush them with oil but the spray is quicker) and sprinkle liberally with the seasoned salt. Turn over the slices. Sprinkle the unseasoned tops with the shredded cheese, crumbled bacon and green onions. The peppers are really a personal preference, I prefer to leave them out, but if your crowd likes spicy, go for it. Put the covered spuds back into the oven (at 350, the universal temperature for almost everything) until the cheese melts and the potatoes heat through (maybe 15 minutes).

Quantity will vary based on the size of your potatoes but I can usually fill two sheet pans with 10# potatoes, 4 c cheese, 8 oz green onions (thank heavens for pre-sliced veggies in the produce section!) and a packaged of pre-cooked bacon (so much simpler this way, just take the kitchen shears to it and snip it into little pieces). Serve with sour cream topped with more green onions.

Something like a hybrid of twice-baked potatoes and nachos, these are totally yummy and very hearty fare for a booze-heavy cocktail party. A newer addition to my nibble roster, they are based on the “Stacked Spuds” of the now-defunct Roadhouse Grill chain of steakhouses (a moment of silence, if you would). It took a little bit to figure out the best way to coat the outside of the potatoes with the seasoning. You CAN dip the bottoms and sides into the a bowl of the seasoned salt and them sizzle them in a skillet with olive oil before putting them into the oven with their toppings but when you’re cooking en masse that’s just not practical.

*Kosher salt is best for cooking, hands down. Don’t believe me? Buy a box (should cost you under $2 for a pound) and give it a whirl. Something about the greater surface area of the larger crystals imparts so much more flavor. Save the iodized for popcorn.