Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mmm... soft pretzels.

Fresh pretzels are sooo good. I've been looking around online for a good recipe, and there are so many variations! My go-to bread cookbook, The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, called for a lye bath before baking. I have no idea where to get lye locally, and I didn't want to wait for shipping, so I moved on. There were recipes calling for everything from just a spritz from a bottle of water, spraying lemon juice on them, a dip in plain boiling water, and a dip in boiling water with baking soda. To egg wash or not to egg wash. There were so many options! I decided I wanted a recipe with a boiling water/baking soda bath. Finally I decided to start with Alton Brown's soft pretzel recipe: Yields 8 pretzels, or whatever other shape you want to make!

  • 1 1/2 c warm water (110-115 degrees F)

  • 1 T sugar

  • 2 t kosher salt

  • 1 package active dry yeast

  • 22 oz all-purpose flour (approx. 4 1/2 c)

  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

  • vegetable oil, for rising bowl

  • 1/3 c baking soda

  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 T water

  • pretzel or kosher salt

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until mixture begins to foam. Add the salt and butter, and using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approx. 4 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, and oil the bowl well with the vegetable oil. Put the dough back in the oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Alton used a giant roasting pan for the baking soda bath. I didn't have one, so I used a 3 qt capacity frying pan. I filled it up almost all the way, then added 1/3 c baking soda. Bring this to a rolling boil.

Meanwhile, turn the dough out on a lightly oiled work surface. If you want to make all pretzels, divide the dough into 8ths. Take each portion and roll it into a 18 or 24 inch rope. Then shape into a pretzel. I found I had the best luck shaping the pretzels by twirling the dough between each hand like a jump rope, then twisting it into place as i laid it back on the work surface.

After you've shaped all your pretzels, place them one at a time in the boiling baking soda bath for about 30 seconds. Return the boiled pretzel to your baking sheet and brush with the egg wash. The pretzels should be noticeably more puffy after their bath. Bake your pretzels until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.

Variation!! I took half of the dough and decided to make pretzel buns for sausages or hot dogs. I shaped them into what seemed to be a vague hot dog bun shape, then boiled and egg washed them as before. They took about 4 extra minutes in the oven due to their size. I got the marks in the top from snipping the dough with scissors after the egg wash. No idea why they look all cracked though.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

French Macaroons!

After stumbling across this blog post yesterday claiming french macaroons aren't nearly as hard to make as people think they are, I decided to give it a shot, using the base recipe posted (I saved about 8 bucks making my own almond flour in the food processor instead of buying the $13 bag of it at whole foods).

About 3 hours later, I had this box of macaroons. The blog post was right, I guess.. it wasn't really difficult.. it just took FOREVER! I split the batter and icing up to make some variations, from top to bottom:

  • Orange colored vanilla cookie with orange extract in the buttercream filling.

  • Lavender colored vanilla cookie with cassis liquor in the buttercream filling, bonus small dollop of Trader Joe's boysenberry jam in the middle too!

  • Pink cookie flavored with rose water. Champagne flavored buttercream. To make the buttercream, I cooked down 1 cup of Trader Joe's finest $4.99 prosecco until about only 3 tablespoons remained. Let it cool, then whip it into the buttercream.

When I finished, I told myself I'd never make these again, but I keep munching on them. They're good! My favorite is the pink rose/champagne ones. I could probably shave an hour off the cooking time by just making the whole batch that one flavor. Separating everything out and making sure it was all colored and flavored correctly was a big time suck. No wonder my local whole foods sells these things for $3 each!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Kids art table, ikea style

I was inspired by this project on Martha Stewart's website to make a kids art table. On my recent trip to Ikea to get materials for the Lego table I made, I began eyeing the Lack coffee table. Using that as my base table, I wanted to refinish the top with chalkboard paint to make the art table even more useful.


  • Ikea Lack coffee table

  • painter's tape

  • sandpaper

  • spray on primer, gray or black

  • chalkboard spray paint

  • length of scrap wood for paper tearing edge

  • 6 washers

  • 2 wood screws

  • 7/8 in dowel rod

  • roll of art paper (picked up a few at Ikea)

  • Levolor universal drapery mount (cheapest I found was at Amazon)


  1. Before assembling the coffee table, I took the top outside and taped the sides with blue painter's tape to protect it from the spray paint.

  2. I got out the power sander and sanded the top of the table with 150 grit sandpaper.

  3. After removing all the dust from sanding, I spray painted 3 coats of gray primer to the top of the table. The primer dried pretty fast. I waited about 15 minutes between coats.

  4. Now for the chalkboard paint! The brand I bought didn't spray on as well as the primer, and I had a couple mishaps with some drips, but I was able to clean them up without too much trouble. I applied 3 coats of the chalkboard paint, waiting about an hour between coats.

  5. While waiting for the paint to dry, I took my scrap of wood from home depot for the tearing edge and the dowel and cut them to the depth of the table, then sanded the edges.

  6. After the paint was dry, I took off the painter's tape and screwed the 4 legs on the coffee table.

  7. I then attached the paper tearing guide to the table with a wood screw at each end. I mounted it so the edge was flush with the edge of the table. In order to ensure I could thread the paper between the table and the guide, I placed 3 washers on each screw in between the guide and the table.

  8. Next, I started working on how to get the roll of paper attached to the table. Martha's idea using eyelet screws wouldn't work because the screws were too short, and my roll of paper was wider than the opening between the two legs of the table. Luckily, I found some drapery mounts that ended up working great. I screwed them onto the end of the table opposite the paper tearing guide using the hardware that came with the mounts.

  9. Almost done! Just thread the roll of paper through the dowel and drapery mounts, then thread the paper through the paper tearing guide.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Easy Ikea Lego Table

I looked around on the web for a Lego table for my boyfriend's son. I wasn't too happy with the options. Most were around a hundred bucks. I decided to take matters into my own hands and made a lego table for a whopping $30, and it was rediculously simple to make.

I started off with a Lack side table from Ikea ($9.99), then I got 4 Lego base plates from the local Lego store ($4.99 each, also available here). I just used heavy duty double sided tape I already had to adhere the base plates to the table. Make sure you place some Legos along the seams of the base plates to ensure the grids line up once they're on the table.