Monday, 20 September 2010

Lovely soft pretzels

For ages now I have been promising my husband that I will figure out how to recreate the lovely, soft and buttery pretzels that we used to buy in Victoria Station from Auntie Anne's Pretzels.  When fresh and warm they used to drip salty butter down your chin and were the perfect accompaniment to the AMT coffee.  At the time I lived in Streatham Hill and Mr Hungry (not sure about that nickname, apt as it is) lived in Stanford Brook so London Victoria was the natural break in the journey as we changed from the overland to the district line.  The taste of fresh soft pretzels reminds me of those first electric charged months when we fell in love and couldn't keep our hands off each other.  Food should always remind you of something fantastic - take note beetroot...I have not forgiven you and probably never will.

Auntie Anne no longer lives in Victoria and the day we discovered that was a very sad one indeed.  Our other major food influence in our early dating years involved dim sum and movie Sundays and I sincerely hope that  China Town is safe from closure.

So I've scoured the web and found a lovely looking recipe on  Obviously I've had to convert the measurements as it used those confounding cup thingumejigs that I have never managed to get my head around. How the hell do you stick a cup into the opening of a small packet of flour?  Are you supposed to spoon the stuff in?  Then why not use spoon measurements and save on the washing up?

The dough is actually rising as I type this so I'll fill out the recipe details and then report back later with the results.  It's a risk, I grant you, but this is a learning process and if Nigel Slater's recipes are anything to go by he has as many misses as he has hits (be more precise man!).  So if the pretzels work we will have some lovely shiny pictures of them to show off.  And if they fail?  Well I'll just redo them tomorrow until we have a photo-appropriate result, obv!

  • 4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 250ml warm water
  • 670g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 100g baking powder
  • 1l hot water
  • 2 tablespoon salt for sprinkling (rock salt)
  • 1 egg yolk

  1. Dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar in 250ml hand warm water. Lightly whisk and leave to stand for 10-15mins or until a 3-4cm froth has formed on top.
  2. In a large bowl mix flour, salt and sugar together so everything is evenly distributed
  3. Make a well in centre and add oil and yeast mixture.  Add yeast mix incrementally to avoid an overly soggy mixture.
  4. Knead dough together for 10-15 mins by 'stretching' the dough mound.  To do this you hold the dough down with one hand and then grab part of it and stretch it towards you. Then fold it back in on itself and repeat the process over and over again.  The action will trap air in the dough which will lighten the end product at the same time drying it out. Theoretically a very wet dough will end up as a lovely perfect dough ball.  I have to confess, that whilst this method has worked well for me in the past I did cheat here and added a little more flour.
  5. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for 1 hour (it should more or less double in size)
  6. Preheat oven to HOT (230-250C)
  7. When dough has risen turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 6 pieces.  These will then each be rolled into a thin rope of approx 20cm and shaped into the pretzel shape.
  8. Fill a large, shallow pan with a litre of hot water with the baking powder and simmer. Lower the pretzels (one by one) into the water for about 20-30 seconds.  After a couple of false starts I settled on a splatter guard as a lifter as the dough became very sticky and difficult to manipulate when wet.  I should point out at this point that pretzels are traditionally dipped in a lye bath which reacts with the pastry in order to give that slightly smooth 'skin' and also assists in the browning process..  This is just a method to replicate that.  Place the dipped pretzels onto a greased baking sheet, brush whisked egg yolk and sprinkle with salt.
  9. Bake for 8-10 mins or until golden brown.

Before & after

A very poor photo of me

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Chilli pesto and spaghetti

If somebody asked you to choose your favourite cuisine, could you do it?  I regularly change my mind between Italian, Thai and Spanish and from one day to the next I wouldn't have the same answer.  Then there's Dim Sum!  Show my somebody who doesn't love Chinese dumplings and I'll show you somebody who is dead inside.  Right now I'm on a bit of an Italian trip (I wish I really were) and am all about the pasta and fresh ingredients.  Also Giorgio Locatelli.  I'm developing what could only be referred to as obsession.

So I  thought I'd kick off my first recipe with what I'm having for lunch today:  Pesto.

Pesto isn't a difficult thing to master and there are many different recipes out there to try. The thing I love about it the most is how flexible you can be with the quantities and ingredients.  The pesto I regularly make combines basil with rocket for a really strong iron taste but today I fancy something a little punchier and have recklessly thrown chilli in there as well.  I think this works really nicely and it's perfect for a very quick, simple bowl of pasta and the only cooking you have to do is boil up a pan of water for your pasta.

Even the though the chilli adds a fair old kick I decided to round out the sharpness by adding half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and this adds a deeper smoky flavour that balances the raw garlic and lemon nicely.  Feel free to add more chilli if you prefer but I was wary of completely masking the flavour of the basil.

Yes, it's ridiculously easy, but this blogger is a girl who would happily eat a bowl of spaghetti coated with just chilli and garlic fried in olive oil and having just polished the lot off in about 10 mins I can honestly say that it is delicious.

  • 60g toasted pine nuts
  • 2 pots of basil
  • juice 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 dry red chillis
  • 50g grated parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove raw garlic
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste.
  1. Place the basil, pine nuts, cheese, chilli and garlic in a food processor and pulse until a paste is formed.  
  2. Gradually add glugs of olive oil until a looser consistency forms, I found that 100ml was sufficient but this will depend on the quantity of leaves used, so go by look and taste.
  3. Season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste
  4. Add to cooked pasta and stir to coat pasta with the lovely bright green sauce.

Bright sparkling pesto: add to pasta or use as a sauce for meat and fish.