Sunday, April 21, 2013

Soft Black Pepper Pretzels + Neighborhood Snapshots

A Pretzel Haiku:

Bread twist that is soft.
With salt, has the perfect taste.
How I love you so.

Did you know that Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry? I'm sure I learned that at some point in my high school English class, but since then those fun little facts have been pushed out of my brain to make room for non-fun adult type things, like bills and how to file taxes (without stabbing yourself in the eye repeatedly). Boo! Hiss!

While Haiku is of Japanese origin, pretzels are from the other side of the world. However, they are delicious and I made this batch IN Japan, so there is a connection.... right? Just go with it - please. I'm trying to force this segue because I also wanted to share some pictures from our neighborhood that I put together in fun little collages using Fotor. I'm sure this is another website used by pretty much everyone but me up until now, but whatever, I'm excited about my find!

The collage above contains pictures from the park where we walk Otis every day. It's a beautiful little green spot in a city of concrete, and the walking trail is perfectly measured out to 800 meters with one lap. I always find it humorous how the Japanese love their vending machines so much there are literally machines every 100 yards or so. If you are stuck in the country and don't see a vending machine within your line of vision... you are seriously in the middle of nowhere.

The drainage systems in Okinawa are pretty sophisticated, too. Well, I shouldn't say sophisticated as much as I should say... plentiful. The drainage ditch is pretty simple, as you can see in the pictures, but they are everywhere! It's kind of a pain when I'm walking Otis at night and can't see them well and he pulls on the leash, leading me to trip over the little divot in the concrete (which is NOT fun), but they are such a lifesaver during the torrential downpours we get here during the spring and summer. 
Soft pretzels aren't hugely popular in Japan from what I've seen. Fresh bread bakeries are everywhere- pretty much each neighborhood has at least 2 of them, but the locals seem to prefer mildly sweet breads instead of a yeast driven flavor. They enjoy savory breads too, but more in the form of cheese and ham baked inside the bread to create a sort-of savory Danish. 

What some of the 7-11 convenience store types of places have are hard, crunchy pretzel snacks with a black pepper coating. My husband, who is partial to any food that contains a potentially unhealthy amount of black pepper, absolutely loves them. I do too, actually- they have the perfect amount of peppery heat. To prevent us from eating them too often, we reserve them as more of a treat during our travels in mainland Japan, which in turn creates a special memory for us.

I've made soft pretzels before, but have either kept them either simply salted or crusted with cinnamon sugar. This was my first attempt at recreating a snack I've had from a store, and I think it worked out pretty well, although I added so much black pepper (not knowing how much would be enough) that even my husband thought the pretzels were slightly too peppery.

Either way, they were so good! I think cutting down the black pepper to just a light dusting would make them taste out of this world good. I found a few jalapeño cheese sauce recipes on the blogosphere, and the sauce itself was quite tasty, but the flavor of the peppers in combination with the amount of black pepper was not the best marriage of tastes. I would reserve the jalapeño sauce for a plain or simply salted pretzel, and stick with a white cheddar sauce for the black pepper pretzels to temper the bite just a smidgen.
Before I get y'all to the fabulous pretzel recipe, here's my last set of Okinawan photos for you. It's my favorite one I've done, probably because my furry little man Otis is just absolutely adorable, not to mention completely and utterly spoiled rotten. He loves drinking water from running faucets instead of his bowl... Yes, his Highness demands faucet water. We love watching the little old ladies play croquet on the weekends at the park where we walk Otis. They're pretty good!

I hope you enjoyed the snapshots of Okinawa and I guarantee you will love this pretzel recipe, no matter what kind of topping or dip you choose. :)
One Year Ago: Tuna Pea Wiggle

Black Pepper Pretzels

Recipe from Alton Brown

1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Kosher or pretzel salt

Combine the 1 1/2 cups water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour 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, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Alternatively for pretzel bites, instead of shaping each rope, cut 1” sections off the rope and continue as directed below.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large slotted spatula. Return to the pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Roasted Jalapeno Cheese Sauce

Recipe from Smells Like Home

2 small jalapeño peppers
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (not package pre-shredded cheese – shred your own)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt

Set the jalapeños on a baking sheet and roast under the broiler until blackened on all sides, about 10 minutes. Alternatively, you roast them over a gas burner on the stove, turning with tongs. Place the jalapeños in a heatproof bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the peppers to cool for 15 minutes then with a paper towel, peel and discard the blackened skins off leaving just the fleshy peppers remaining. Slice, remove and discard the seeds, and roughly chop the peppers. Set aside.

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the chopped jalapeños to coat with the butter. Whisk in the flour, coating the peppers, and cook for 30 seconds, whisking constantly.

Slowly whisk in the milk until no lumps of flour remain. Stirring constantly, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 3-5 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the shredded cheese until all of the cheese has melted. Stir in the cilantro and add a pinch of salt, if needed. Serve warm. The sauce can be kept warm for 15 to 20 minutes over very low heat on the stove, stirring occasionally. Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave on medium power at 30 second intervals.

White Cheddar Cheese Sauce Sources:
(um, try saying that 3 times fast!)

(I think the cranberries would go great with the black pepper)


  1. I love his majesty, Otis! haha so cute. Hello cheese sauce, oh man I've always wanted to make pretzels, now it's sooo tempting with that sauce!

  2. I love your pictures and recipes. I'd like to inform you of a great new website I would like to invite you to come and join us and share your wonderful pictures with us. We are simply foodies and we are not photography snobs, so picture perfection is not important, all we care about is delicious food.


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