Soft Pretzels

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Now I have been baking a bit this year, but I have been in comfort baking mode. What’s that mean? It means I’ve been spending time on classic favorites of mine. Oatmeal raisin cookies. Chocolate chip cookies. Banana bread. Matcha mochi. Pretty much just those — things I’ve made plenty of times before, so I haven’t had new recipes to share. Hence my excuse for not posting.

But with these pretzels here, well, it was my first time baking pretzels, and I’m so happy that I have something new to bake and share about.

The idea sparked when I ran into an old coworker not too long ago, someone I get along well with because of our mutual love for baking. So naturally, our conversation led to baking, and she mentioned how every now and then she’ll treat her family to homemade fresh baked pretzels. Wow, a treat indeed. My mouth instantly salivated at the sound of that, so I had to try it myself.

And despite my amateur pretzel rolling skills, I have to say, they turned out pretty darn well. They weren’t too fussy of a recipe, and I can see this making its way into my list of comfort baked goods.

This has rekindled my desire to continue baking new things! Now I’m brainstorming all the wonderful things I can do with yeast. For a huge bread lover like me, this journey of bread making is gonna be fun.

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Soft Pretzels

Ingredients:
2 packets (4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (about 100 degrees F)
5 cups flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup baking soda
4 cups hot water
1/4 cup kosher salt, for topping

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in the warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes.
2. Prepare stand mixer with dough hook attachment. In the mixer bowl, mix together dry ingredients — flour, rest of sugar, and salt.
3. Add the oil and yeast mixture, then turn on mixer to low speed (2/4) and let the mixer do the work for you. Make sure the mixture isn’t too dry. You can add in tablespoons of water if it is. Let mixer knead for about 7 minutes until dough is smooth.
4. Lightly oil a large bowl, and place the dough in the oiled bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover this with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size. When in a warm place, this should take about an hour.
5. After dough has risen, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line baking sheets with Silpat.
6. In a large bowl, dissolve baking soda in 4 cups hot water.
7. Take risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and twist into a pretzel shape. (See this video for pointers! I made mine without the middle twist, but I’m also a pretzel newb.) After all the dough is shaped, dip each pretzel into the baking soda-hot water solution and place pretzels on baking sheets. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
8. Bake in preheated oven until browned, about 7 minutes.

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Lemon Curd Matcha Cake

Y’all must know by now how I can’t resist helping with parties, especially showers. Last month Cheryl and I threw a joint baby shower for two of our friends expecting within a month of each other, and it turned out to be simple get-together sharing small bites among good company. Cheryl’s DIY decorations were a lovely touch for the relaxed event, and she’s posted tips on making floral arrangements like the ones seen here.

Originally I planned on purchasing all the food for the shower, but my hands itched to make something, and I gave in. I based this cake off a recipe I found on the back of a box of cake flour my mother-in-law gave me to try, and the lemon and matcha pairing was inspired by the mothers-to-be. Both May and Tina love matcha flavored desserts, and Tina is a huge fan of the color yellow. Remember her sunny bridal shower? Can’t believe that was already two years ago!

So how did the cake turn out? I’m typically extremely critical of my own baked goods, but this cake I loved. Between its fluffy texture and the marriage of flavors, it’s a definite keeper of a recipe. Well, except for the chunky frosting (notes on the frosting below say that it will appear curdled if there’s not enough butter), the cake still tasted great.

Congratulations to all our friends having babies! Among our friends, it feels like we’ve been averaging a birth a week! It’s such an exciting time, and it’s so much fun seeing your families grow. Keep ’em coming! 😉

p.s. And Happy Anniversary to my dear husband Tim. Four years ago, we shared a matcha cake similar to this one, and to this date, that day is still the best day of my life. I love you!

Lemon Curd and Matcha Cake
adapted from recipe on Swans Down Cake Flour box

Ingredients:
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 cups sifted cake flour
4 eggs
1 cup milk (whole or low fat)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons matcha
lemon curd (recipe below)
buttercream frosting (recipe below)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Butter and lightly flour 2-8 inch layer pans. Sift cake flour, then ligthly spoon 3 cups cake flour into measuring cup.
2. Cream butter in large bowl. Gradually add sugar, creaming until light and fluffy. Sift the already sifted cake flour with baking powder, matcha, and salt. Add eggs one at a time to creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture alternatively with milk and flavorings, blending after each addition until smooth. (Do not overbeat as this will yield a dry cake.) Pour into prepared pans.
3. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans and finish cooling on racks.
4. To assemble cake, use a serrated knife to even cake layers, spread lemon curd in between cake layers, and frost with buttercream frosting.

Lemon Curd
Ingredients:
3 large egg yolks, strained
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

Directions:
1. Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk to combine. Set over medium heat, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to stir sides and bottom of pan. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat back of wooden spoon, 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter, one piece at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon until consistency is smooth.
3. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to avoid a skin from forming; wrap tightly. Let cool; refrigerate until firm and chilled, at least 1 hour.

Buttercream Frosting
Ingredients:
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch table salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened, cut into quarters

Directions:
1. Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water. Whisking gently but constantly, heat until mixture becomes thin and foamy.
2. Beat egg mixture on medium-high speed with whisk attachment until light, airy, and cooled to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add butter, one piece at a time. (After adding half the butter, buttercream may look curdled; it will smooth with additional butter.) Once all butter is added, increase speed to high and beat 1 minute until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined.