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

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 food.com

Cheese and Mustard Dipping Sauce from countryliving.com

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

Pretzel Acorns

Doughnut-hole acorns

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.

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