It has taken me a really, really long time to properly fall in love with New York. I moved here four years ago, chasing a two-year long-distance relationship (which worked out for the best!), and kind of expected to just instantly fit in. Turns out that it’s not all that simple. It took me a long time to make friends that were ‘mine’, rather than just Richard’s friends, and I found it really hard being away from home, and finding a new routine in this big, strange city. There was also this weird feeling of guilt - that I should be having the time of my life living in my dream city, yet somehow, I wasn’t.
New York and I are getting there, but soft pretzels with cheese sauce and I were love at first sight. I had one for the first time the day I landed in NYC, and it’s been a long-term committed relationship ever since. I’m addicted.
So when The Feedfeed and Land O’Lakes® asked me to make a Sandwich using their Deli American inspired by my hometown (NYC), I knew it had to have a cheesy dip situation, and include my fave NYC carb, pretzels. I decided to keep my ‘Sandwich’ simple to really highlight how delicious the Land O Lakes® Deli American Cheese is, and make pretzels, and a super cheesy, stringy, mustardy dipping sauce to go alongside. A lot of people find pretzels a little intimidating, but I promise once you have made them once, you won’t be able to stop, especially when they are paired with this cheesy dipping sauce. Land O Lakes® Deli American makes things super easy and delicious - it is sliced fresh at the deli, which makes for a fairly epic cheese sauce.
The pretzels come together super easily - a little bit of beer in the dough adds another depth of flavour. You can either prepare the dough the night before, or make the day of, and can shape it into whatever shape you like (I tested a bunch of things, from rolls to hotdog shaped buns, to sticks to bites) - whatever you prefer to use as a vessel to get as much cheese sauce in your mouth in one go. The cheese sauce can be easily reheated, making preparing it ahead of time super easy. Happy dipping!
A few wee tips:
Some pretzel recipes will have you use lye to soak the pretzels in. Giving the pretzels a wee bath in lye (sodium hydroxide) helps to speed up the Maillard reaction, which gives the pretzels that lovely brown colour and chew. However, lye is caustic (alkaline) and scary, so I used something a little less alkaline but still very effective - baked baking soda. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is moderately alkaline, but baking it produces sodium carbonate, which is slightly more alkaline, so therefore perfect for dipping your pretzels without having to worry about the safety risk of using Lye. Yay chemistry!
To make baked baking soda: Line a sheet pan with foil, and spread 1 cup of baking soda evenly over it. Bake at 250˚f / 121˚c for one hour, then transfer to an airtight container. This will be enough for four batches of pretzels - you use 1/4 cup at a time.
I tested these a bunch of ways. At first, I found that putting the pretzels straight out of the water bath onto the parchment caused all kinds of issues. They were sticking very, very badly. I found two ways around this - either drain the pretzels for a few minutes on a wire rack after dipping and then transfer to lightly oiled parchment paper, or line the baking sheets with silpats or silicone baking sheets rather than baking paper. I found baking on silicone to be the easiest option - once the pretzels come out of the dip they are a little delicate, so moving them from the rack to the baking sheet can be a little stressful. A few silpats or silicone baking sheets are a great investment!
I also tested a half batch of both the pretzels and the cheese sauce, and both work perfectly.
If you don’t want to make pretzel shapes, these can also be made into rolls too which would be perfect for hot dogs (hot dogs dipped in this cheese sauce would also be perfect, just saying)
These also do great with an overnight rise if you wanted to prep the dough ahead. Just bring it out 45 minutes to an hour or so before you shape them to give it some time to warm up slightly.
Often bread recipes will ask you to turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Avoid using flour if you can because the friction between the bench and the dough makes it much easier to roll out.
With most breads, we do the second rise lightly covered. With pretzels you want to do the second rise uncovered, so that they develop a wee skin which stands up against the baking soda bath. They also have a quick spin in the fridge just before you dip them so that they don’t get too soft and hard to work with once they hit the warm water.
This cheese dip is crazy easy to make. You can customize however you like. It is best served warm, so I suggest serving it in a microwave safe dish - when it needs re-heating, you can just zap it for 30 second intervals, stirring well between each, until it is the temperature and consistency you like. I reheated some that had been in the fridge for two days and it was still perfect!
Pretzels with Cheese Sauce Dip
- Makes about 12 pretzels and dip -
190g whole milk, lukewarm
3 Tbsp brown sugar, divided
12g active yeast
750g all-purpose flour
3 tsp salt
70g butter, at room temperature
200g light beer, room temperature
To boil: 1/4 cup baked baking soda (see notes), plus 6 cups water
Egg wash - 1 egg whisked with 1 Tbsp water
Pretzel salt to finish (optional)
Cheese Sauce Dip
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp butter
480ml whole milk (2 cups)
Salt and pepper to season
10 slices (200g) Land O Lakes® Deli American, cut into quarters
50g sharp cheddar cheese
70g cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more to taste
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
- PROCESS -
Place the lukewarm milk, 1 Tbsp of the sugar, and the yeast in a medium sized bowl, and stir to combine. Leave for 10-15 minutes, or until foamy.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, place the remaining sugar, flour, salt, and butter, and mix briefly to combine.
Add the milk mixture and the beer to the dry ingredients, and mix on low for 2-3 minutes, until the dough begins to come together. Increase the speed to medium, and knead for a further 15-20 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy (it needs a little more kneading than you expect).
Shape the dough into a ball, and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot for 45 minutes to an hour, or until doubled in size. This initial rise can also be done in the fridge overnight (see notes).
Turn the dough out onto a work surface (do not flour), and weigh the dough then divide into 12 equal sized balls. Shape each into a ball, then place on the bench under plastic wrap to rest. Keep covered until you are ready to use.
Line three baking sheets with silpats / silicone baking mats, or parchment paper (see notes).
Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough into a long thin sausage, 30” (76cm) long. This will seem very thin but is necessary in order for the pretzels to be the right shape once risen. If you would like them a little thicker, roll the dough sausage a little shorter.
Make the dough into a ‘U’ shape, then cross the two ends over twice to form a twist, then bring the ends down and press onto the rounded part of the pretzel (this article has photos that explain well). Transfer to a lined baking sheet.
Repeat the process with the remaining dough balls, until you have 12 pretzels. Space evenly amongst the baking sheets (you can get away with using two sheets but things get a bit squishy).
Rise the pretzels, uncovered, at room temperature for 30 minutes, then transfer to the fridge for a further 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 475˚f / 245˚c. In a large, shallow pan (I used a frying pan / skillet), combine 1/4 cup baked baking soda and 6 cups of water. Heat until the solution is steaming, then turn off.
Working with one pretzel at a time, carefully lift off the baking sheet, and place upside down in the solution. Soak for 10 seconds, then carefully flip over and soak for another. Remove using a slotted spatula or another flat utensil, and place onto the silicone mat lined baking sheet.
Repeat with the remaining pretzels - if you are baking on three trays, do not dip the third tray of pretzels until just before you bake them.
Egg wash the pretzels just before you bake them, and use a razor blade or sharp knife to score the rounded part of the pretzel (see photos). Sprinkle with pretzel salt.
Bake two trays at once for 9-10 minutes, switching trays half way through, until the pretzels are golden brown. While the two trays are baking, dip the third tray and then repeat the egg washing and baking process.
Allow to cool slightly on the trays, and then transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Serve with cheese dip (recipe follows). Best eaten on the day that they are made - if you are planning on keeping some for more than one day, do not add the salt as it makes them soggy.
CHEESE SAUCE DIP
In a medium pot, melt the butter, and then add the flour, whisking well to combine. Cook, for 1-2 minutes over medium heat, or until the mixture is bubbly and foaming slightly. Remove from the heat, and, whisking constantly, add the milk. Whisk well to combine, then return to the heat and cook for a further 4-5 minutes, whisking continuously, until the mixture has thickened. Season well with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and add the Land O Lakes® Deli American, the sharp cheddar, and the cream cheese, and mix well to incorporate, continuing to stir until the cheese is melted. Add the smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and wholegrain mustard and stir well.
Transfer to a microwave safe dish and serve warm alongside the pretzels. As needed, rewarm in the microwave by zapping for 30 seconds at a time, stirring well between each interval, until warm and smooth. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.