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Cooking Through Fiction: The Ironwood Tree — Soft Pretzels

When I think of sporting events, I immediately think of the food I’ll want to eat when I get there even before I think of the game. I love going to live sports, and I’m excited when I have good seats (close enough to see the game without looking at the giant screens). But if I’m honest, I’m more interested in the food because some foods I eat only when I’m at sporting events.

I’d like to say that my culinary tastes have improved during the years because as a child, I used to order those giant dill pickles wrapped in napkins. Anybody remember those? We’d order those monstrosities with their pickle juice-saturated napkins and spend the rest of the evening doing everything one-handed, racing behind the bleachers, hands sticky and stinking of pickle juice.

Obviously, the Grace children have better taste than me. They didn’t order no stinkin’ pickles! At the beginning of The Ironwood Tree, the Grace children, along with their mother, attend Mallory’s school fencing tournament. Because most of us need food at a sporting event, Simon grabs a snack from the concession stand. Does he grab a dill pickle? Nachos with fake, yellow-orange cheese? Popcorn? No, no, and no. Simon snags pretzels.

“Then a horrible suspicion formed in his mind. Glancing up into the stands, he caught sight of his brother sitting beside his mother, chewing on pretzels. Whatever that thing was, it wasn’t Simon.” (Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, The Ironwood Tree (The Spiderwick Chronicles #4) [New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004], 19)

Simon’s Rosemary Sea Salt Soft Pretzels

Serves: 4 large soft pretzels

Difficulty Level: Moderate (labor-intensive)


For the pretzels:

1 ½ cups warm water 1 tbsp light brown sugar 1 package active dry yeast (2 ¼ tsp) 2 ½ tbsp unsalted butter, melted 1 ¼ teaspoons sea salt 2 ½ to 3 c all-purpose flour 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary Canola oil, to grease bowl 3 qts. Water

⅓ c baking soda 1 whole egg, beaten with 1 tbsp cold water Coarse sea salt

For the Rosemary Cheese Sauce:

1 tbsp butter 1 tbsp all-purpose flour ½ c milk ½ c shredded Cheddar cheese 1 tsp fresh rosemary Salt and pepper, to taste

For the Beer Cheese Sauce:

1 c shredded Cheddar cheese

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened

1 packet (1 oz) Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® Dips Mix

⅓ to ¾ c beer

How to Make

To make the pretzels

  1. Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer, and mix with the dough hook until combined. Let sit for 5 minutes.

  2. Add the salt, flour, and rosemary to the mixture, and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium, and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, approximately 3-4 minutes. If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tbsp at a time.

  3. Remove the dough from the bowl and pat into a ball with your hands.

  4. Coat a large bowl with canola oil, add the dough, and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size. This will take approximately 1 hour.

  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

  6. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot.

  7. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope. To shape into pretzels, take the right side and cross over to the left. Cross right to left again and press ends down against dough.

  8. Slowly add the baking soda to the boiling water. Boil the pretzels in the water solution, 2 at a time for 30 seconds, splashing the tops with the warmed water using a spoon. Remove with a large flat slotted spatula or a spider.

  9. Place pretzels on each baking sheet, brush the tops with the egg wash, and season liberally with sea salt. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until pretzels are golden brown. Cover with aluminum foil if tops appear to be browning too quickly.

  10. Remove pretzels from oven and let cool on a wire baking rack.

To make the rosemary cheese sauce

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, and whisk in flour.

  2. Pour in the milk, and whisk until the mixture thickens.

  3. Stir in shredded cheese, and stir until cheese is melted and smooth.

  4. Stir in fresh rosemary, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with pretzels.

To make beer cheese sauce

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add cream cheese. When cream cheese is melted and smooth, slowly pour in beer.

  2. Add Ranch packet. Stir to mix.

  3. Add shredded cheese and stir until dip reaches desired consistency.

Pretzel and rosemary cheese sauce adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod.

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