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Month: May 2018
3. Preheat oven, along with all cooking equipment for whichever setup you’re using, including skillets, foil-wrapped bricks, chicken press, barbell weight, et cetera (see the “Special Equipment” section below for more info), to 475°F (245°C). Source link
Despite Philadelphia’s reputation as the “Cheesesteak Capital of the World,” there’s one food that’s even more ubiquitous in the City of Brotherly Love: the Philly soft pretzel.
Thicker, doughier, and more elongated than your traditional soft pretzel—the ones limited to baseball-stadium concession stands, movie theaters, and food carts in most other cities—this beloved staple can be found at pretty much every corner store, local sporting event, and cafeteria in the greater Philadelphia area. They’re sold in elementary schools and high schools during lunch, by vendors stationed throughout Center City, and at Wawa convenience stores. Volunteer firefighters hawk them at stoplights to raise funds for their departments, and local businesses buy them in bulk as employee treats. Even regional Walmarts sell them. And, of course, there are the dedicated, stand-alone pretzel bakeries that have been baking them fresh, first thing in the morning, for decades (often along with variations, such as pretzel rolls and braids). The Philly pretzel is a sight as familiar to the Philadelphian as The Franklin Institute Science Museum or the Delaware River.
It’s said that Philadelphians (this includes those who live in the greater suburbs, and South Jersey folk like me) eat more than 12 times as many pretzels as the average American. A wide variety of pretzels and pretzel-adjacent snacks—grocery store SuperPretzels, sourdough hard pretzels, chocolate-covered pretzels, and peanut butter–filled pretzels—are made around Philly; even Auntie Anne’s Pretzels originated at a farmers market just outside the city.
Philly pretzels come in rows of five or more paper clip–shaped, pull-apart coils, their burnished brown crusts speckled with flakes of salt. Every local can immediately call to mind the distinct pleasure of biting through the outer shell (sometimes crisp, though often “just cooked”) and sinking their teeth into the thick, chewy, soft interior of a still-warm pretzel as the savory scent of freshly baked dough fills the air. But ask that same local to describe what makes the Philly pretzel’s taste and texture unique, and you’ll get a fuzzier answer, laden with je ne sais quoi (but frequently meandering back to “doughy” and “dense”). In other words, Philadelphians talk about their pretzels the way they might talk about the ineffable charms of a soul mate. “The way people in the Philadelphia area love their soft pretzels reminds me of New Yorkers and their love of bagels,” says Susan Heim Kelly, a South Jersey transplant who now resides on Long Island, New York.
The histories of Philadelphia and the pretzel are so intertwined that at one point in the early ’90s, Philly was home to its very own pretzel museum. But how did pretzels become such an integral part of Philadelphia’s culinary and cultural fabric?
Though most sources agree that the first pretzel ever was created by a western European monk around AD 610, it took until roughly the 18th century for the laugenbrezel—the typical Bavarian pretzel that’s dark brown, soft on the inside, and crispy on the outside from the application of a lye solution—to appear in North America.
According to the folks at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, Palatine German immigrants (now known as the Pennsylvania Dutch) brought pretzels with them to the New World as early as 1710. However, it wasn’t until 1861 that the Sturgis bakery, which claims to be America’s first commercial pretzel bakery, finally opened its doors in Lititz, Pennsylvania, in the heart of bucolic Lancaster County. For years, the company shared a story that in 1850, a hobo riding the rails hopped off near a bakery in Lancaster County and exchanged an age-old pretzel recipe for a meal, but it recently admitted that this jawn was a myth. Instead, the company simply fine-tuned and perfected an existing recipe, creating one of America’s favorite snack foods in the process. Soon enough, this European-style soft pretzel would take over America’s ball parks, snack stands, and food courts.
At the same time, however, a new offshoot of that pretzel was also emerging: the Philadelphia soft pretzel. Though details on its evolution are murky, what we know for sure is that the Nacchio family’s Federal Baking Company in South Philadelphia is a bona fide front-runner for the honor of having created the distinct Philly pretzel style. In the 1920s, the bakery—later renamed the Federal Pretzel Baking Company, and now a part of South Jersey–based conglomerate J&J Snack Foods—began using conveyor equipment to bake pretzels in bulk: Rods of dough were hand-twisted into elongated figure-eight shapes, squished against one another, and run through an alkaline soaking solution before baking, resulting in a string of soft pretzels that had to be pulled apart before eating. The Nacchio family even started selling them to local schools, thus instilling in Philadelphia-area students an undying love for the company’s pretzels.
“For anyone that grew up here, that love of soft pretzels is tucked somewhere way back in their memories,” says South Jerseyan Gerald “Gerry” B. Shreiber, J&J’s founder and president. “They stir up endorphins that take you right back to childhood.”
Like most area natives, Tom Monaghan discovered the city’s beloved soft pretzel at a young age, snacking on them after Little League games played in northwest Philly’s Roxborough neighborhood. Today, Monaghan is the chief development officer at Philly Pretzel Factory, a franchised bakery with 174 locations in 19 different states. The Factory’s pretzel party trays are a standard at hospital conferences, school gatherings, and company social events, and each franchise’s ability to bake hundreds of pretzels to order makes Philly Pretzel Factory a go-to for local fundraisers.
“Philly and South Jersey expats are always the first ones to show up at our out-of-state openings,” says Monaghan. “They help us spread the Philly love.” Still, as the Factory continues expanding across the US, some dyed-in-the-wool Philadelphians question the authenticity of its pretzels.
This raises the question: What actually defines a Philadelphia soft pretzel? A good Philly soft pretzel has the perfect skin-to-dough ratio—about four times as much doughy interior as thin exterior—and, when eaten straight from the oven and almost squishy inside, seems to melt in your mouth. That softness is what distinguishes the Philly style, and it can make the traditional soft pretzel sold in other states seem almost hard in comparison.
But is it important that a Philly soft pretzel be produced and eaten in the city? It depends on whom you ask. As Shreiber sees it, “Some things—like Philadelphia soft pretzels—don’t travel well. It’s just such a part of Philly culture.”
He isn’t alone in that assessment. While there are those who think it’s the ingredients, most notably the “wudder,” and the technique that make a Philadelphia pretzel, others believe it’s impossible to separate the people of Philadelphia from the pretzels themselves. “It isn’t a Philly pretzel because somebody puts the name ‘Philly’ on the bag,” says Erika Bonnett, whose family has owned and operated South Philly’s Center City Pretzel since its opening more than 37 years ago. “It comes from a family of hard workers, who’ve put their lives into making pretzels for nearly four decades with nothing but their customers and each other in mind.”
For still others, an abiding preference for a Philly soft pretzel baked in Philly is driven by pure nostalgia. Family-owned and -operated Furfari’s Soft Pretzel Bakery is located in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood, where it’s stood for nearly 60 years. To this day, each and every pretzel is still twisted by hand. “My husband grew up right around the corner [from Furfari’s],” says South Jerseyan Carey Collins-Harris. “He will still drive over [the bridge from New Jersey] to get them straight from their oven, fresh and warm.”
The question of whether you can take the pretzel out of Philly without taking the Philly out of the pretzel remains unanswered, but despite the debate, it’s clear that you don’t have to be a local to be a fan.
“I don’t think it’s simply Philadelphians and South Jerseyans who are enamored with [Philly] soft pretzels,” says Lisa Furfari Barb, Furfari’s social media administrator. “Anyone lured into the bakery by the aroma of baking pretzels is thinking, ‘Can I get some mustard and a soft drink to go with that?'”
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I spend a lot of time thinking about brownies, and have come to the conclusion that no one recipe can be all things to everyone—myself included.
Some days I’ve got the time to brown butter with a vanilla bean and foam eggs with brown sugar for what I consider to be the ultimate fudge brownie, but other times my need is dire—an insatiable craving, last-minute house guests, an impromptu party, a sudden, soul-crushing plot point on some binge-worthy show.
Times like that, I can see the allure of a boxed mix that comes together faster than you can say “preheat to 350,” though it’s not an option I particularly enjoy. Not that I have a gripe with commercial mixes! To the contrary, they’re central to the fondest memories of my childhood and my identity as a chef and cookbook author. Rather, it’s that I enjoy the act of making things from scratch, from picking out just the right dark chocolate for the job to bringing it all together with my own two hands, even if it’s a little more time consuming.
These conflicting desires led me to develop a recipe that could deliver both instant gratification and a fully homemade dessert: DIY brownie mix.
I already had something of a template in the muffin mix recipe from my cookbook, which relies on the reverse creaming method (combining dry ingredients and fat before adding liquid) and the unique properties of refined coconut oil* to create a dry, shelf-stable mix. The question was, could I do the same thing for brownies?
* Refined coconut oil is odorless, flavorless, solid at temperature below 75°F, and so resistant to spoilage the “best by” date on the package is often more than year beyond the date of purchase.
The answer is yes, albeit with some major tweaks. Butter, whether browned on the stovetop or in the oven as the brownies bake, provides great depth of flavor with those nutty, toasted notes. Without it, brownies can taste a little one dimensional, but with the umami bomb of dessert (malted milk powder) I can fortify my brownie mix with both malt and lactose, creating plenty of savory, toasty, nutty flavor. This is the same stuff you’ll find in canisters next to hot cocoa mix at the supermarket, usually from brands like Carnation and Ovaltine (Horlicks, for those outside the US), but it’s also easy to purchase from brands like Hoosier Hill Farms online.
As with my “regular” brownies, the backbone of this brownie mix comes from a combination of both high-fat Dutch cocoa (I use Cacao Barry Extra Brute) and dark chocolate (check out my favorite supermarket brands). This isn’t a recipe where natural cocoa will do, as its lighter, fruitier profile doesn’t deliver the kind of earthy darkness these brownies need.
While that mix of neutral coconut oil, malted milk powder, dark chocolate, and Dutch cocoa gave my early test batches all the same deep and satisfying flavors I crave in a brownie, they were missing one thing: a glossy crust. From troubleshooting with readers, I knew that a dull, matte crust was typically the result of two things: low-fat/high-starch cocoa powder and/or under-whipped eggs that left a good deal of the recipe’s sugar content undissolved. Since I knew my brownie mix had plenty of fat from both refined coconut oil and cocoa butter, that left sugar to blame.
Something similar happened during the testing phase of my buttermilk waffle recipe, where I learned that powdered sugar dissolved more effectively in the batter, producing a more golden crust. So I switched to powdered sugar and voilà, the next batch baked up with a top crust as crinkled and glossy as they come.
Conventional and organic powdered sugar work equally well, but organic brands contain a portion of the cane sugar’s natural molasses content, creating more depth of flavor compared to the simple sweetness of a fully refined powdered sugar. Due to the intensity of Dutch cocoa and dark chocolate, the difference is fairly negligible in brownies, but organic tends to be what I have on hand (for more info, read up on the differences between conventional and organic powdered sugar).
Aside from the persnickety details related to the ingredients, the recipe itself is, by design, insanely easy—toss all the dry ingredients in a food processor and grind until the mixture is powdery and fine, with no visible lumps of chocolate. This can take up to two or three minutes depending on the size and power of a given food processor, as well as the sharpness of the blade. The idea of big chocolate chunks may seem alluring, but don’t rush this step! The even distribution of finely ground chocolate and the way these tiny pieces will melt is essential to fudginess of the brownies, so be patient and process the mix until you can no longer hear bits of chocolate banging around the bowl.
Once the mixture is thoroughly pulverized, add the refined coconut oil, which should be in its solid state, and pulse only until well combined, about 30 seconds. Friction from excessive processing at this stage can liquify the oil, making the mix wet enough to stick to the bowl and blade. This won’t affect the brownies in any way, but it’s an annoying problem that’s easy to avoid with a little attention to detail.
Should you decide that you don’t want to give your future self the gift of brownie mix, you can go ahead and pour all the liquid ingredients through the chute to form a glossy batter, then skip to the baking stage.
But, of course, the real magic happens when you pause the process and stash the powdery dry brownie mix on the shelf, where, at cool room temperature, it will keep until the date stamped on the package of coconut oil (typically about a year from the date of purchase).
Do make sure not to stick it on the shelf above your stove. At temperatures above 75°F, the coconut oil will begin to melt, making the mix wet, lumpy, and difficult to use. Below 65°F, the coconut oil will harden enough to make hydrating the mix more difficult. Neither scenario will affect the mix’s overall shelf life, but they will change its behavior in ways no recipe can comprehensively account for (this is true of any recipe based on solid fats like coconut oil and butter). So make an effort to store the mix somewhere around 70°F (21°C), give or take, or else be aware that you’re venturing off the map.
Otherwise, when the next brownie craving strikes, all you need to do is preheat the oven to 350°F, shake the dry mix into a bowl, and scale out the water, eggs, and vanilla.
Water may sound like a janky addition to a homemade mix, but what the brownies need at this stage is hydration, not flavor. Thanks to the malted milk powder, the mix already has plenty of lactose, so a double dose will only mute its chocolaty-ness. Meanwhile, it has plenty of fat from a trifecta of coconut oil, cocoa butter, and chocolate, so the added richness of whole milk isn’t needed; besides, too much fat will have a tenderizing effect, reducing the brownies’ wonderful chewiness.
That said, skim milk can be a welcome addition to the recipe if malted milk powder isn’t available. The brownies will still lack the complexity of malt, but it’s a reasonable adjustment in a pinch (and yet another victory for the unsung utility of skim milk).
Assembly involves nothing more than adding the liquid ingredients and stirring with a flexible spatula to combine. At first, the mix may seem too dry, but keep stirring and it will come together all on its own. Next, scrape into an eight-inch square aluminum pan (I like the super sharp corners of the Parrish Magic pans, but if you prefer anodized aluminum so the pan can be used for savory applications, Fat Daddios makes an excellent version, as well as one with a removable bottom).
Compared to a batter done from start to finish in a food processor, hand mixing produces comparatively thicker and lumpier results. The visual difference comes from the cold milk and eggs seizing the coconut oil, which a food processor can overcome through sheer horsepower. Either way, the results will be glossy topped brownies that puff as they bake, then crinkle as they cool.
If you don’t have an eight-inch square aluminum pan, these brownies can also be baked in a two-quart glass, ceramic, or stoneware casserole dish without any negative effects, unlike my brown butter brownies, which have a richer formula that does best in a reflective metal pan. These brownies have a lighter formula that’s a little more forgiving, so use what you’ve got!
However you go about it, mixing the batter in the food processor or by hand, baking in metal or ceramic, the results will be the same: super chewy fudge brownies with glossy, crinkled tops.
The entire recipe can be also be doubled—just store the mix in a gallon-sized zip-top bag and bake it off in a
Compared to my brown butter brownies, this recipe has a similar chocolaty depth, but a texture that’s considerably more chewy—identical to that of a typical boxed brownie. It’s also quite a bit less rich, making it more suitable as an afternoon snack that won’t derail dinner. That same lightness makes these relatively lean brownies the perfect counterpoint to richer toppings, whether a scoop of vanilla ice cream, bananas sautéed in butter, toasted nuts, a generous drizzle of homemade caramel sauce, or all of the above.
With refined coconut oil for richness and stability, plus the toasty, nutty flavor of malted milk powder, these super chewy fudge brownies combine the convenience of a boxed mix with the satisfaction of a totally homemade dessert. These brownies get their deep, complex flavor character…