There is a particularly splendid gastropub called Quinn’s tucked up on Capitol Hill in Seattle. More often than not, my girlfriends and I concluded a good night out clustered around one of their intimate tables. Quinn’s has an array of excellent cocktails, sporting luscious palates of sage or elderflower. But when it comes to nibbles, however, I always ordered the same thing: German pretzel and Welsh rarebit. Swoon. Traditionally, of course, rarebit (sometimes bewilderingly called “rabbit” – allegedly as the poor man’s meat is cheese) is eaten broiled on toast. While I’m rarely one to forgo toasted cheese, the fondue-like, mustardy sauce nestles right onto the soft, chewy pretzels like they’re a match made in heaven. Cheese heaven.
A few days ago, Quinn’s came stomping through my head and memories of those delicious bits would not be banished. Always game for a challenge, I decided to recreate both pretzel and rarebit or perish in the attempt. This being the first time I had tried my hand at either I was only cautiously optimistic.
I adapted the pretzel recipe from Smitten Kitchen and patched together my own rarebit recipe in an effort to stay closest to my memory of Quinn’s.
Photos by Jacob.
There can be few things more satisfying to a baker than watching dough rise. Once the meditative wait was over, I found constructing the pretzels extremely diverting. Twisting the fat little dowels into pretzel shapes felt childlike in its pleasure. Poaching the pretzels, critical to the success of that certain pretzel chew and flavor, filled the house with scents of baking soda and caramel. Once they were out of the oven, I knew I had triumphed.
The Welsh rarebit came together in a flash, and though not identical to Quinn’s, wasn’t half bad either. Good enough to lick every morsel off of bowls, stirring utensils and pots. The rarebits are now extinct.
- 2 cups warm water
- 3 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
- 5-6 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp. salt
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 2 tsp canola or other neutral oil
- 1 egg
- Coarse sea salt for dusting tops
You may perform the first three steps in either a large mixing bowl and then kneading by hand, or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.
Dissolve 1 Tbsp. sugar in the warm water, and sprinkle with yeast. Let rest for about 10 minutes. The mixture should be thick and foamy on top.
Slowly mix in 1 cup of flour and stir until completely combined. Add the salt and slowly mix in 4 more cups of flour. If using an electric mixer, beat on medium-low until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If you are using a bowl and spoon, mix until the dough becomes too stiff to work comfortably and turn out onto flour surface to continue kneading by hand. Add another ½ cup of flour and continue to mix or knead. If the dough still feels sticky (this will be affected by temperature and humidity), add another ½ cup. Turn out of the mixer if using and knead by hand until smooth.
Transfer dough to a large oiled bowl and turn to coat evenly. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Prepare two large baking sheets, either with oil or parchment paper. Punch down dough and turn onto lightly floured surface (my Silpat mat worked great as well). Divide evenly into 16 pieces (approximately 2 ½ oz each), set aside on one of the prepared sheets and cover with towel. Roll each piece into an 18-20 inch long strip. Pull ends up into a U shape, twist in a full rotation and fold down to the center, forming your pretzel. Arrange 8 per sheet, cover with a towels and let rise for an additional 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Beat the egg with 1 Tbsp. water and set aside. Bring 2 inches of water to boil in a large shallow pot. Add the baking soda slowly (it will fizz and bubble like a 1st grade science experiment), and stir in 2 Tbsp. sugar. Reduce heat to a steady, active simmer. Using a slotted spoon or heat-proof spatula, poach pretzels for 1 minute on each side. Return to sheet, brush with egg and sprinkle with a judicious amount of coarse sea salt. When all pretzels are poached and prepared, bake for about 12 minutes or until a rich golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack for a few moments and serve warm.
Soft pretzels are best when freshly made but will keep decently for a few days wrapped loosely in a kitchen towel or in a paper bag. Do not wrap in plastic or refrigerate, however, as they will become soggy.
Much will depend on the quality of your cheese and beer, so go for the best you can afford.
- 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- ¾ cup beer (I used our favorite triple but porter works too)
- 1 heaping Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- Scant ¼ tsp cayenne
- 8 oz English cheddar (Dubliner is excellent), grated
- 1 egg
- Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan. Mix in the flour to make a roux and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3-5 minutes until browning and aromatic. Whisk in the beer, mustard, Worcestershire and cayenne, and stir until completely combined. Mix in the cheese a little bit at a time and stir until smooth before adding more – this may take a while but pays off in excellent texture. Beat the egg thoroughly in a small bowl and stir in about ¾ cup of the sauce to warm. Add the warmed egg mixture to the pot and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to warm over low heat, stirring, until the rarebit is smooth, velvety and slightly thickened.
Welsh rarebit will keep well in the fridge, simply reheat to enjoy again!
Makes about 2 cups.