Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce

In middle school, our lunch room had a snack shack. When I had money to buy, I would forgo the “real” food and opt for a hot pretzel and a cup of nacho cheese. Oh, how I adored those lunches.

My lunches are no longer hot pretzels and cheese (partly because the work cafeteria doesn’t sell cheese!), but it’s still a snack I’m particularly fond of. I whipped these up for the Super Bowl, but since we’re now getting into March Madness territory, they’d be perfect for those viewing parties too.

Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce
(from Smells Like Home

For the pretzels:
1 1/2 c. warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 T. sugar
2 t. kosher salt
2 1/4 t. instant yeast
22 oz. all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 oz. unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil
10 cups water
2/3 c. baking soda
2 T butter, melted
Pretzel or Kosher salt

For the cheese sauce:
2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. all-purpose flour
1 c. milk
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Kosher salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the water, yeast, sugar, and yeast on low speed for 10 seconds.  Switch to the dough hook and add the flour and butter.  Mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and transfer it to a well-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an wide 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Slice each rope into 1-inch pieces.  Place a lightly damp towel over the pretzel pieces to prevent them from drying out while you roll and cut the other pieces.

Using a slotted spoon lower a handful of the pretzel pieces into the boiling water and boil them for 30 seconds, flipping them around in the water with the spoon a couple of times. Remove the pretzel pieces from the water using the spoon, drain as best you can, and place them on the baking sheets. Brush the top of each pretzel with the melted butter and sprinkle with the pretzel/Kosher salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 10 – 12 minutes. Brush with remaining melted butter before serving.

While the pretzels are baking,  in a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour and cook for 30 seconds, whisking constantly.

Slowly whisk in the milk until no lumps of flour remain.  Stirring constantly, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the shredded cheese until all of the cheese has melted.  Add a pinch of salt, if needed.  Serve warm.

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