Friday, January 24, 2014

Pretzel Bread Bowls with Broccoli Cheddar Soup

When I first moved out to California for school, I remember complaining about how perfect the weather was.  I basked in the occasional rainy day and happily wrapped up in a warm scarf on the few days the temperature dropped below 60°.  California was great, but I missed real weather.  You know, temperatures that changed with the seasons, and actual clouds in the sky. 

Or, so I thought.

Maybe I've been out here too long, but when a cold front hit us earlier this winter, I was miserable.  Under 40°?  Are you kidding me?  I've lived in Texas and California my whole life, I was not built to deal with this.  The rest of the country laughed as video of Los Angeles weathermen having a mini meltdown over clouds in the sky went viral, but it made me realize something:  I hate weather.  You can keep your snow days and flood warnings, I'll take the sunny skies and 75° afternoons any day, even in the middle of January. 

So, as everyone has frozen for the past few weeks, I've been grateful that California has steered clear of that nasty thing called "weather".  But, I'm not without sympathy.  I wanted to make something warm and comforting for my recipe this week.  The way I see it, nothing says comfort food like cheese, so here's an easy broccoli cheese soup to fight off those winter blues.

Plus, a bonus:  many afternoons spent with my high school friends at Panera Bread has instilled in me a love of the bread bowl, so it just seemed wrong to make a broccoli cheese soup without one.  And, with pretzel buns trending big at restaurants right now, the thought of pairing pretzel bread with a cheese soup just felt right.

So, if you're bundled up inside right now, repeatedly increasing the temperature on your thermostat, here's a little love from California.  Sorry our weather's so much nicer, but if it makes you feel any better, we're a bunch of pansies, anyway.

Pretzel Bread Bowls (adapted from Alton Brown's Soft Pretzels)

1 1/2 cups warm (100° - 110°F) water
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast
4 Tablespoons melted butter
4 1/2 - 5 cups flour
vegetable oil for bowl
8 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg + 1 Tablespoon water
Kosher salt for sprinkling

Combine the warm water, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Sprinkle the yeast on top and allow to sit for 5 minutes so the mixture starts to foam up.  With the dough hook on and the mixer on low, slowly incorporate the flour and melted butter until well combined.  Increase the speed to medium and allow the dough hook to kneed until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl (you can add more flour, if needed - you don't want a wet dough).

Coat the bottom and sides of a separate bowl lightly with vegetable oil.  Transfer the dough to this bowl, cover and set in a warm place for 50 - 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450°F.  Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan.  When the dough has finished rising, divide into 4 equal parts and form into tight balls.  You'll want to tuck the sides of the dough underneath itself until you've got a nice taut surface on the dough.

Set out a baking sheet lined with parchment paper lightly brushed with vegetable oil or a silicone baking mat.  Boil each dough ball for about 45 seconds each, flipping them in the water halfway through.  Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and set on your baking sheet.  When each ball has been boiled, brush with the egg wash, sprinkle salt on top, and use a knife to cut a cross in the top of the dough.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, until the outside is a deep golden brown.  Allow to cool before serving.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup (adapted from Food Network Magazine)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour
2 cups (1 pint) half and half
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
pinch of nutmeg
Salt and Pepper
4 cups fresh broccoli florets from 1 large head of broccoli
1 large carrot, finely chopped 
8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated

Melt butter in a large pot.  Add onion & garlic and cook a few minutes, until softened.  Add flour and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 5 minutes.  Slowly incorporate half and half and stir until smooth.  Add the chicken broth, bay leaves, nutmeg, salt & pepper.  Let simmer over medium-low heat until thickened. 

Add broccoli and carrots and simmer another 20 minutes, until tender.  Remove the bay leaves. 

At this point, I used an immersion blender to partially blend the soup, leaving a few chunks of broccoli.  You can do the same with a regular blender by simply removing a couple cups of soup, blending, and adding back in to the pot.  Or, you can blend the entire pot if you prefer a smoother soup.

Last, add the shredded cheddar cheese and stir until melted.  Remove from heat.

To make the bread bowls, cut an upside-down cone in the top of your pretzel roll.  Remove and use a spoon to scoop out the insides of the bowl.  Serve with the top for dipping.

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