Typically a person’s palate becomes more refined the older they get. I find this to be especially true when I look at how far some of my friends have come from the days when they’d order their steaks “burnt” with steak sauce at the nicest of restaurants or look at me blankly when I’d mention anything even remotely gourmet.
While my tastes have definitely evolved over the course of the last decade, I seemed to have gone in the other, less mature direction than my friends. Where I would once be the one to find the most complex thing even on the most bare bones of menus, scoff at a person ordering chicken fingers and wouldn’t even think about forgoing a home-cooked meal for a greasy fast-food burger, these days I find myself balancing out the finer foods in life with the more approachable, guilty pleasures in life.
For example: Before I met my husband I had never had a chili cheese dog, in fact, it never even crossed my mind that this would be something I’d take to. Of course, I liked hot dogs and I liked chili, but the thought of putting the two things together just kind of grossed me out.
And then… I totally ate my words when I was forced to try a greasy, messy foot-long chili cheese dog. It was like tasting a small piece of heaven, and I’ve been in love ever since.
This time of year – “football season” – happens to be one of my favorite times of year, as it gives me the excuse to make up for lost time and come up with an endless amount of creative spins on some of the indulgent guilty pleasures we all secretly go gaga for. One of my favorite things to make this time of year and one food item I can never say no to when it’s on a menu is a soft pretzel.
While I love the classic version with just butter and salt, I will take my soft pretzel any way I can get it. Here, I decided to take one the husband’s favorite greasy foods – the chili cheese dog – and morph it into a soft pretzel worthy of a serious prize.
The filling is just a simplified, concentrated version of chili made with some ground sirloin, red beans, onion, garlic, chili powder, ketchup, a little bit of worcestershire and some cumin. It’s stuffed into bite-sized pieces of pretzel dough, brushed with some egg wash, sprinkled with salt and bathed in water and baking soda before it’s popped into a 450 degree oven to get that perfect pretzel crust we all covet. If you like your chili on the spicier side, I’d suggest adding in half of a chopped jalapeno while you cook the onion and garlic – I wish I’d done this.
While the pretzels are cooking, a super easy beer cheddar cheese sauce is whipped up with whole milk, whatever light beer you happen to be drinking, some butter, flour and of course, plenty of shredded cheese. I like to keep the sauce simple, but if you want something a little more complex or spicy, try adding in some chipotle peppers or adobo sauce for a little kick.
Now with each bit of pretzel you need an equal amount of cheese sauce for that perfect chili cheese dog flavor – and trust me, the combination of the two mimics a chili cheese dog perfectly, the hot dog isn’t even missed.
A little disclaimer: This makes a ridiculous amount of pretzel bites…like 50, so make sure you’re feeding a crowd or you can half the recipe, easy.
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 12 cups water
- Heaping ⅔ cup baking soda
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- ½ pound ground sirloin
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 1 cup red beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 4 teaspoons chili powder
- 4 tablespoons ketchup
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- ¼ cup beer of your choice
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- In the bottom of a stand mixer, combine water, sugar and salt. Sprinkle yeast over. Let set for 5 minutes until foamy. Add in flour and melted butter. Using the dough hook, mix the dough until combined on a low speed, Increase the speed to medium and mix for 5-7 minutes until dough becomes smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Rinse bowl off and then grease with canola oil. Place dough in 1 hour.
- While the dough rises make filling. In a medium non-stick skillet, cook ground sirloin, onion and garlic. Once beef has browned and onion is soft, add beans, chili powder, ketchup, cumin, salt and water. Cook another 1-2 minutes
- Once the dough has risen, cut dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll dough into a rope 1-inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut into 1-inch bites. Using your palm, flatten the bite and fill with one heaping teaspoon of the chili. Close dough around chili and re-form into the pretzel bite shape, if needed, roll to smooth edges. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring a large stock pot to a rolling boil. Add baking soda. Working in batches as necessary, add bites to the boiling water. Cook for 1 minute, flipping halfway through.
- Transfer pretzels to a greased baking sheet. Whisk egg and water together in a small bowl. Brush pretzels with egg wash and then sprinkle with pretzel or kosher salt.
- Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes.
- While the pretzel are baking, making the sauce. Melt butter in a small sauce pan over a medium heat. Whisk in flour. Cook for 1 minute. Add in hot milk and salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until thickened, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Season to taste with salt.
- Serve pretzel bites with cheese sauce.