Salty, Sweet and Spangled

Crate and Barrel not only happens to be one of my favorite stores, it also happens to be home to my go-to clean, public bathroom of choice when shopping in SoHo.  (The secret is out!)  And it was for this very reason that Mark and I found ourselves in Crate and Barrel late last month.

As we walked past the imposing patriotic entrance decor in honor of the upcoming holiday, we saw this small display off to the side:

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Leslie: Ooooooooh. Your mom should have pretzels like that at her 4th of July party.

Mark:  She should.  They look awesome.

Leslie:  I’d buy some for her, but not at $7.95 for a few rods. 

Mark: Yeah, not worth it. 

Leslie:  Wait.  I could MAKE those.  *takes picture*

While I did not have a recipe for white chocolate pretzels, I knew I could figure it out – and by it, I mean dipping pretzels in white chocolate and sprinkles.

I was already slated to bring dessert for the annual 4th of July Staten Island parade and picnic festivities and had decided on a recipe (see future blog post).  But I have a habit of a) going overboard and b) throwing in a surprise item each year.  Keep in mind, in addition to cupcakes, Mark and I had also promised to bring Mark’s awesome dill pickles and a collaborative attempt at homemade sauerkraut.  To say we take this event seriously is an understatement.

sprinklesShortly after the Crate and Barrel sighting, I took a trip to A Cook’s Companion to scope out their  admirable sprinkles collection.  They’ve got every color imaginable and, not surprisingly, they had multiple red/white/blue options.  I went with two bottles, one of jimmies (what some people call sprinkles) and one of nonpareils (what I call sprinkles).

photo 3 (2)The weekend before the 4th, Mark and I hit up Whole Foods for all of our provisions.  They had everything we needed, except two critical items: pretzel rods (what? the pretzel rod is too lowly for Whole Foods?) and watermelon beer.  The watermelon beer had nothing to do with our cooking, but it’s a Mark July 4th signature item (which only Mark drinks, by the way).  Since Mark was going to search for beer elsewhere, I asked him to also look for pretzel rods.  He found them – and then proceeded to buy the largest pretzel tub they had.

July 3rd was holiday prep day.  I got out of work a whopping 40 minutes early (ok, ok, I’ll take what I can get) and immediately headed home to commence operation Independence Day Dessert.  I photo 2 (2)started by baking the cupcakes so that I could then turn off the oven long before I had to make the frosting later that night (frosting and hot kitchens don’t mix).  Once the cupcakes were out of the oven, I started on pretzels.

I melted a bag of white chocolate in the double boiler.  As it melted, I prepped everything else.  This meant lining a baking tray with parchment paper to catch sprinkles, opening the pretzel tub, eating a pretzel for taste testing purposes and rearranging the fridge so that there was plenty of room for everything we were about to make.

I had made the decision days earlier that I would not be overly ambitious and fully cover my pretzels, ala Crate and Barrel.  Only a machine can make them look that smooth and uniformly covered – and massed produced. To make my life easier, I went with a half dipped approach.   Martha Stewart describes this as the “sparkler” look.

photo 3Past experience taught me that dipping items into chocolate can be messy and a waste of chocolate.  So I chose to spread it using a rubber spatula.

Once the white chocolate was on, I held the pretzel over the parchment and poured sprinkles over top.  Again, I considered rolling but knew this would be the far messier option.

A critical element was finding a way to store and chill the pretzels that would not destroy the integrity of my fine artistic work. In other words, I needed a way to not smudge/ruin them.

The picture from the Martha Stewart page gave me the idea to use cups.I made a test pretzel and then – literally – looked at it standing in a water glass, a mug and a highball glass. In the end, the highball glass with its low height and wide diameter won out. photo 1As long as I only put chocolate on the top half, the pretzels could stand up in the glasses undamaged. I pulled all six highball glasses out of the closet (and I said we’d never use them!) and placed them on the table.

I found that churning out pretzels was easy. Once I had “filled” a glass, I placed it in the fridge to start the hardening process right away. Eventually, I ran out of glasses, but by that point the ones in the fridge were set enough that I was able to consolidate and re-use glasses.

I continued until I ran out of chocolate. I never counted, but it made A LOT of pretzels. The big tub was at least half empty. And both bottles of sprinkles were used up.

photo 2Once everything was cleaned up, I took a peak in the fridge and, feeling quite proud, snapped one last shot.

photo 4

In the end, it rained on our parade…and most of the picnic, but we stuck it out and everyone who was supposed to show up at the party made an appearance.  The pretzels – one of many, many, many desserts that day – were a hit in both taste and appearance.  Despite the fact that I lost count of just how many I ate, there were still plenty of leftovers, which we (perhaps too happily) brought home that night – just in time to catch the fireworks show on the East River.  God Bless America.

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