Monday, March 16, 2015

Alsatian Bretzels

Still drowsy from a long trip sitting on the floor of the cafe car on the TGV (overbooked - another story) and waking up at what seemed to us the middle of the night - or so it was in the U.S.-  we stumbled out into the village square of the Medieval village of Riquewehr, France to find something to eat.  Located in the northeast corner of France, near Strasbourg, "Capitale de Noel" (capital of Christmas) it certainly lived up to the season, and the festive, magical Christmas scenes created on every window sill delighted us almost to the point of forgetting our hunger. But festooned among the pine boughs and sparkling ornaments, giant pretzels hung from the overhangs of the bakery stalls like snowflakes from a darker heaven.  "Savory" sounded like just the right bite to waken our jet-lagged stomachs before visiting the creperies.   We were hungry and in the land of good food, and so assumed that a pretzel by any other name would be as satisfying. (B works just fine in place of the P for this distinctive savory treat - not unlike the B used in place of the P in Arabic, which makes Pepsi, pronounced "bebsi". An interesting diversion?)  Back to the Bretzel.  This Alsatian version of a pizza-like snack is topped with a white, intense Munster cheese, produced in a nearby village in the Alsace region and studded with bits of lardon, a thick local bacon, cut into cubes, and fried crisp. (A pile of these crispy bits placed in front of the children was the culinary hit of this family Christmas trip, that is when a crepe wasn't within reach.) The pretzels themselves are of the large and soft variety, 8 - 10 inches in diameter, with an appropriately chewy, salted skin. This tasty concept lit a memory in my mind of my father's culinary creation, "Byron Broils" which were small squares of toast topped with cheddar and bacon bits, that he made to delight us.  That's why I love Bretzels!  All you need are pretzels, cheese and bacon to make them at home, no jet-lag or dirty train floors required but for the charming French village,
you will have to cook that up in your imagination!

Alsatian Bretzels:
8 large soft pretzels (fresh or frozen)
2 cups sliced or shredded Munster cheese (domestic or 
8 ounces bacon, diced and fried till crisp
1 cup coarsely chopped onion, sauted until caramelized in 
                             2 tab. oil (optional)

-Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Arrange pretzels, 4 per sheet.  Cover each pretzel with Munster cheese and sprinkle with bacon (and onions). Heat in a 375 degree oven until cheese is melted and bubbly - about 10 minutes.  Serve warm.  

Persnickety PS:

-Pretzels:  Homemade pretzels are fun and interesting to make, but tedious. (If you feel so inclined, check out the following video: If you have access to a bakery that makes fresh pretzels, that is a great first choice.  Soft pretzels are also available frozen in most large grocery stores which are convenient and can be transformed into Bretzels right from the freezer, allowing you to thaw just as many as you want to use.

-Munster Cheese is not to be confused with Munster Cheese or Muenster Cheese!  The American variety is a soft white cheese with an orange rind with a mild flavor which melts smoothly. The Freanch version is much stronger - the longer it's aged, the stronger it is - and is considered the "real thing", but unless you're a fan of strong cheese, best stick to the poor American relation.  It's easier to come by and cheaper too.

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