Oktoberfest, German Beers & Pretzels

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Long ago, I mentioned I planned to spend a few days in beer school. Now that school is over and Oktoberfest has just begun, I thought this would be a nice time to share a bit of what I learned. Every few days between today and October 7, I will share a particular beer and a recipe to match. Since this is Oktoberfest, let’s start with German beers.

Oktoberfest began as a celebration of the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October12, 1810. I will drink a beer for nearly any occasion, but drinking a beer in tribute to love just makes it all the better, don’t you think? If my ongoing obsession with both Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey has taught me anything, it’s that they probably got married because one of them had a nice chunk of land the other one was after.

That aside, the kind royals hosted a festival complete with horse races for all of Bavaria to enjoy. Everyone seemed to like it so much, they added an agricultural festival and did it again the next year. And it just kept going to where we are today. The festival always runs for 16 days and ends the first Sunday in October. To learn more about present-day Oktoberfest, visit the official website.

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An important component of the history of German beer is the beer purity law Reinheitsgebot. In 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria was not pleased with the poor quality beer consistently placed in front of him. Too many brewers used cheap grain as a substitute for quality grain. So he did what any man of power might do and passed a law restricting the ingredients used to make beer to malted barley, hops and water. (Yeast was added later.) The result was delicious beer.

Here are a few German beer types, along with my overly simplistic descriptions:

Altbier -  A brown ale that is conditioned for a while longer than normal so it doesn’t taste so fruity.

Bock – A strong lager. It is lagered (stored in a cold place) for a while longer than normal so it’s not so in-your-face with taste. In my extracurricular activities after school I learned the goat is the mascot of Bocks. Something about the beer was originally brewed only during the astrological phase of the Capricorn? I was born under the sign of the goat, so I guess I should like these beers.

Dopplebock - An an even stronger lager! And darker than a Bock. I suppose this makes the Dopplebock the strong, dark and handsome one in the family.

Eisbock – The brewing process includes freezing off a portion of the water, so in a sense, this beer is more concentrated than others.

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Hefeweizen - Typically brewed with at least 50 percent wheat. The Hefe portion of the name indicates the yeast, and the Weizen means wheat. These beers look kinda cloudy.

Dunkelweizen - Also a wheat beer, but darker than a Hefeweizen.

Weizen-Bock – The pimped out version of the Dunkelweizen.

Schwarzbier – A black beer, though its color does not necessarily indicate its heaviness. These beers are actually quite light and flavorful.

Though I have done my best to provide accurate information, please note I continue to have a very simplistic understanding of the world of beer.

Speaking of World of Beer, Preston at Charlotte’s South End location graciously put the summer beer school program on for eight consecutive Mondays. Any errors, omissions or out-right butcherings of the information he provided and I have re-shared are most definitely my own. If you like beer-related tweets, you can Follow Preston on Twitter. Ladies in Charlotte who want to stay up to date on local beer education opportunities should Like the Charlotte Beer Babes Facebook page.

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Let’s move on to the food. Nothing says German food like a really nice pretzel! More accurately, nothing says German food I can make like a nice soft pretzel.You many recall I made soft pretzels last winter, but these are the with-beer versions. I also made a cheddar beer dip for those of you who are like me and need something to go along with your soft pretzels.

I used local Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s OMB Copper for both the pretzels and the dip. This beer has quite a few fans across Charlotte. I have heard “OMB’s Copper is my favorite” proclaimed in settings that range from the dinner table to yoga class. I myself do not care for it. It’s one of those things I really want to like because I think I should, but when it comes down to it, I simply don’t. This characteristic actually makes it excellent for cooking purposes because it doesn’t pain me to pour it into something I’m going to eat instead of wanting to pour it down my throat.

As I was checking to make sure pretzels do indeed have origins in Germany, I learned a French or Italian monk is actually given credit for inventing the pretzel. But since German immigrants (today known as the Pennsylvania Dutch) introduced soft pretzels to America, I though this was an acceptable recipe to kick off Oktoberfest. For a different twist, bake the pretzel dough into small rounds to use as sandwich buns or large rounds to use as bowls. Fill them with cheddar beer soup, or simply wait until my next Oktoberfest post when I provide another beer-meets-soup recipe and discuss monks in much more detail. Cheers/Prost!

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Soft Beer Pretzels with Cheddar Beer Dip
Serves: 12
  • For the Pretzels
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1, ¼ ounce package active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon salt plus additional for sprinkling
  • 1 to 1¼ cups brown ale, room temperature
  • 3¾ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • For the Dip
  • 1½ cups beer
  • 1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Place warm water and yeast in a large bowl and allow to stand for five minutes.
  2. Add the sugar, olive oil, salt beer and 3¾ cups of flour and stir until dough is soft. Continue to add flour or beer as needed until dough comes together.
  3. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 6-8 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
  4. Place the dough in lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic or a clean towel. Allow to rise for one hour. The dough should double in size.
  5. Punch down the dough and divide into 12 pieces.
  6. Roll each piece into a rope, about 20 inches long and twist into a pretzel shape.
  7. While you shape the pretzels, bring the water and the baking soda to a boil.
  8. Dip the shaped pretzels into the boiling solution for a few seconds, then place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
  9. Cover the pretzels and allow to rise another 15 minutes.
  10. Brush their tops with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with salt.
  11. Bake at 425 degrees until lightly golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  12. To make the dip, pour the beer into a sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
  13. Add the cheese and stir until melted.
  14. Reduce the heat to medium low and thicken with corn starch.
  15. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Feel free to use a stand mixer and the dough hook to knead the pretzel dough. The pretzels will keep in an air tight plastic container for several days. I ended up using 3¾ cups of flour and 1 cup plus three tablespoons of beer to get the dough the consistency I desired.

Homemade Soft Pretzels

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Need a last minute snack idea for the Super Bowl this Sunday? Homemade soft pretzels are a sure bet. I love soft pretzels. They are my snack of choice to purchase at a sporting event or if I need a bite to eat while shopping at the mall. I like them with salt or without salt. I like to dip soft pretzels in melted cheese, coat them in mustard, or eat them plain – I just plain like them!

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The process of making homemade soft pretzels is similar to that of making bagels. Mix a yeast dough, allow the dough to rest, then shape, boil, and bake. A word of caution, the pretzels are very, very slippery when they come out of the boiling water. I used a slotted spatula to remove the pretzels from the boiling water, and moving too quickly rocketed one pretzel off the spatula and onto the floor. This was doubly sad since I was convinced that pretzel has the prettiest twist.

I used a recipe from Bobby Flay of Food Network. Alton Brown of Food Network also has a soft pretzel recipe that I would like to try the next time in an effort to conduct my own Food Network recipe throwdown of sorts.  I substituted one and a half cups of whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour with no immediately noticeable effects. I say ” immediately” as the flavor of the whole wheat flour became more pronounced after the pretzels sat a day or two. I am very sensitive to the taste of whole wheat flour (I think it tastes a bit like dirt, though I don’t eat dirt, so a more accurate description is I think it tastes like dirt smells), so I liked the pretzels fresh or with only the all-purpose flour.

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I was fully intimidated when it came time to twist the pretzels, but it turns out this was an incredibly simple step, and there are a lot of video and photo tutorials available on the web. I found a post on The Kitchn especially helpful. In the photo above, you can see how differently the pretzels turn out with a varying number of twists and lengths. I wrote the recipe in its original form, calling for 22 inch ropes to yield eight pretzels, but I found I liked using a slightly shorter rope for twisting a slightly shorter pretzel.

Homemade soft pretzels are yet another DIY recipe I approached with trepidation and quickly learned the fear was all in my head. I assure you, making soft pretzels at home is both easy and inexpensive, and homemade soft pretzels taste just like the soft pretzels you buy in the freezer section of the grocery store. If well wrapped, they also freeze and reheat fairly well. So if you have leftovers from your Super Bowl snacking, you can enjoy soft pretzels again another time. Happy snacking!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Homemade Soft Pretzels
Recipe type: snack
Serves: 8
  • 1½ cups warm water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • 2½ teaspoons salt
  • 4½ to 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 quarts water
  • ¾ cup baking soda
  • 1 egg, beaten with 2 teaspoons cold water
  • Coarse salt
  1. Combine the 1½ cups warm (not hot!) water, brown sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until combined. Allow to sit for five minutes.
  2. Add the salt and flour and mix with the dough hook on low speed until combined.
  3. Increase the speed to medium and continue to knead until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. If the dough appears very wet, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time.
  5. Transfer the dough from the bowl to a lightly flouered surface, then knead into a ball with your hands.
  6. Place the ball of dough into a bowl coated with the vegetable oil, and turn the dough in the bowl to coat.
  7. Cover the dough with a clean towel or plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warm area until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
  8. After one hour, bring the water to a boil in a medium pot over high heat.
  9. When the water is boiling, add the baking soda.
  10. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface.
  11. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces.
  12. Roll each piece into a rope measuring about 22 inches
  13. To shape, pull each end of the rope up toward the center. Twist the right side across the left one or two times, then lay the twisted ends down towards the center of the rope.
  14. Place the pretzels, one or two at a time, in the boiling water and baking soda solution.
  15. Boil for 30 seconds, and carefully use a spoon to splash the tops of the pretzels with the water.
  16. Remove the pretzels with a large flat slotted spatula (they will be slick!).
  17. Place the pretzels on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
  18. Brush the tops of the pretzels with the egg wash and season liberally with salt.
  19. Bake at 425 degrees F until golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes.


Giggle Monster Cookies

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This is not about forcing cookies to laugh. This is about a giggle monster I know. The giggle monster is a person who giggles all the time.  When the giggle monster can’t find the right words, she giggles instead. It’s not unusual to hear someone ask, “is someone tickling her,” or “did someone tell a joke,” in reference to the giggle monster. If there was a gold medal available for giggling, I know the giggle monster would be standing on top of the podium.

I also know about monster cookies. When I was a kid, monster cookies were my favorite. I don’t recall the what, where, or why, but I do remember my mom buying me a cookie, and I would always choose the monster. I think I liked the bright colors of the candy, or maybe I just thought it was fun to eat something with a scary name.

I bet the giggle monster would like to eat a monster cookie. A traditional monster cookie recipe  includes oats, peanut butter and candy-coated chocolate candies.  I assumed most people would have encountered a monster cookie prior to reading this post, so I wondered what I could do differently.

My answer found me in the candy aisle. I knew I wanted to try pretzel M&M’s in my traditional cookie, although the peanut butter M&M’s and dark chocolate M&M’s were tempting. For my non-traditional monsters, I chose the coconut M&M’s.

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I made a base dough of flour, oats, baking soda, and salt added to butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. I added peanut butter and pretzel M&M’s to half the dough, and toasted coconut and coconut M&M’s to the other half.

The peanut butter cookie was a bit dry for my tastes, though I am biased towards soft, chewy cookies. The combination of the flour and oats and peanut butter was probably too much, and in the future, I’ll likely omit one of the three.

The coconut cookie was softer, though really not all that coco-nutty.  I know a lot of people do not care for coconut, so I used less ingredients to flavor this cookie. In the future, I will probably use more coconut and perhaps substitute rum in place of vanilla to dial up the tropical taste.

One of the best things about baking monster cookies is you can customize them to your preference. Want more peanut butter?  Use Reese’s Pieces in place of M&M’s. Chocolate more your speed? Add chocolate chips in addition to the candies. Whatever you chose, these  monsters are sure to be more sweet than scary.

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Monster Cookies
Recipe type: Dessert
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • For classic cookies: 1 ½ cups peanut butter, and
  • 1- 9.9 oz. bag pretzel M&M’s
  • For tropical cookies: 1 cup toasted coconut
  • 3- 1.5 oz. bags coconut M&M’s
  1. Mix the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt together in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugars.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then add the vanilla, mixing until well combined.
  4. Slowly add the flour and oats mixture and stir until incorporated.
  5. Fold in desired add-ins.
  6. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a lightly greased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 8-10 minutes for classic cookies or 10-12 minutes for tropical cookies.