Book Review: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (and Chocolate Brioche Pretzels)

I don’t know that I have ever been this excited for a book to come out, let alone a cookbook. After Sandy destroyed huge parts of NYC and cancelled the Smitten Kitchen book launch party at Williams Sonoma, I hesitated about buying a book before I could get it signed. But then I literally couldn’t wait another minute and I HAD TO HAVE IT. I proceeded to read it from cover to cover like my new favorite novel. I finished it while in line to vote this morning and then came home to make my first recipe from the book.

The book did not in any way disappoint me. I was a little nervous that I would know a lot of the recipes and that I would basically be paying money to see something that I’ve read online for free. That was so not the case at all. I felt like, from the introduction, Deb was giving us even more information, telling us more about herself and her cooking. For example, I don’t think she has ever expressly said on the blog how much of a perfectionist she is. I know that she reads so much about her food and understands the way it works before she puts a recipe on the blog, but I never thought of her as a perfectionist (perhaps because I have many of the same tendencies and felt a kinship with her). At the same time though, its still the same enchanting voice throughout the book. She makes you feel like she’s your best friend and that she actually wishes we could all sit down for a big meal at her place. I love reading about her passion for food. She puts so much care into her recipes, almost as a love letter to her readers.

Almost all of the recipes in the book are brand new. A few have been previewed on the site, and there are some old favorites that pop up like long lost friends, but overall, its new stuff. You can tell that the recipes in the book have been agonized over and tested and perfected over and over again. They are a bit more complicated than on the blog, but nothing strays too far from her simple style and flavors and the fact that she seems to be able to, not only perform food magic herself, but also make us believe we are capable of that same magic. An example of that is her 45 minute pizza dough. Pizza dough is not a 45 minute project, it usually takes at least an hour for the dough to rise. But when Deb says that I have have a homemade pizza on the table in an hour, I don’t doubt her. I know that that recipe will work. Same with her recipe for her Rosemary Gruyere and Sea Salt Crisps. They have 5 ingredients and 2 steps in the recipe, but they look stunning: like right out of a $10 bag from the gourmet super market. Like I’ve always said, Deb makes me feel like I am a kitchen goddess and with this book she is taking my culinary education to the next level by adding just a little bit more complexity to her recipes.

This morning I made the Chocolate Chip Brioche Pretzels, because its election day and I’m working from home, and I like to use my work from home time to send emails and let dough rise. I was a little bit nervous about this dough when it seemed to break my kitchenaid standing mixer. Thankfully the mixer seems okay, but it meant that I had to knead the dough by hand, and when that became too greasy (because I added the stick of butter), I pulled out the food processor and the dough blade. When the top of the food processor fell off my counter and I yelled some pretty serious expletives, I thought about giving up. There was no way that these pretzels were worth it and damn you, Deb, for not telling me how thick this dough is. Nevertheless, I persevered. I kneaded the dough for the recommended longer time with my hands on my counter. I made do with my food processor and then I turned my bedroom into a proof box to let the dough rise (I just closed the door. The heater in our bedroom is big enough for the entire back of our apartment, so when I close the door it raises the temperature by like 15 degrees. I mean, Deb said a warm place and I had already taken so many liberties with the dough!).

After I came home from voting I checked on the dough and it had miraculously doubled in size the way it was supposed to. I rolled out my pretzels and baked them and OMG were they worth it. The long strands of the brioche came out so beautifully with the chocolate clinging to them. I had one with some tea after lunch and have been slowly picking at a second one ever since (my husband unabashedly already ate 2). Apparently if you just pick at something like that then the calories don’t count. Though I cursed my way through these pretzels, I’m so happy to have christened my cookbook with them and can’t wait to eventually get my book signed by the wonderous Deb Perelman.

Smitten Kitchen, before: Brunch vs. Dinner: My Trials and Tribulations and How to Lose an Evening Making Pot Pies

Here is the finished product. Deb’s are on the top, mine are on the bottom. Pretty good, no?

Chocolate Chip Brioche Pretzels
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

I would say that I adapted this recipe, but I didn’t. I just left out a couple of things. With Smitten Kitchen recipes on the site you never have to change anything, but out of the book I knew it would be perfect. Deb suggests orange zest and coarse sugar. I didn’t have either so I’m not including them here.

I hesitate to post this recipe because I really think you should go buy the book, so to ease my conscience, there is a link to the book on amazon under the recipe title. Just buy it, there is literally no reason not to.

1/3 cup whole milk (at room temperature, this is really important or you’ll kill the yeast)
1 tsp instant yeast
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature (which mine were not), lightly beaten
8 Tbsp, one stick, unsalted butter
1 cup well chopped chocolate or miniature chocolate chips

1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp water

Make Brioche:
Whisk the milk and yeast together in a small dish until the yeast has dissolved. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, stir together flour, sugar, and salt. Add the eggs and the yeast mixture, and mix at a low speed until the dough comes together in a shaggy pile. Raise the speed to medium, and beat for 10 minutes; the longer mixing time creates the soft, stretchy strands brioche is known for. (This is the step that my standing mixer did not appreciate. I’m still not sure what went wrong, but I had to start kneading by hand). Add the butter, a third at a time, mixing the dough between additions (I used my dough blade in my food processor and just pulsed the machine to incorporate the butter). Now switch to the dough hook, and knead at low speed until a silky-smooth dough forms, another 5 minutes. Add the chocolate and run the machine until it is mixed into the dough.

Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a wamr spot for 2 hours, until almost doubled.

Meanwhile, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Form Pretzels
Gently deflate the dough, and divide into 8 pieces, about 3 1/4 oz (93 grams, though mine were about 85 grams) each. Working with one piece at a time, roll each piece into an 18-inch-long rope about 1/2 inch thick. Curiously, I find these ropes easier to roll and stretch on an unfloured or very lightly oiled surface (because the dough is already pretty slick), but if you find yours sticking too much, lightly flour your counter before continuing.

To form the pretzel, draw the ends of the rope together and form a circle. About 2 inches from both ends, wist the rope ends together to close the circle–a full twist, so that the rope end that started on the right side finishes there. Fold the twist down into the circle, adhering the loose ends of the rope at the five and the seven o’clock on the base. Repeat to make eight pretzel twists. Transfer them to prepared baking sheets, brush them with glaze and let them rest for about 15 minutes, during with they’ll puff slightly again.

To Finish:
Brush pretzels with glaze one more time, then bake for 12 minutes, or until puffed and lightly bronzed. Cool slightly on a rack before serving.


10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (and Chocolate Brioche Pretzels)

  1. Pingback: The Perfect Thanksgiving Hostess Gift « Think well. Love well. Dine well.

  2. I made these pretzels last night and my Kitchenaid did a little dance around the counter with this dough, so it definitely wasn’t you! The flavor of the finished pretzels was good (it is indeed quite nice with some orange zest), but I went exactly with the recipe, which didn’t say anything about warming the milk before adding the yeast, so the dough did not rise at all. Next time I’ll go with my better judgement.

  3. I had the exact same problem with the mixer, and with the yeast not rising! I am so glad it wasn’t just me…I will try them again, this time warming the milk and kneading the dough by hand. Thanks for the reassurance! 🙂

  4. I was googling this recipe with “stand mixer” because I thought I’d broken my heavy-duty KA for sure. It sounded like it was wheezing on its deathbed. I added a little more milk to thin the dough a couple of times, and in the end, I let the dough hook do all the extra kneading after I’d added the butter. My dough is sitting in the fridge overnight to develop, and I’m glad to hear that it will be worth the effort.

  5. thanks for this review, esp the note about the room temp milk. i’m surprised that wasn’t mentioned in the book. i made three batches in one night for my son’s preschool and each batch was different. the first made me fear for my stand mixer, but each one got easier. i don’t know if this is mentioned elsewhere in the book, but the eggs/butter need to be truly room temperature. the results are worth the wait!

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