maybe it’s because i hail from maryland or maybe it’s because i just have fantastic taste, but i. LOVE. blue crabs.
i mostly love them the way that God made them to be loved: steamed by the bushel with a heavy dose of old bay. the salty, spicy, peppery, celery-y mix of flavors is delicious against the soft sweetness of meat. although it takes some work, any true marylander will tell you it is well worth the effort.
the problem is, steamed crabs don’t really work for every occasion. they’re pricey, messy, don’t pair well with other things, and best for summertime feasts over tables covered in brown paper. so what if you have a mid-winter party where you need snacks and want to represent baltimore while watching the ravens win the super bowl?? crabcakes, right? WRONG.
the idea came straight from the maryland seafood festival, where i first encountered this life-changing food [pictured right]. it was a twist on the oft-seen oft-mayonnaise-heavy crab dip and chips, an amazing combination of doughy deliciousness with crab chunks and old bay. i believe my first words after a bite were “OH MAN” and then “i need to figure out how to make this.” so leading up to the super bowl party, i started doing some preliminary research. “crab pretzel recipe” goes into google and out comes a few different variations of basically the same thing. mash up crab dip ingredients, spread on top of normal pretzels, bake, and eat. which is nice, except that it wasn’t what i wanted.
first, i didn’t want mayo. second, i didn’t want to mush up my crab pieces by mixing it into the topping. third, some of these recipes lacked old bay (MYGODWHATARETHEYTHINKING). fourth, i didn’t want to use pre-fab pretzels and some of the food bloggers’ homemade pretzel pictures looked quite funky (no offense). i also decided i didn’t want to do a log because i felt like the narrowness made it too easy for the toppings to fall off.
so this is what i came up with. it was my first time making pretzels and i found them to be unexpectedly not-temperamental because the dough was so clean and easy to work with. besides waiting for the dough to rise, in all, these crab pretzels were pretty low-key on the effort- and time-o-meter.
makes 8 ridiculously big ones
part I: it all starts with these luscious, plump and soft — yet still chewy — pretzels adapted from alton brown.
what you need:
- 1 and 1/2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees, if you own a candy thermometer. i put my water in the microwave for a minute.)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 22 oz flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups (i used my kitchen scale to measure 14 oz all-purpose flour and 8 oz bread flour but i think you’re safe to go more or less either way)
- 2 oz unsalted butter, melted
- spray oil
- 10 cups water
- 2/3 cup baking soda
- 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
what you do:
combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and let sit for a few minutes until it gets foamy. add the flour and melted butter.
i like to give my dough a head start by manually using the dough hook to mix the dry and wet ingredients together until they’re somewhat incorporated, then hooking it back up to the mixer for more hardcore kneading. mix on low speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away cleanly from the side of the bowl (only took me about 3 minutes).
remove the dough from the bowl and spray the bowl’s interior with oil. return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. spray oil onto a 12″x18″ baking sheet.
on the stove, bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.(i used my big Le Creuset dutch oven.)
while waiting for the water to boil, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface (i.e. cutting board sprayed with oil) and cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. the easiest way to get somewhat-even pieces is to use a knife to cut the big dough ball in half, then cut each half in two, and cut those pieces in two again.
roll out each piece of dough into a 18- to 24-inch rope (doesn’t have to be exact… just know the smaller the rope, the fatter the pretzel). make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and twist once, then press the ends onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. place onto the pan.
gently drop the shaped pretzels into the boiling water, just one or two at a time, for 30 seconds. remove them from the water using a large flat spatula and place them back on the pan (it helps to re-spray the pan with oil before putting them back on, otherwise them suckas might stick). brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture.
bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes, and let cool.
you can see from the picture that mine browned a little unevenly. and they are indeed plump. no matter though, the taste and texture were perfectly soft and chewy.
part II: after the pretzels are cooled, make the seafood magic happen with this deconstructed crab pretzel topping — exclusive! my own creation, SON.
what you need:
- 8 oz plain cream cheese (one brick = 8 oz), softened at room temperature but not melted
- 1 Tbsp old bay seasoning
- 1 tsp worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp sour cream (optional, really)
- 4 oz fresh blue crab meat (i used this backfin crab meat found at wegmans and you’ll only need half the container. you can also use jumbo lump crab meat for extra impressive deliciousness, but it will cost you more. personally, i am strongly anti-canned crab so i urge you to either go fresh or go home.)
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar or colby jack cheese, or a mixture of both
- 1 stalk of scallions, chopped (alternatively, you could use chives)
what you do:
in a bowl, mix together the soft cream cheese, old bay, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and sour cream (you can use a fork or a handheld electric mixer). it should taste salty, a little spicy, the slightest bit tangy and crabby.
check the crab meat for any stray shell pieces and pick those out but try not to overhandle the meat so that it stays clumpy.
thickly spread the old bay cream cheese mixture on top of the cooled pretzels, then gently press a layer of the crab meat into the cream cheese. top off with a generous sprinkling of shredded cheeses.
[do-ahead note — you could complete all of the pretzel making and assemblage up to this point the day before, if needed, and keep the tray in the refrigerator. just pull the tray out and make sure it’s not too chilled before you go to the next step.]
part III: just before you’re ready to serve, turn your broiler on high and place your oven rack close to the top, but not at the highest level. (go for second or third highest.) let things get a little warm in there… then put your tray of beautiful crab pretzels onto the rack. watch it as it broils — it’ll only take two minutes and you will see the cheese melt, get all bubbly and lightly scorched. take it out at that point, sprinkle the chopped scallions on top (add another smattering of old bay too, if you want! go crazy!) and serve immediately.
i was quite pleased with the result although they were definitely ginormous. comparing the two, i think my interpretation turned out pretty darn good. whatchu think?