My first zucchini cobbler recipe worked well but I felt as though it could be improved and even as the zucchini plants were nearly done producing we seemed to be drowning in zucchini so I thought I would try again.
The night I decided to try again my mom and grandma were coming over and I thought I would serve a savory snack as well. I’ve been trying to perfect my pretzel dough recently and for some reason I’ve become addicted to pretzel dogs so the menu was set.
Zucchini Cobbler recipe revised
From my original recipe I thought it could be improved by using less dough and or more zucchini, using less sugar, and less lemon juice. Now that I’ve tried it out the only thing I was completely right about was the lemon juice.
The recipe below used more zucchini and less dough. Nearly 12 cups of zucchini instead of 8. While still coming out really well, unlike the initial recipe which did have a more apple like consistency in the filling and had I pealed the zucchini you couldn’t have been absolutely sure it was zucchini. With less dough and more zucchini the zucchini did not cook as thoroughly and in most bites you were instantly aware you were eating “zucchini” cobbler due to the texture. Which wasn’t bad mind you, but I think people who are less open to alternative uses for “vegetables” are not going to warm up to your cobbler. Simply baking it longer at the current temperature wasn’t an option as the crust would have beyond golden by the time the zucchini was fully cooked and even then I suspect that it would have just become mushy instead of the pleasantly soft consistency in my original recipe.
Less sugar would have been fine had I not upped the zucchini. I think in the next zucchini cobbler I will use the original amount of sugar with a compromise of 10 cups of zucchini.
As for the lemon juice there was no reason to juice so much lemon. In fact because of my adjusted zucchini/sugar ratios this second cobbler came out exceptionally tart despite the reduced amount of lemon juice.
So with that in mind here is my second version of Zucchini Cobbler:
- 12 cups chopped zucchini
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- ~1 tsp cinnamon
- ~1/2 tsp nutmeg
- ~1/2 tsp ginger, ground
- lemon zest
- orange zest
- cranberries, dried
- blueberries, dried (I used extra because my grandma really likes blueberries)
- 2 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 1/4 cups flour
- ~1 3/4 tsp baking powder
- -~1 tsp salt
- 1 1/3 cup butter, chilled
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 2 large bowls (for dough and filling)
- 3 small bowls (for reserved liquid and sugar/flour)
- 2 wooden spoons (for dry and wet)
Chop the zucchini and place in large bowl.
Consistent size will help with even baking for texture consistency .
Stir in 3/4 cup of sugar. Chill.
This will draw out moisture and make the filling yummy and thick.
Combine 2 cups sugar, 3 1/4 cups flour, 1 3/4 tsp baking powder and salt.
Set aside 1/3 cup of sugar/flour mixture to coat zucchini later.
Cut butter into sugar/flour mixture. Form a coarse meal.
I used my food processor with the dough blade to cut the butter in and it worked great. The first time I froze the butter and grated which helped a lot doing it manually.
Drain and save the sugar syrup from zucchini. Add the 1/3 cup lemon juice. Put back in fridge.
Lightly beat 1 egg and the egg yolk with the vanilla. Drizzle into sugar/flour/butter mixture. It may seem dry at first. Stir until completely absorbed into the egg. Maybe use your hands.
Butter baking pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Partially drain and save the lemon juice from zucchini. Combine with reserved flour/sugar.
Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, lemon zest, orange zest, blueberries, cranberries.
Stir well to evenly distribute flavors.
This is the step that will really determine the character of your cobbler so experiment and make it your own.
Put dough on top of filling.
Start by making 1″ balls, flattening them and place on top, overlapping as you go.
Then when the dough is sticking to your hands just get it on top anyway you can.
Dust the top with cinnamon.
Not too much though as these parts will darken first and if you go too long the dusted parts will blacken. Just a dusting.
Bake on middle rack for 40-50 minutes until golden brown.
It all worked out and everybody liked it but there was less awe-struck, “I can’t believe this is a zucchini cobbler”. The revisions I will try in the next cobbler are:
- 10 cups zucchini (between 8 and 12)
- 3 1/2 cups sugar (between 3 3/4 and 2 3/4)
- 4 cups flour (same as original)
- 2 tsp baking powder (same as original)
- 1 tsp salt (same as original)
- 1 1/2 cup butter, chilled (same as original)
And now onto the…
I originally decided to start making soft pretzels because I was looking for a homemade snack that had less calories than store bought cookies and other garbage that has been making me fat over the last year. I am philosophically opposed to cutting out snacks and dieting in general however so I just decided to start exercising more and try to start cooking more of what I eat (inspired by Jamie Oliver and the Food Revolution). Well I’m still working on the exercise part but I am cooking more, though not enough. So it is with no small irony that what started as wanting to make homemade soft pretzels as a heathiER snack turned into a passion for high calorie high fat pretzel dogs. But damn are they good.
For this batch I went with some Hot & Spicy Italian Sausage and Cheddar Bratwurst.
The pretzel recipe I have been using is one from Alton Brown. Though as I will discuss shortly I may be trying another one.
Soft Pretzel Dough recipe
- 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
- 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
- Vegetable oil, for pan
- ~10 cups water (for baking soda bath)
- 2/3 cup baking soda
- 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
- Pretzel salt
Combine water, sugar, kosher salt and leave for 5 minutes or mixture starts to foam.
Add flour and butter. If you are using a mixer you would be using the dough hook. Unfortunately I am not yet the proud owner of a stand mixer (feel free to donate yours) so I am forced to use a combination of food processor and hand kneading. Mix slowly until well combined (low on stand mixer or I just used short bursts with the food processor and a dough blade). This is where it gets tricky for me because the recipe says to switch to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. In my case I just let the food processor run until I am afraid it is going to burn the motor out ;) then I continue to knead by hand until I feel like it is smooth and good. This is where I think all my dough problems are occurring. I am not kneading enough, but we’ll wait a bit more to discuss this and why I might try out another recipe.
Liberally coat a bowl with vegetable oil, place dough in the bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size. Once again this could be a culprit in my as yet undisclosed dough problem which we are getting to. I use aluminum foil but EVERY recipe says to use cello/cling/plastic wrap. But I can’t remember the last time we used plastic wrap in our house but we’ve had an industrial sized roll of aluminum foil forever. As we will see later I have to be suspicious of every step of the dough making process including this one.
Beat the egg yolk and 1 tbsp water
Once the dough is ready preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Everybody says to line sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. But everytime I’ve tried this it has inevitably led to the parchment paper sticking to the pretzels.
Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan. At this step it should be noted that other soft pretzel recipes don’t use boiling water, some use warm water, some use cold water and the first time I made pretzels I somehow convinced myself that this was actually part of the cooking process due to the boiling water. However, upon watching a man discuss German soft pretzel techniques I learned the real purpose of the baking soda bath. It isn’t about cooking the pretzels at all. It’s about creating a chemical reaction in the outside layer of the pretzel that causes it to become crisp while maintaining the soft bready interior. Ultimately the bath is what gives pretzels their distinct smooth golden brown crispier outside. And in traditional soft pretzel recipes this is done with lye instead of baking soda. But I must admit it seems odd to be using an ingredient/step in cooking that is caustic and requires hazmat gloves to use. At any rate, besides the kneading process, the baking soda bath is where I must be doing something wrong that causes any attempt to use parchment paper during baking results in parchment paper baked into the bottom of the pretzels.
Meanwhile place dough onto a slightly oiled surface and divide into 8 equal pieces.
Roll out each piece into ~24 inch “ropes”.
If you are just making pretzels, make a U-shape, cross the ends over each other forming an “X” and press the ends into the bottom of the “U”. Classic pretzel shape. Though it appears as though traditional German soft pretzels twist the dough twice when forming the “X”.
If you are making soft pretzel dogs, take “dog/sausage/wurst” and hold it with one end of the “dog” at an angle at the end of you stretched out rope. Begin rolling the dog, winding the dough “rope” around the “dog” like a barber shop pole. Leave a tiny tip of “dog” sticking out each end otherwise leaving not gaps between each wrap of the “dog”. Be sure to pinch or tuck the dough rope at each end so it holds together during the “bath”. It really sucks when the dough starts unraveling on one end while in the baking soda water.
Place your pretzels/dogs 1 by 1 into the boiling baking soda water for 15 to 30 seconds. The original recipe called for 30 seconds but a lot of other recipes seem to use 15 with varying temperatures of water so I’ve concluded that this part needs to be worked out to a science as it were since it seems to me that this step is a science project in an attempt to get the perfect outside of your pretzel.
Remove from the water and place onto your baking sheet. Now this is where I MUST be doing something wrong because it plainly clear that the excess water I can’t completely drip off is what is causing my parchment paper to stick during baking.
Brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with pretzel salt. Honestly I’ve just been using the coarse kosher salt which has worked out great for me. Though I guess there is something fun about those GIANT chunks of salt that you almost have to knock some off in order to eat.
Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Yummy goodness. Everybody who has had them loves them.
However as you can see in the pictures I do not have a smooth perfectly golden brown outside typical to most soft pretzels. And this is where all of my comments about the recipe, mixer, kneading, aluminum foil covering during rising, and baking soda bath come together.
Even while rolling the dough into the ropes the dough does not remain smooth as I roll, pull, stretch the ropes out. It always seems to rip a little in a way that ends up looking like “stretch marks” for lack of a more appetizing way to say it. And this is plainly visible in the end result.
And while the outsides actually do have a “crispness” like a soft pretzel, they do not evenly brown. I suspect this has as much to do with uneven application of the egg/water mixture as any problem with the dough itself. The coloring coupled with the non-smooth exterior results in the look of pretzel bread more than a “real” soft pretzel.
Indeed depending on how much I’ve kneaded the dough or how long the baking soda bath is and if the pretzels seem to be cooking too fast forcing me to pull them out without burning them, the pretzels have come out with a texture more like a pretzel bread than a soft pretzel. They always taste like a soft pretzel but I can’t seem to make the perfect dough or figure out the perfect water temperature and length of time for the baking soda bath. Though as the german master pretzel maker says in his video, baking soda is okay, but you will never get a truly crisp and perfectly browned pretzel without using lye. Sigh.
I would suspect that there is something happening with the fat from the dogs, but the texture of the plain pretzels and the pretzel dogs are nearly identical.
I think my biggest problem is in the dough mixing/kneading process. Namely that I am not mixing/kneading the dough nearly enough. Then because of my persistent inconsistent pretzel outsides I have to even ask if there is something bad happening by using aluminum foil instead of plastic wrap to cover the rising dough. Is it allowing moisture out that needs to be there? Is there a strange chemical reaction happening with the aluminum? Am I giving people Alzheimer’s like eating teflon? Not being able to perfect the soft pretzel is making me crazy. I need a stand mixer.
Part of me wonders if it is Alton Brown’s recipe. But when is Alton Brown wrong? He is amazing? Alas I feel compelled to try another recipe under the same conditions just to see.
UPDATE: I found videos on youtube where Alton shows how to make the soft pretzel recipe above. I don’t have TV so I had never seen the segment actually making the pretzels. ( Part 1 | Part 2 ). Definitely looks like my biggest problem is not kneading the dough enough. On his show he discusses the need to create the gluten necessary to contain the gaseous output of our fungal friend, the yeast. When he pulls the dough from the mixer it looks satiny smooth with a matte finish, unlike mine that still looks slightly moist and less smooth. This is even more apparent when you see how smooth a puffy his risen dough looks like. Mine, though doubled in size has a certain denseness that his clearly does not. Then, different from the recipe, he uses a tea towel to cover the bowl during rising. So unless the aluminum foil is doing something bad chemically I doubt now it matters what you cover the bowl with. He also has a little trick for the rolling where he flattens the portioned dough balls, then rolls it up like a carpet or yoga mat, and then rolls that out into the ropes. I’ve been just taking the portioned dough balls and rolling them out like you did with play-dough when you were a kid. You can also see in my plain soft pretzels that there is no space between the “X” and the outside edges of the pretzel. Clearly I am not making the ropes long enough. But with my apparently substandard dough, the ropes are always pulling back and wanting to shrink dramatically ending up with ropes constantly threatening to break. Whereas Alton’s ropes gently fold into perfect pretzel shapes that are easily handled without becoming deformed. As well not mentioned in the recipe I’ve been using, in the segment Alton seems to let the pretzels rise briefly covered with a lightly dampened tea cloth. Again with the tea cloth. And while embarrassed to say, I guess my schooling was deficient, as the hot/warm/cold water issue with the baking soda bath is a simple matter of attempting to enhance the ability for the less potent antacid PH level of baking soda to do it’s chemical magic in place of the obviously hazardous lye. So I guess I’ll try again armed with this more specific recipe process.
Making zucchini cobbler and soft pretzels and pretzel dogs is easy. Perfecting them with your own recipes is much harder.
And if you have an extra stand mixer you don’t need, let me know.