Are you guys ready for this bread? This bread that is all delicious Oktoberfesty things rolled into one?? Soft pretzels, mustard, horseradish, cheese, BEER!!
I didn’t go into the day I made this thinking I was making this. It was one of those kind of magical kitchen moments where you start one project (in this case, my kids had requested soft pretzels), and it turned into a wouldn’t-that-be-good situation: Pulling out my laptop and Googling different pull-apart breads, thinking of delicious flavors that go with pretzels (the easiest part of all this tbh), which then evolved into a quick trip to the store to get some Oktoberfest beer and sharp cheddar, and then ultimately resulted in this delicious German bread-beer-cheese-mustard situation you see in front of you. It was love at first unplanned site. Much like when I had Owen. (jokes!)
Anyway I also found out, during phase one of this (googling), that Oktoberfest– like the REAL Oktoberfest– is actually in September. This led me down a quick spiral of more Googling which led to this answer:
The historical background: the first Oktoberfest was held in the year 1810 in honor of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The festivities began on October 12, 1810 and ended on October 17 with a horse race. In the following years, the celebrations were repeated and, later, the festival was prolonged and moved to September.
Basically they wanted to party longer, so they start it in September. Those Germans. So wild and carefree.
Pretzels, while seemingly intimidating with their twisting and their multiple steps, are actually a super easy bread. The dough is pliable and smooth. Easy to work with and you can do the whole project in an afternoon– which is not to be said of many other delicious breads. Yes, there is a pesky boiling step, but that is what guarantees the “pretzel” flavor in a pretzel so you can’t leave that out. Additionally, after years of just sprinkling kosher salt on homemade pretzels at home, I tossed a 2lb container of pretzel salt in the Amazon cart a few weeks ago, and I’m glad I did. There’s just something about those unmeltable little pieces of salt waiting for you with each bite that make a pretzel what you want it to be. Plus now I have TWO POUNDS of Pretzel Salt so I’m guessing I’m good on that purchase for the rest of my life.
This recipe is a bit of a project, so it’s great for a crowd. That way, LOTS of people can compliment and justify your slaving away in the kitchen while they pull a piece of the chewy, mustardy, cheesy bread off the end of the loaf. A true ego boost. Truly though, it’s better for a group. I think it goes without saying that it’s best served warm (so the cheese is at maximum delicious levels), and so when you place it in front of a group of people they can all dig in and enjoy.
So even if you haven’t donned lederhosen and grabbed your stein out of storage– this bread is a delicious choice for snacking while watching football, or you know, in place of lunch on a Saturday afternoon! It screams tailgates and Autumn and friends and of course– beer.
Oktoberfest Pretzel Pull Apart Bread
Makes 1 loaf, serves 6-8 people as an appetizer or snack
Recipe based off Americas Test Kitchen Ballpark Pretzels recipe from their book Bread Illustrated
3 3/4 C Bread Flour
2 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 C water, room temp
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp packed dark brown sugar
1/4 C baking soda
2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
1/4 C Oktoberfest Beer
1 heaping tsp prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
8 oz sharp white cheddar, shredded
Pretzel Salt (or kosher if you don’t have any)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk flour, 4 tsp kosher salt, and yeast together in bowl of stand mixer. In a separate measuring cup, whisk water, 2 tbsp oil, and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Spray a 9×4 inch loaf pan with a good amount of nonstick spray and set aside.
Attach the dough hook to the stand mixer. Mix at low speed, slowly adding the water/sugar mixture until cohesive dough is formed and no dry flour remains. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Increase speed to medium low and knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears the sides of the mixing bowl, about 8 minutes.
Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball. Place dough seam side down in lightly greased large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise 1-1.5 hours, or until doubled in size. Tip: I like to take a marker and put the time the dough SHOULD be ready on the plastic wrap. That way if I totally space setting a timer on my phone or the stove– I can glance over at the bowl and see.
Press down on risen dough in the bowl to deflate. Transfer dough ball to clean counter (you should not need flour). Stretch and roll (you can use a rolling pin but I was able to do this with just stretching and my hands) until you get about a 18×12 inch rectangle.
Cut the rectangle 5 times vertically into strips that are about 2 inches across. Cut horizontally 5 times to make approx 2X2 inch squares.
Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes. While dough is resting, bring 4 cups of water and 1/4 C baking soda to a boil in a dutch oven or large stock pot set over medium high heat. Set oven rack to middle position and heat to 400F. In a small bowl, combine dijon, beer, horseradish, and black pepper. Whisk to combine. Set aside.
Once the water is boiling, transfer the cut pieces of dough onto a rimmed baking sheet and place near the stove. Place an empty rimmed baking sheet on the other side of the pot (for the finished pieces) Carefully add 6 pieces (one row) at a time to the boiling water, letting boil for only 15 or so seconds. The dough will get puffy and start to smell like pretzels! Remove the pieces from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and place on the empty baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the pieces of dough. Note: The water will get foamy and bubbly– this is normal. You’re going for time in the water more so than a visual cue so just keep an eye on the clock and pull the pieces out when they are ready.
Once all the pieces have been boiled and are on the separate baking sheet, grab the bowl of delicious that you whisked up earlier, and using a pastry brush, paint the mixture onto the top side of each piece.
This part will be kind of sticky, you just have to embrace it.
Get ready for assembly:
Get your sheet pan with brushed pretzel pieces, your shredded cheddar cheese, your pretzel salt, and your prepared loaf pan. Tilting the loaf pan vertically, start stacking pieces of dough into the pan, feel free to squish them down, and adding a layer of shredded cheese between each. I was able to put two pieces side by side on many of the layers, Just stack, sprinkle cheddar, stack, sprinkle cheddar, repeat until you get to the top. I did have a handfull of extra pieces (I think 4) which I just plopped on a sheet pan next to the loaf and baked up. They were also delicious. Would recommend.
Place the loaf pan on a sheet tray to catch the melty cheese which will drip over the pan and onto your oven floor and smoke up the house a bit (learn from my mistakes!), and any leftover pieces of dough can go on that sheet pan too. Sprinkle the top with pretzel salt.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through cooking time. Bake until the cheese is bubbly, the top is mahogany brown, and you start getting super hungry.
Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes to let the cheese settle down. Using a spatula (I used a solid lasanga turner, worked great). Run it inside between the bread and the sides to loosen up the loaf. Tip the loaf pan vertically and pop that baby out.
Place on a plate and serve warm to those who have come lurking in the kitchen smelling the goodness that is about to come out of it. Enjoy!