pretzel bitesI haven’t really given many details about our holiday party this year. I’ve been recovering all week! I tried to make cake pops, and they seriously did not work. I need to do a lot more experimenting with them before ever attempting to serve them to another person. They were delicious, but ugly as sin.

These pretzel bites were, however, a bit of a triumph. Next time I need to quadruple the amount of ham and cheese in them, but they were a hit. I made them a couple of days before, froze them, and heated them up for 10 minutes at 400 as per the recipe’s suggestion. These were in the October 2009 issue of Gourmet, the 2nd to last issue EVER. I doubled the recipe to feed a crowd, but I’ve posted the original amounts.

Country Ham and Cheddar Pretzel Bites with Jalapeño Mustard (from October ’09 Gourmet)
Makes 48 pretzel bites.

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar, divided
1/4 cup warm water (110–115ºF)
1 cup warm milk (110–115ºF)
2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely chopped country ham (3 oz; preferably Newsom’s or Benton’s), divided
1/3 cup finely chopped sharp Cheddar, divided
6 cups water
4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons finely chopped seeded fresh jalapeños
1 tablespoon mild honey
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 to 2 tablespoons pretzel salt or coarse salt

Stir together yeast, 1 tsp brown sugar, and warm water in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, 5 to 8 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.)
pretzel yeast mix
In a separate bowl, stir remaining 2 Tbsp brown sugar into warm milk until dissolved.
Add 2 1/2 cups flour and milk mixture to yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a soft dough forms, adding up to 1/2 cup additional flour, a little at a time, if necessary. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead a few times to form a smooth ball.
pretzel dough ball
Transfer to a clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled and bubbles appear on surface, about 2 hours.
doubled dough
Preheat oven to 400ºF with rack in upper and lower thirds. Line two 4-sided sheet pans with parchment paper.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 4 equal piece (8 in my case).
cut the dough
Lightly dust your hands with flour, then gently roll and stretch 1 piece of dough to form a 12-inch-long rope. Flatten dough and arrange so a long side is nearest you, then roll out to a roughly 12- by 4-inch rectangle with a lightly floured rolling pin. Gently press one fourth of ham and cheese into lower third of rectangle, leaving a 1/2-inch border along bottom edge.
pretzel filling
Stretch bottom edge of dough up over filling and press tightly to seal, then roll up as tightly as possible to form a rope.
pretzel rope
Cut rope into 12 pieces and transfer to a sheet pan. Make 3 more ropes with remaining dough, ham, and cheese and cut into pieces, transferring to sheet pans. Let rest at room temperature, uncovered, 30 minutes (dough will rise slightly).
Bring water (6 cups) to a boil in a 4- to 5-qt saucepan. Reduce heat and stir in baking soda (I forgot to add baking soda, so I don’t know how it would affect cooking). Cook pretzel bites in batches in gently simmering water, turning once, until slightly puffed, about 20 seconds.
boiling pretzels
Transfer with a slotted spoon to sheet pans.
puffed pretzels
Bake until puffed and golden-brown, about 15 minutes (cheese may ooze slightly).
Meanwhile, stir together mustard, jalapeños, and honey.
Brush warm pretzel bites with butter and sprinkle with pretzel salt. Serve warm or at room temperature with jalapeño mustard for dipping.
Cooks’ notes: Jalapeño mustard can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Pretzels can be made 2 weeks ahead and frozen (once cooled). Thaw 30 minutes, then reheat in a 400°F oven about 10 minutes.