WHAT YOU'LL NEED
For the Pretzels:
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup apple butter, room temp
1 package (or 2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar or honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
3.5 cups all purpose flour
8 cups water
1/2 cup baking soda (for boiling)
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs apple butter
1 Tbs water
Large flake salt, for sprinkling
Spray oil, for handling
For the Dip:
1 heaping cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 5 oz)
1 cup whole milk
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (leaves from about 2 sprigs)
2 Tbs all purpose flour
2 Tbs butter
salt and pepper to taste
WHAT YOU'LL DO
For the Pretzels:
Combine the 3/4 cup warm water, the sugar or honey and kosher salt in a mixing bowl until the sugar and salt dissolve. (If you have a stand mixer, you can do this in the bowl of the mixer). Sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside for 5 minutes to proof, or until until it looks a little foamy.
Once your yeast is ready, whisk the (room temp) apple butter into your wet mixture. Add both the flour and butter. If using a stand mixer, use the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. (If using an electric hand beater, still use the hook attachments instead of the round beaters). Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is totally smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle in more flour one tablespoon at a time if needed. You want the dough to be on the wet side, but not stick to your fingers.
Remove the dough from the bowl temporarily so you can clean the bowl, and then spray it with oil generously. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
Note for make ahead: You can do everything up to this point the night before, placing the dough in the fridge to rise overnight. Just make sure you bring the dough back up to room temperature before you bake it the next day.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet (or two smaller) with parchment paper and lightly spray with oil. Set aside.
Bring the 8 cups water and the baking soda to a boil in a large, straight-sided skillet. A pot will do, but the more wide and shallow the better. While you water comes to a boil, spray your counter or work surface with more oil and turn the dough out onto it. Use a knife or pastry cutter to divide into 8 equal(ish) pieces.
Roll out each piece of dough into a long rope, at least 18 inches long. Make a long U-shape with the rope, and then, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the classic pretzel. Place (carefully) on the prepared parchment lined baking pan. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, and reshape them as needed.
One at a time, place the pretzels in the boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula so the pretzel stays flat and the water drips off completely. Return them to the sheet pans after each boil.
(The pretzels will look pretty ugly at this point but don’t panic! They will puff up and be beautiful once they bake).
For finishing, combine the egg yolk, 1 Tbs apple butter, and 1 Tbs water and brush the mixture over the top of the pretzels. Sprinkle with your desired amount of pretzel salt.
Bake until dark golden brown in color, about 12 minutes. (The apple butter in the glaze makes them take on the loveliest dark auburn coloring in spots).
Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.
For the Dip:
Melt the butter in the pan on medium heat and add the chopped rosemary. Sauté the rosemary until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Then sprinkle in your flour, combining with the butter to make a smooth paste (roux) and cook another 1-2 mins until it bubbles.
Add in the milk in a steady stream, whisking as you pour it in and making sure no clumps of flour remain. Cook for another minute or two until milk mixture is smooth and thickened, then remove from heat. Stir in the grated sharp cheddar until completely incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately if possible, or keep warm on very low heat, stirring frequently until ready to serve.
Makes 8 pretzels and plenty of cheese sauce for even the greediest of dippers.