We don’t have much cooking planned this week, so we thought it would be fun to tell you about this year’s version of Oktoberfest.
On Friday the 13th (!) , we continued our several-years-old tradition of having friends over for an Oktoberfest dinner and beer tasting. Our friends Lynee and Rich were able to join us this year. We can’t claim everything was authentically German, but we had a great time and a very nice dinner.
We started, as we have in past years, with Alton Brown’s Homemade Soft Pretzels. This is not a very hard recipe. It certainly does help if you have a little experience making bread or pizza dough, but it’s not absolutely necessary. This is definitely a time and labor-intensive recipe, however. First, you have to make the dough — a stand mixer is a HUGE time saver here! — and then let it rise. Next, you have to roll out the dough and form the pretzels. Then, you boil each pretzel for 30 seconds in water with baking soda; brush the pretzels with a mix of egg yolk and water; and sprinkle on plenty of coarse salt. Last but not least, you bake them for about 12 to 14 minutes.
This was, without a doubt, the best batch of pretzels Tony has ever made, for a few reasons. First, Tony let the dough rise a little longer than in the past, which made the pretzels fairly light. As our readers know, we have a very small kitchen, so there is not enough space to roll the dough out to the 24-inch length called for in the recipe. Tony got creative this year: once he had rolled out the dough as much as he could, he picked it up by the ends and let its own weight stretch it out a bit further. After doing that, forming the pretzels was very easy. Working with a longer strand meant the pretzels also retained their shape better after cooking. Unlike past years, Tony also used a low-sided pot for the water bath, which made it easier to fish out the pretzels after they were boiled. (You should be aware, though, that regardless of what kind of pot you use this step is messy, as any boiling water that spatters out of the pot — and there will be some! — is going to leave a white mark wherever it lands because of the baking soda. If you follow a clean-as-you-go approach, you can wipe down your stove and counter tops while the pretzels bake.) Tony used a lighter touch when brushing on the egg wash than in past years, so the pretzels had a nice shine without being eggy, but a heavier hand with the salt, so the pretzels were nice and flavorful. He also let the formed, boiled, brushed pretzels sit for about 15 to 2o minutes before putting then in the oven. As you can see below, they came out beautifully.
We served the pretzels with grainy and smooth Dijon mustards and Food 52’s Beer Cheese. We had never made the beer cheese before, but it was fantastic. It was smooth and creamy with a bit of heat from cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce and a nice kick from the Worcestershire sauce and beer. It was a big hit; the mustards were more or less ignored. We had the pretzels with Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier, which was our favorite beer of the night. It was crisp, not too heavy or too sweet, and a perfect complement for the salty pretzels and spicy beer cheese.
For our main course, we made Epicurious’ Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Apples and Onions. This was a very easy recipe and, as we hoped, turned out to be a great choice for a dinner party. One of the keys to a successful dinner party is that the hosts pick recipes that don’t force them to be in the kitchen the whole time. Because this dish is completed in four simple steps, it was very easy to complete half the work before our guests arrived. We seared the pork in a cast iron skillet and then cooked the apples and onions in the same pan. While the apples and onions cooked, we let the pork cool a bit, than rubbed the top and sides with grainy mustard and sprinkled on fennel seeds. We put the pork on top of the apple-onion mixture and covered the pan before our guests arrived. While we enjoyed out pretzels, we only needed to get up for 20 seconds to preheat the oven and another 20 seconds to put the skillet in the oven and cook everything, The last steps, further cooking down the apples and onions with some apple cider, slicing the pork, and then serving everything, took less than 10 minutes. We were able to spend most of out time with our guests and very little in the kitchen. Also, in the interest of not spending the whole day cooking, we made dessert and the beer cheese the day before and served some store-bought green beans and roasted red potatoes as our sides.
Dinner turned out very well. The pork was cooked nicely and the apples and onions were a nice accompaniment. We served dinner with three beers: Blue Point Oktoberfest, Goose Island Festbier, and Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest. Everyone ended up ranking the three dinner beers in that order as well: Blue Island as the best of the three, Goose Island as second, and Sierra Nevada as third.
For dessert, we made Stone Gable’s Raw Apple Cake. We had this at a friend’s house not too long ago and we knew immediately that it would be perfect for our Oktoberfest dinner. It’s very easy, even for an inexperienced baker. The apples that go into the cake don’t have to be peeled, which saves a lot of time. Plus, it’s a “dump cake” as in, you dump the wet ingredients into the dry, mix them together, and dump the dough into a cake pan. (Dough is the right term here; the cake starts out more like cookie dough than cake batter.) The cake takes a little while to cook, about an hour or so, but we knew the time would be worth it because the cake was so good. Plus, having the apartment slowly fill with the warm smell of apples and cake was a huge bonus! The cake was a hit, as was the fresh whipped cream that we served along site it. The best part was we had plenty of leftover cake (and pretzels, beer cheese, and pork!) to keep us happy for the following week!