Cristen Clark's Big Game Ballpark Pretzels
Growing up, sports were a big part of my childhood. As many farm kids are familiar; my shot at a social life was at a ballpark or gym. If we took a vacation, it was to a weekend tournament where there was a hotel with a pool. My friends were my t...
Growing up, sports were a big part of my childhood. As many farm kids are familiar; my shot at a social life was at a ballpark or gym. If we took a vacation, it was to a weekend tournament where there was a hotel with a pool. My friends were my teammates. Memories of this time in my life are some of the best ones I have.
When we went to a softball tournament, it was customary to spend the entire weekend there. We played, napped in the shade and made many visits to the concession stand. One way to separate the great ballparks from the mediocre was to judge their food offerings, namely their pretzels. I played at two ballparks in my 11-year career that had homemade soft pretzels, one park in Kansas City when I was 13 and one in Illinois during my college career.
It's silly; I can remember the pretzels at these ballparks, but not the actual games themselves or even some of the girls on my team. Food memories are some of my most vivid memories, whether in the kitchen with my family, or at a random ballpark in the Midwest, pulling apart the perfect pretzel and plunging it into salty, cheesy dipping sauce.
I recall being at a ballpark in late July, and I can still see my dad, wearing his Red Wing work boots, nicest pair of denim jeans, a blue and green plaid pearl snap shirt, aviator sunglasses, seed corn cap and well-worn ball glove, sitting on a five-gallon bucket. He was waiting for my next pitch.
As I turned around, my mom, wearing a team t-shirt with my number on the back, and photo button peeking out from under her long curly blonde hair, approached me with a fruit punch Powerade, salty homemade pretzel and a handful of sunscreen to smear on my already sweaty face. I can still feel it burn my skin and sting my eyes. I was preparing to throw my third full game of the day, in the oppressive heat. In the distance my little sister sat on a black and white horse blanket, listening to "Rodeo" by Garth Brooks on her cassette player for the 200th time that day.
We were the only farm family on the Catholic school team I played for. Our club was called "The Cremators," and sponsored by a funeral home. Trading pins was a popular thing, and though we had a small and simple Iowa shaped pin, it was highly sought after because it featured a golden horse drawn hearse with a tiny urn inside. As I think back to those times, I'm reminded of California teams asking if we drove tractors to our games. In all seriousness the response I mustered was: "No, we don't ... because that would be a waste of fuel."
Serve these pretzels as the highlight of your game day spread. For a twist, once the dough is rolled out into a rope, wrap them around hot dogs to transform them into pretzel dogs.
Ballpark Style Soft Pretzels
Makes 8 large soft pretzels
1 cup warm tap water (less than 115 degrees)
1 packet of instant yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
4 cups all purpose flour
Pretzel Water Bath:
10 cups water
1/2 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk + 1 teaspoon water, well beaten
Fleur De Sel (French sea salt), pretzel salt or kosher salt, for topping
Combine warm water, yeast and sugar. Swirl to incorporate and let stand for 5 minutes until foamy. Add salt, butter and flour. Stir to combine. Turn out onto a clean workspace and knead for 8 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl, spray top of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise one hour, until doubled. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Remove dough from bowl. Punch down, wait five minutes. Divide into eight equal pieces. Roll into 20-24 inch ropes. Shape into pretzel shape. Let rest on a sheet pan lined with parchment and sprayed with oil, or on a silicone lined sheet pan. Bring ten cups of water to a rolling boil. Add baking soda. Submerge pretzels in a couple at a time, keeping them covered in the boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove from water, return to sheet pan. Brush entire top of pretzels with egg wash. Sprinkle with desired amount of salt. Bake at 450F for 14-16 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove, let cool a few minutes. Serve warm with cheese sauce for dipping.