The original inspiration for this was the idea of a pretzel praline. Pralines are traditionally made with pecans cooked and set in a soft caramel disk that is enriched with butter and cream. Some recipes call for whole pecans while some stud their confections with chopped nuts, although they are alway tender, creamy mouthfuls of nutty goodness. We had a box of large sourdough pretzels in the house and Alex was struck with idea of making a pretzel praline for use in various creations. We discussed it over the course of a dog walk and I decided to make something a bit crumblier and crisper, a play off sandy nuts because I thought it would be more versatile than the traditional creamy praline. Besides, one of my favorite ice cream flavors is Pralines and Cream, a vanilla ice cream ribboned with caramel and studded with tender-crisp candied pecans. So those are the nuts that came to my mind when Alex began discussing pralines.
As we all know the first time I made this I didn't measure. I tossed a couple of handfuls of sugar in a heavy bottomed pot with a pinch of salt and several fist fulls of broken pretzel pieces. You could make these with pretzel nuggets but I like the different shapes and textures of the broken pieces. We used sturdy, salted sourdough pretzel pieces and they gave the finished product a nice uneven texture and crunchiness. I turned the heat on high and began to stir. The sugar at the out edges of the pot caramelized quickly and I continued to to turn the pretzels and sugar with a wooden spoon. The caramel was dark amber and sandy and the pretzel bits toasted in the hot sugar. Once everything was coated and caramelized to my satisfaction I added a few bits of butter to loosen things up and add a bit of richness to the blend. Once it melted in and combined with the caramel mixture I turned it all out onto a sheet tray lined with buttered foil and let it cool. It was pretty delicious stuff.
If it seems too hard, I would fold it into some softened vanilla ice cream and let it set up in the freezer for a couple of hours. Or mix it with nuts for a bar snack to die for. Or grind it up and use it as the crust for a dense cheesecake. Make a coarse crumble to garnish a seared duck breast. Or, well you get the idea. Just have fun with it.
This time I changed things up a bit and started the caramel before adding the pretzels. This turned out well, but it was not as sandy and textural as the first version. It had a much harder, glassier coating than the first version. So if you like more of a crunchy caramel, melt your sugar before adding your pretzels and if you like it a bit softer and mores sandy, add the pretzels before you turn on the heat. Either way, don't walk away from the pot or you will burn your sugar. It's a very quick process, in just over ten minutes you can be eating the results.
1cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups broken pretzel pieces
2 tablespoons of cold butter cut in small pieces
Place sugar, salt and pretzel pieces in a heavy bottomed pot over a high flame. Stir the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon to thoroughly coat the pretzels with the melting sugar. Once most of the caramel has turned amber, but still looks sandy, lower the heat and add the butter. Stir well to blend and once the butter has been fully absorbed, turn the pretzels out onto a buttered sheet tray or silpat. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before eating.