I (Pretzel) Heart Independence.

That’s right, those are hand-drawn pretzel hearts. So this is what I choose to do with my new-found freedom? Perhaps not the seminal, groundbreaking work one might anticipate from a newly liberated creative soul. And yet, it feels really good. To have the space and time to do what I need to do, what feels right, what feels like a gift. One week into this new life as a self-directed artist, and already I have so much to reflect on and to be grateful for.

In the last week, I have become intensely aware of the changes in my mood. They show in my work and my desire to make work and even what I feel like making. Here’s what I’ve seen: it’s a storm in there. Sometimes I’m all giddy and happy and free-feeling. I have a million ideas and everything sounds fun and painting is just the best idea ever. Other times everything is scary and nothing I make is truly good, and I can’t imagine what it’s all going towards or that I will ever get there.

I am learning to let that moment bring me back. When I hear myself thinking, “I will never get there,” a little noise like the rewind sound on a VCR (anyone remember those?) goes off in my head, and I pause, just long enough to remember that there is no “there.” The future, success, what good, or bad, or nothing may come of my art, exists only in my head. So why let it torment me? I’m working on taking those moments of panic and, instead of freaking out, asking myself, “What do I want to do now? Now.”

Sometimes it is free-drawing; sometimes it’s painting; sometimes it’s drinking a hot cup of tea and chilling on the couch. And sometimes it’s baking a bunch of pretzel hearts and making doodles of them. And then maybe playing in Photoshop to faux-watercolor them in. Just because I can.

That’s the brilliance of independence. I dunno when I’m gonna be self-sufficient. I don’t know if being a creative person will ever feel less uncertain. But I have the ability to listen to myself and take action, whatever the action that feels right may be. I also don’t know exactly what the greater purpose of pretzel hearts is, but they picked me up on a down afternoon, and perhaps they can do the same for you. Either way, they are both tasty and adorable, which is a good start to being useful in my book.

Mini Peanut Butter Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Hearts

Makes roughly 8 dozen one-inch hearts. If you want to minimize time-spent cookie cutter-ing and dipping, I highly support anyone who opts to create two- or even three-inch pretzel hearts, though you will have to adjust bake time accordingly.

For pretzels:

1/2 cup + 2 tablepoons water

1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1 tablespoon vegetable oil + more for bowl

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt +oodles for sprinkling

2 cups all-purpose flour

For soda bath:

2 tablespoons baking soda

3 cups warm water

For egg wash:

1 large egg

1 tablespoon water

For chocolate coating:

1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

3 tablespoons peanut butter

Sift together the flour and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the other ingredients. Add in the flour/salt mixture. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on low until the dough comes together, about three minutes. Knead on medium-high for another three-to-five minutes until the dough is smooth. Place in an oiled bowl, and set to rise in a warm location for one hour, or until a finger poked into the dough ball leaves an imprint that does not rise back up.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Note: My oven runs slightly hot, so you may want to test one pan of pretzels and then turn the heat up to 400 degrees.

Cut the dough into two sections. Pat one section relatively flat, then roll it out to one-sixteenth of an inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut out hearts.

Whisk the baking soda together with the warm water to dissolve it. Submerge each heart completely in the solution, pat dry on a paper towel and  place on a prepared baking sheet. Once all the hearts are panned up, whisk together the single egg and water to make egg wash. Using a pastry brush, egg wash each heart. Sprinkle them generously with coarse salt, and bake for 12-15 minutes until deep golden brown.

While the first batch are baking, roll out, soda bathe, egg wash, and salt the second portion of dough. Remove the first pretzels from the oven, and set them aside to cool.

In a double boiler on medium low, melt the chocolate chips and stir in the peanut butter. Once the pretzels have cooled, partially dunk each one in chocolate and place on parchment paper or a silicone mat to dry. Allow pretzel hearts to rest in a cool place at least four hours or overnight for chocolate to harden. Or you can eat them as you dip them, fondue-style…whatever floats your boat!

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