Sesame Pretzels with Za’atar Mozzarella Sauce

We’ve done it, we’ve achieved peak coziness: Bernie and I live in our matching fuzzy fleeces, soothing whispery folk tunes play on repeat, and in between nap times we pick squash and apples from the garden. I never thought I could love the fall more, but of course now it’s one thousand million times better with a giggling Bern strapped on to me. I try not to think about the fact that in a few short years, this time of year will mean that it’s time for her to start school, but what I do love thinking about is all of the school supplies and the after school snacks that we’re going to enjoy. (I know, I’ve just made my first batch of baby food and I’m already thinking about after school snacks?! Listen, I already know her full Bat Mitzvah menu, ok? Just let me have this.) I’m just so excited because the snack time that I engaged in regularly after school growing up was probably my favorite meal of the day. I mean, I loved my little breakfast sandwiches that I would eat on the ride to school, and lunches in my frog lunchbox were always great especially when they involved baloney sandwiches, but nothing ever compared to sitting at the kitchen counter, feasting on snacks with a big glass of milk, and hanging out with my mom while D.W. got sassy at Arthur on the TV in the background. After school snack food was always the best food: dumplings, pizza pockets, miniature bagel dogs, cheese on toast, and the crown jewel, hot pretzels. I’d have the frozen kind that came with a packet of extra coarse salt and I’d microwave them with a slice of cheese that got bubbly around the edges. I was never patient enough to allow them to cool so that they wouldn’t burn my mouth, but they were delicious all the same (and nothing that a sip of cold milk wouldn’t fix). It was the best tastiest little break between school and marimba practice and I can’t wait to have that break with Bern.

So today I’ve got a new and improved version of my old fave, one that I’ll make as soon as Bernie starts school, and one that I make these days just to have around for noshing. It uses a kitchen hack that I love which is that you can make pretzels from pretty much any fluffy bread dough, store-bought or homemade. In a world where I am an octopus and can hold Bernie with one set of arms while kneading dough with the other set of arms, I would use challah with this. Challah pretzels forever. But these days I’ve been using store-bought bread dough which works like a charm. In a nod to Jerusalem bagels, these are oval shaped and covered in enough sesame seeds to make any basic dough a little bit more interesting. You can make a big batch of pretzels and keep them in the freezer and reheat them so that they’re hot and ready at a moments notice. And they get dipped in a creamy, rich, and surprisingly easy to make cheese sauce that’s topped with earthy za’atar and includes protein thanks to the real milk and cheese within. It’s soo good and filled with nutrients that will keep Bernie going through her after school orchestra rehearsal/dance class/hockey practice/horticulture club (?) etc. It’s just a simple milk-based sauce that comes together in a snap and then melts with mozzarella. I love mild mozzarella with a pop of za’atar but, yes, you can use any melty cheese that’s in your fridge!

Sesame Pretzels with Za’atar Mozzarella Sauce

Makes 8 pretzels 

Pretzel Ingredients

1 c (230g) baking soda

2 (11 oz) cans store bought french bread dough (or a batch of homemade yeasted bread dough, might I suggest challah dough!)

2 c (472g) water

Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with a splash of water

Sesame seeds and flaky salt, for topping

Mozzarella Sauce Ingredients

2 tb unsalted butter

2 tb all-purpose flour

1 c (240g) whole milk

1 c (125g) shredded mozzarella

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Crushed red pepper or hot sauce, optional

2 tsp za’atar


First, bake the baking soda. Preheat the oven to 250ºf, spread the baking soda out in an 8” x 8” baking dish and bake for 1 hour. Let it cool and set it aside. This can be prepped ahead and stored in an airtight container for several weeks. (Even though the baked baking soda isn't as strong as lye, which is traditionally used for making pretzels, it could still potentially irritate your skin, so avoid touching it with bare hands once it's out of the oven.)

To form the pretzels, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350ºf. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and then roll into snakes, about 3/4-1” thick. Smoosh the ends together to form big ovals and transfer to the baking sheets, one inch apart. 

(If using homemade dough, complete the recipe through the first rising, shape into ovals as described above, place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and then give them their second rise.)

Make the baking soda bath: Add the water to the dish with the baking soda and whisk gently to dissolve the baking soda (it likely won’t all dissolve, a few baking soda chunks are totally ok as long as you remove any that stick to the dough). Using gloved hands, tongs, or a slotted spoon, and working in batches, immerse the pretzels into the mixture for 2-3 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate or pan lined with a paper towel and pat them dry and then place them back on the baking sheet. Brush with the egg wash, sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds and a few pinches of flaky salt, and bake until deep golden brown; begin checking at 16 minutes. Let cool slightly and then enjoy warm with cheese sauce! 

These freeze well! Let them cool fully and store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a few months. Reheat in the microwave or thaw at room temp.

For the za’atar mozzarella sauce: In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for another minute. Add half of the milk and whisk until thickened and then add the other half, continuing to whisk until thickened. Add the mozzarella and whisk until melted. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and spicy stuff, if using. Transfer to a serving bowl, top with za’atar and serve. 

Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and then reheated in a saucepan or microwave. Stir in an extra splash of milk, if desired, to thin it out. 


I’m so pleased to have partnered with milk life, on this recipe! Dairy milk always played a starring role in my favorite back to school moments! Bernie and I already obviously have a special bond when it comes to food (we just started introducing solids and she loves watching me cook!) – and I know as she gets older and goes to school, the role that food plays in how we connect together will only continue to grow.

photos by chantell and brett quernemoen.

pretzel challah bagel dogs 🥨 🌭

I pretended to be Lindsey Vonn this weekend at the ski hill in Bemidji! And by that I mean, we went skiing. Finally! Because it was a tropical 34º. And then any time I was scared going down the black diamond, I just said “Lindsey Vonn” out loud and that helped me be courageous.

(Should we try that with other things? Should we just shout “Ina Garten” any time we’re getting a bundt cake out of the pan?)

Now that we’ve graduated from the tiny cute Bemidji hill, we are in the market for a slightly taller more aggressive Midwest ski hill so that we can try and work our way up to Whistler. We hear Lutsen is good, but I really just want any place that will force me to earn an après ski hot tub/cheese fry combo.  

On Sunday night we made guacamole and quesadillas and went across the street to the Eggparents’ and watched three quarters of the Vikings… not… doing… so….


I think that it is too soon to mention football in the state of Minnesota…

But if, say, we decided we were due for a party to watch a Justin Timberlake concert that’s sandwiched between two halves of a big sports event, then these pretzel challah bagel dogs would certainly be on the menu, no? Pigs in blankets have been on the menu of every halftime concert viewing party throughout history, from packed bashes in Harlem with the Juilliard double bass section, to percussion basement parties in Short Hills at Sam’s house, to the few parties that we’ve thrown here on the farm. They’re a must. The reason for the season.

Remember when I went through my pretzeling phase? That was fun in kind of a dangerous way, I still have the bottle of lye in my cabinet, but in the past few years now I’ve opted to go the baked baking soda route when I make pretzels. You bake a bunch of baking soda at a low temp for like an hour and that increases its intensity, and then you put that into a bath for your pretzels. It’s more intense than just using regular baking soda (which equals more pretzel flavor) but less intense than lye (which equals less risk of burning off your esophagus). And I find it makes pretzeling things way more accessible, so accessible that when Kristin came to visit for a weekend with her Packers fan fiancé a few months ago and we decided we wanted to make pretzel dogs for the game, we didn’t feel the need to *not* stay out until 2am in order to be alert enough in the morning to handle risky chemicals. 

(More reading on baked baking soda here)

These doggos are in a sweet eggy challah blanket that stays so nice and soft and takes beautifully to its pretzel shell, and then they’re sprinkled with everything bagel topping because if you don’t have a huge jar of it on hand by now, are we even bffs?????? (I used to measure this out but now I just buy a bunch of minced dried onion, minced dried garlic, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds and dump them into a deli container with a few really good pinches of kosher salt, that’s it. Caraway seeds are optional.) These things combine three of the best carbs, the only thing that could possibly make them better would be to add my fourth favorite carb, the potsticker. Or maybe pretzel challah bagel potsticker dogs sound like too *much*.

Unpopular opinion: I’ve been preferring full-sized hot dogs for pigs in blankets over lil smokies. Two reasons: 1. It’s easier to find full-sized hot dogs/sausages that don’t contain unpronounceable ingredients, 2. It’s easier to get a good bread : wiener ratio. Lil smokies are too skinny and make it too easy to have too much breadiness. You can always cut big hot dogs down into party-sized slices, but the thickness of a full-sized wiener really helps us with what we’re trying to achieve here.

*Keeps a straight face*

pretzel challah bagel dogs

makes 16



2 1/4 tsp (1 envelope) active dry yeast 

3/4 c (178g) warm water, 105-110ºf 

1 tsp plus 1⁄4 c (50g) sugar

3 1/2 c (448g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 tsp kosher salt 

2 large eggs 

1/3 c (66g) flavorless oil


Baking soda bath:

1 c (230g) baking soda

 2 c (472g) water


16 precooked hot dogs/sausages/veggie dogs

Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with a splash of water

everything bagel topping (see above)

ketchup and mustard, for serving


in a medium bowl, combine the yeast, warm water, and 1 teaspoon sugar and give it a little stir. let it sit for about 5 minutes, until it becomes foamy on top. 

in a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine remaining sugar, flour, and salt. in a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and oil.

add the yeast mixture and then the egg mixture to the flour and stir to combine. Knead either in the stand mixer or by hand on a floured surface, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking, for 7 to 10 minutes, until smooth and just slightly sticky.

Grease the inside of a large clean bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover again with the towel and let the dough rise for 2 to 3 hours, until doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, bake your baking soda. Preheat the oven to 250ºf, spread the baking soda out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 1 hour. Let it cool and set it aside until after you've shaped your dogs. (Even though the baked baking soda isn't as strong as lye, it could potentially irritate your skin, so avoid touching it once it's out of the oven.)

Increase the oven to 375ºf. line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

split the dough into 16 equal portions and keep it covered when you're not working with it. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll out a long skinny snake and wrap it firmly and evenly around a hot dog. Roll it back and forth on your work surface a couple of times so that the coils of the dough stick together, and then place it on a baking sheet. Continue with the remaining dough and hot dogs, placing them 1 1/2" apart on the baking sheet. Cover and let rise for 20 more minutes.

Make the baking soda bath: place the baked baking soda in a large bowl or casserole dish and add the 2 cups of water. Stir it to dissolve the baking soda (I've never been able to get all of it to dissolve, so a few baking soda chunks are totally ok as long as they don't stick to the dough). Using gloved hands or tongs and working in batches, immerse the dogs into the mixture for about 2 minutes on both sides. Pat them dry with a paper towel and place them back on the baking sheet. Brush with the egg wash, sprinkle with everything bagel topping, and bake until golden brown; begin checking for doneness at 16 minutes. Let cool slightly, serve with ketchup and mustard and enjoy! 



pretzel shortbread cookies

there is a correct way to eat a pie and an incorrect way.

the incorrect way is to eat it as a neat slice on a small plate over talk about obvious things. you've probably showered that day, you might even be wearing pants. when you're finished with your slice, you clean up.

the correct way isn't too different: you eat it as a neat slice on a small plate over talk that is hopefully not about obvious things. when you finish your slice, you sit with bad posture and pick at the remainder of the pie, extracting nibbles of the crust. ideally it doesn't matter that you wiped your nose on your hand since the last time you washed it, but if there is anyone else around that also wants to eat pie correctly and who is not your sister, it kind of does. what remains at the end of your correct pie eating session is a blob of filling in the center of a pie plate with no remaining crust because it's all in your belly.

that is how to eat pie. this also applies to pizza pie.

and this is how i envisioned myself eating ashlae's pretzel pie on easter, had the egg family not gobbled it right up. so i did a variation on this method when eggboy left behind some of his crust (i even sprang for the expensive gluten-free pretzels?!), and i savored those last few bites of crust while i wished with all of my might that i could just have an entire pretzel crust all to myself.

so i hurried home and got experimenting with shortbread recipes using the leftover pretzel flour (finely ground pretzels) from ashlae's recipe, and ohmygah, it's a good thing the farmhouse has a treadmill.

these little guys are a lot of things that you want in a cookie: *salty* (most important), quick and easy to make (only three required ingredients, no refrigeration required), and very possibly gluten-free (have you had gluten free pretzels?? they're so good!) 

i encourage you to make these.

pretzel shortbread cookies

inspired by ashlae's pretzel crusted peanut butter pie

makes 18-20 cookies


2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2/3 c sugar

2 c pretzel flour*

optional: dark chocolate for drizzling and sprinkles

*blend approximately 240 grams of pretzels (they can be gluten-free) in a food processor until you have a very fine "flour"



preheat oven to 350ºf. grease 2 cupcake pans and set aside. (if you're just using 1 pan, you can keep the dough at room temperature while the first batch bakes and cools.)

beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. add the pretzel flour and beat until combined and the mixture forms large crumbs. fill up the cupcake tins halfway and then press down firmly. bake for 20 minutes, until they start to brown. important: let them cool in the pan and then gently lift them out. it helps to use a sharp knife on the edges to loosen them from the pan.

if desired, drizzle with melted dark chocolate and decorate with sprinkles.





i guess i just go through phases. i've had my oatmeal phase, my mac and cheese phase, my black sesame phase... every december i have my marzipan phase... this pretzel phase just happens to be sort of a dangerous one, i guess? i never did have a rebellious or druggie phase, so i suppose that food grade lye being my chemical substance of choice can't be all that bad. 

yesterday i pretzeled pie and it came out beautifully. you know when you get those big pillowy pretzels they have a nice glossy layer that you can peel off and eat all on its own for a double shot of pretzel flavor? that is what these pies have. they have that layer that tastes like a perfect pretzel. 

and then there is the crust* and whatever you fill the pie with. i added marzipan and apples to some, and sausage and apples to others. both were magnificent and i encourage you to experiment with different fillings. there are so many amazing pies out there, like this pear, gorgonzola, and walnut oneand these concord grape ones. you should really be able to fill these pretzel pies with anything, because amiright that pretzels can go in any direction they want? they can go with salty, sweet, meaty, cheesy, nutty, vegetable-y... 

 *can i admit something to you about the crust that i used to make these? it is store bought. i can see the mortified look on mum's face right now (i know, mum, i know). but yesterday the market did not open until noon and i was not aware of this, so there i was, way across town, way before it opened. not enough time to go home, way too much time to stay there. but i had no choice... so i diddled around the strip mall, listening to a young(er) conrad tao on "from the top" (that was the only good part about my long wait). why does nothing open until noon in my tiny town? come noon time, alllll of the townspeople were suddenly at the market, and it was crowded and i was tired. and i just did not want to make pie crust. 

so if you are wondering if you can use that special family heirloom pie crust recipe for this, the answer is that i don't know. i imagine it would be fine, but i am somewhat of a pie novice, so i don't want to make any promises :-( (if you try it and it works, perhaps you could tell me!)

without further ado, here is how to pretzelize pie: 

makes 6-8 hand pies

ingredients & supplies 

1 batch of pie crust (read the spiel above about the crust) 

1 1/2 cups of any pie filling that you please

latex or rubber gloves

protective eyewear  

3 tb food grade lye

4 c cold water

kosher salt, for sprinkling


on a floured surface, roll out pie dough to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out circles (i use the lid of a wide mouth mason jar). 

place half of them on a floured baking sheet and spoon 2-3 tablespoons of filling into the centers. wet the edges and place remaining circles on top. seal very well with a fork. freeze for 20-30 minutes. 

preheat oven to 400. prepare a baking sheet with greased parchment paper. gear up with your gloves and protective eye wear, and in a medium bowl mix the lye into the water, one tablespoon at a time. be careful that it doesn't splash.

when the pies are done freezing, work one at a time to dip the topsides of the pies into the lye bath for 10 seconds. sprinkle with salt and bake for 18-20 minutes, until cooked through.

enjoy with mustard, unless you're using a sweet filling because that might get weird. 

(to dispose of the lye water, place the bowl flat in an empty sink and let cold water run in it for a few minutes so that it gets very diluted. then slowly pour it down the drain.)