Making Soft Pretzels With Lye

That’s right. Lye. It’s the traditional way to make soft pretzels, but for liability reasons, cooking shows can’t tell you to use lye (I guess). It’s also kind of a bit of work to get ahold of. But without it, your pretzels will taste like they’re missing something. It also gives them that gorgeous golden color:

The recipe to use is the one from Alton Brown (of Good Eats fame). Instead of using baking soda as he suggests, use 1 oz. of lye crystals to 1 quart of water. I used double that because I had a big pot. Get the mixture to a boil and drop each pretzel in the solution for 30 seconds before you glaze em and bake em.

A couple other things of note I came across while making these:

  1. Don’t forget the melted butter in the dough recipe! I forgot it in my second batch and the pretzels just weren’t the same.
  2. If you love butter (like I do), use it to glaze the pretzels instead of the egg mixture. It’s oh so yummy!
  3. Once you’re done with your lye solution, don’t leave it in the pot! I made the mistake of leaving it in a non-stick pot overnight, and it made the non-stick coating… unstick itself!

Anyways, I gotta give it to Alton Brown. His recipes are always a delight.

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    6 Comments

    1. Phil May 25, 2009 7:15 pm 

      Is the lye you used the same that’s used in soap making? If so, how is it not poisonous?

    2. Luke Rymarz May 26, 2009 1:23 pm 

      It is indeed the same lye as that used in soap-making. I actually make my own soap, and used the lye from my stash of soap making supplies.

      The difference is two-fold. The first is in the quantity you use. The soft-pretzel case is diluted in water by a factor of 1:32, whereas in soap making, you usually dilute the lye by a factor of 1:3. The second is that in soap-making, you use 100% of the lye in your soap. In pretzel making, it’s just a coating on the outside of your dough for a nice chewy texture and a teensy bit of flavor.

      Lye IS poisonous in large amounts, and can be pretty dangerous to use, but if you’re up for it, you can get some (after filling out and faxing some forms) from soap making websites. I got mine from Bramble Berry.

    3. jberez October 26, 2009 3:25 pm 

      The lye is not poisonous because it reacts with the gluten in the dough to form the beautiful brown patina.

    4. Handmade Soap June 24, 2010 6:11 am 

      love your posts. your rss is subscribed to :)

    5. Bill_the_Baker July 11, 2011 12:04 pm 

      Check out http://www.essentialdepot.com . their Lye is free of impurities and is great for Pretzels. If you use the discount code “ship30″ you can receive an additional 30% off shipping.

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