Pretzel Challah

October 11, 2013

It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Molly Yeh from my name is yeh shares the secret to fusing two of our favorite breads: pretzels and challah.

Challah  Challah

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I like my challah like I like my toothbrush: super soft and all to myself. If it's a good squishy loaf, I can eat it all in one sitting. And, please, hold the crust. It's a preference that goes way back to my summer camp days, when my friends and I would de-crust loaves and loaves of challah and devour their insides, handfuls at a time. 

When I lived in New York, if I didn't have the time to make challah from scratch, I picked up a loaf of Zomick's because I love the doughy texture. Now that I live in North Dakota, I'm in the opposite scenario: no Zomick's in sight, but all the time in the world to make challah from scratch. So I've gotten much better at it in the recent weeks -- good enough to feel comfortable telling my challah to make babies with a pretzel, my second favorite bread.

And what a beautiful mix of DNA. 

Challah on Food52

This bread has soft eggy sweetness on the inside and the delicious flavor of pretzel on the outside. It doesn't have a hard crust, so it is my favorite texture all around. The recipe uses lye, which is a powerful alkali that can be pretty dangerous if you don't take the proper precautions. It is way more powerful than the common household pretzel-making technique of using a baking soda bath, but I believe that this challah is absolutely worth living on the edge. 

Pretzel Challah

Makes six small challah loaves

1 batch of this challah dough.  Do add the cardamom.  Follow steps 1 to 6 and meet back here.
1/4 cup food-grade lye
5 cups cold water
Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
Protective eyewear

Once you have made your dough and it is fully risen, divide dough into 6 equal parts. Divide each of those into 3 parts, roll them out into 1-inch ropes, and braid them together. Place on floured baking sheets and freeze for 20 to 30 minutes, or refrigerate for an hour.

Challah  Pretzel Challah on Food52

As the loaves chill, put on your gloves and eyewear, and prepare the lye bath. In a casserole dish, combine the 5 cups of water and the 1/4 cup of lye. Add the lye very slowly so that it doesn't splash. Gently stir it in.

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Hits fortuitous  Pretzel Challah on Food52

Prepare two baking sheets with greased parchment paper. Using two spatulas or your gloved hands, carefully dip each loaf into the bath, top side down, giving the top side 10-15 seconds before placing it onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until loaves are golden brown and cooked through.

Enjoy with mustard and a beer or six!



See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


Photos by Molly Yeh

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • karen
  • Clara
  • MrsPrincess07
  • kath1
  • KCGalante
molly yeh recently moved from brooklyn to a farm outside of grand forks, north dakota, where her husband is a fifth generation farmer. she writes the blog my name is yeh.


karen September 28, 2014
What goes around comes around. Now Mr Zomick's grand daughter (that would be me) is searching for a pretzel challah recipe and finds yours! Thanks.
molly Y. September 28, 2014
ohmygoodness!!!!!!!! that is the coolest thing ever. i LOVE your grandpa's challah!!!!!
Clara August 15, 2014
Made this last night, following the recipe to a "t" and it turned out AMAZING! Will be making it on a regular basis!
MrsPrincess07 December 24, 2013
I'll be trying this soon! We had an amazing Russian Bakery in the burbs of Detroit that made the most amazing Challah! SOOOO GOOOOOOD! But now that I am in South Dakota (Hey, we're almost neighbors) it's up to me to make it. We have a local bakery that sells "Challah" but it's not the real deal.
Catherine May 15, 2014
Having been to South Dakota, I'm surprised they even sell "challah," but all that means is more homemade goodness to be had!
kath1 October 17, 2013
I've found something online called Kansui which seems to be premixed lye water. WIll go and investigate in Chinatown.
KCGalante October 13, 2013
Would a baking soda bath work if that's all you have on hand?
molly Y. October 14, 2013
i honestly don't think that it would be worth the trouble of making the bath, freezing the loaves, etc. the pretzel flavor would likely not be nearly as strong...

food grade lye is only a few bucks on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Grade-Sodium-Hydroxide-Micro-Beads/dp/B001EDBEZM
i also read somewhere that some people use lye that they bought at hardware stores even though it wasn't specifically food grade. i'm no chemist, so i wouldn't be able to advise you on whether or not that's a good idea, but perhaps someone at the hardware store would know.
twosavoie October 13, 2013
How do you dispose of the lye water? Thanks for the recipe!
molly Y. October 13, 2013
ooh, good question! i place the dish with the lye water in an empty sink and then turn on the faucet and let cold water run in it (and overflow it) for a few minutes so that it gets very diluted. then, with my gloves and glasses still on, i very slowly pour it down the drain.

i actually read somewhere that food grade lye baths are less strong than some household cleaners... so it might be fine to pour the lye water down the drain without diluting it... but i'm afraid to try it, so i just use the diluting method.
twosavoie October 13, 2013
Lisa October 14, 2013
re: disposal. I asked my hubby - the chemical engineer... and among other things he mentioned that the lye (base) could be neutralized by adding an acid like vinegar. Plz DOUBLE CHECK before doing!!
He also made an off-hand comment about a (recent?) Alton Brown podcast on pretzels.
twosavoie October 14, 2013
Erin October 13, 2013
Can you just clarify the dipping process? Completely submerged the roll in lye water with the top side down and then taking it out of bath and waiting 10-15 sec before putting on baking sheet?
molly Y. October 13, 2013
Hi Erin,

Sorry about that-- I should make it more clear in the recipe.

Dip the loaf into the lye water with the top side down and keep it there for 10-15 seconds. Then remove it and put it on the baking sheet, right side up. You want to try your best not to get the lye water on the bottom of the loaf because it may stick to the parchment (it's not the end of the world if some of it gets on the bottom though).

Happy baking!

HalfPint October 11, 2013
This would make some awesom burger buns.
Marian B. October 11, 2013
I eat soft bread guts too! So glad I'm not alone.
Kenzi W. October 11, 2013
Should there be a support group for this? And should I start it?
ragebil October 11, 2013
molly Y. October 14, 2013
crustaphobes anonymous
Debora F. October 11, 2013
where I can find lye???
molly Y. October 11, 2013
hi debora,

you can order it online: http://www.amazon.com/Grade-Sodium-Hydroxide-Micro-Beads/dp/B001EDBEZM

or if you live in new york, i believe that brooklyn kitchen sells it!

happy baking :)
foodfanatic October 11, 2013
I found delicious pretzel challahs In variety of flavors in LA last year and served them at my son's bar mitzvah. Black olive and rosemary, green olive, fennel and salt , dried fruit and nuts were just some of the I amazing varieties offered. So excited to see your recipe - ordering the food-grade lye right now...
Andrea R. October 11, 2013
Clarification: When I click on the "See the full recipe" link and then copy the link for the challah bread from there, then I can get to it. But the link at the top of the post doesn't work.
Andrea R. October 11, 2013
When I click on the link for "1 batch of this challah dough," it says that page doesn't exist.
molly Y. October 11, 2013
Sorry about that, Andrea! Here it is: http://food52.com/recipes/3996-ima-s-challah
Andrea R. October 11, 2013
Carey N. October 11, 2013
Yay! (or should I say Yeh!) ;) So happy to see you and this amazing looking bread over here, Molly. You're giving me the courage to stop thinking about working with lye and start actually doing it. LOVE the idea of pretzel challah — what an awesome combination!
molly Y. October 11, 2013
Do it do it do it!!! Don't forget your big sunglasses :-P
Tania October 11, 2013
Loved this Molly! Beautiful photos, and great writing as usual! :)
molly Y. October 11, 2013
Thanks, Tania!!! You rock :-) :-)