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Do you really need lye to make pretzels crunchy?

As I understand it (which is just barely), the lye provides alkalinity and that produces the snap. I've found arguments on all sides - some saying that you can control the pH with baking soda and others who feel strongly that for authentic crispness, you need lye. Even though this is food-grade lye, I think I'm too skittish to bring lye into my kitchen. Has anyone done this? Or found a great recipe that doesn't use it?

asked by latoscana over 6 years ago
8 answers 7115 views
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Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

added over 6 years ago

What a good question. You're testing my memory here. We made pretzels when I was in culinary school with Peter Reinhart. We baked pretzels with him, but I have no memory of the lye solution that the CIA Baking and Pastry curriculum calls for. Sort of a long way of telling you that I can't categorically answer your question. I will say that I have, uh, issues with instructions that state: "Use caution when working with a lye solution. Wear goggles and rubber gloves to prevent contact with the solution." Well, I think I would have remembered THAT! Alternatively, consider treating them like bagels. You want to gelatinize proteins on the surface for that lovely shine. Perhaps use a salted boiling water bath à la bagels. It's all a science experiment.

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Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

added over 6 years ago

P.S. Sorry, but I tend to view making of pretzels in the easier to go to the grocery store category.

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Sam is a trusted home cook.

added over 6 years ago

Technically Yes.

However, finding the right home recipe can be challenging. And you REALLY need a scale that goes down to gram weight.

Baking Soda solution can sub and is much safer to use.

However, for the scale. I use this one (not for lye) but for things that need gram weight in small portions.

Cheap (15 bucks or so) and goes down to very small gram weights. But only up to 100 grams.

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added almost 6 years ago

I agree, there are many recipes which substitute Lye with something like baking soda for example which is much safer to work with, but to really get the taste and experience of a true authentic german pretzel Lye is a must. I get my Lye from www.essentialdepot.com because they package their lye in high quality HDPE bottles with a plastic child resistant twist-off resealable cap, so i can use what i need and store the rest for later, and resealable cap prevents moisture from getting in.

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added almost 6 years ago

Hey, Bill_the-Baker -
Wow - thanks for this info! I was also looking for a source for food grade lye in order to cure fresh olives so I will check into this company. Greatly appreciate your answer after so many months.

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added almost 6 years ago

Hey everyone, just wanted to stop by and remind you that Essential Depot ( www.essentialdepot.com ) is selling high quality food grade lye, 2lb's for 3.44 ... A very good price!!

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added almost 6 years ago

hey everyone, back once again with yet another update! Essential Depot is giving out the discount code "EDPC10" worth a 10% discount on your total order cost - including shipping and handling!

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added almost 6 years ago

heres a wonderful recipe i have found, i made a few changes and i must say that these are absolutely delicious!

2 envelopes dry yeast
1 qt. milk, 2% is fine
1/2 c. warm water
3/4 c. shortening (I mix lard & butter & flavored Crisco)
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
12 c. all-purpose flour, unsifted
1 1/2 tbsp. salt
Coarse salt to sprinkle


2 level tbsp. lye
2 quarts. cold water

Soften yeast in 1/2 cup water. Scald milk. Stir in shortening. Cool . Add yeast with 6 cups flour. Beat, vigorously. Cover, sit in warm place until risen , this takes just about 30 minutes.

Add remaining flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix until well blended. Turn out on smooth surface. Cover with moist towel 3 minutes. Knead until elastic. Put in big kettle. Cover with towel. Put in warm place and Let rise until it has doubled in size, usually takes 1 1/2 hours. Punch dough down and let stand for 10 minutes. Cut into quarters then Cut quarters into 12 pieces. Cover with towel. Roll each piece into long strip for twisting. Place on stainless steel baking sheet, then put one at a time, pretzels on slotted, stainless steel lifter, dip very briefly in lye, usually a 3-5 second bath, drain on lifter and place back on sheet. As soon as cookie sheet is full, sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake in 400 degree oven until brown, about 15 minutes. Place on dry towel to cool. Cover twisted pretzels with towel until half raised.

IMPORTANT: Lye creates a volotile reaction with aluminum! aluminum sheets or dipping tool CANNOT BE USED. Also, I spray sheets with Pam, so there is no sticking.

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