That distinctly tangy, somewhat salty, dark brown exterior of a pretzel is just as important as the chewy bread beneath it. To achieve this effect, pretzel makers dip shaped and proofed dough in a lye solution, a strong alkaline that helps the sugars and proteins in the dough turn deep brown in the oven. Lye is also extremely caustic. It can actually dissolve glass! Yikes.
I wanted that characteristic color and flavor on my pretzels, so I initially decided to go for it. You can really buy anything on the Internet these days, and my local hardware store sells classy rubber gloves and protective eyewear. But, alas, I’m a mother now. There is nothing like a downy soft, wide-eyed baby padding around at your feet in the kitchen to make you rethink a big pot of bubbling lye.
Happily, there is a compromise solution. Baking soda is not as strong as lye, but it is much safer for your glassware and loved ones, and produces a similarly tasty effect.
Reprinted with permission from THE JOYS OF BAKING © 2019 by Samantha Seneviratne, Running Press. —Samantha Seneviratne
- Prep time 11 hours
- Cook time 18 minutes
- Makes 10 pretzels
2 1/4 teaspoons
active dry yeast
warm water (110° to 115°F)
packed dark brown sugar
(1/2 stick) butter cut into pieces, at room temperature, plus more for bowl
2 1/4 ounces
(1/2 cup) golden raisins
- Water bath and to finish
dark brown sugar
unsalted butter, melted
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, water, and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar. Let it stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, salt, and the remaining brown sugar and mix with the paddle attachment until well combined. Switch to the dough hook and continue to knead until a shaggy dough forms, about 3 minutes. Add the butter pieces, a few at a time, and continue to mix the dough until smooth and pliable, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the raisins and knead to combine. The dough should be supple and smooth and not too sticky. Alternatively, mix together the ingredients in a large bowl, using a wooden spoon. Knead the dough, in the bowl, until it is shaggy, about 3 minutes. Then, knead in the butter pieces until incorporated. Tip out the dough onto a work surface and continue to knead until smooth.
- Remove the dough from the bowl, if you haven’t already, butter the bowl, and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until doubled, 1 to 2 hours. Gently expel the air from the dough, knead it into a ball again, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
- Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with silicone baking mats. On a lightly floured surface, cut the dough into 10 equal pieces, about 21/2 ounces each. Working with 1 piece a time, roll out to a 16- to 18-inch length. Form into a pretzel shape by first making a U, then twisting the ends around each other and bringing them down to overlap over the bottom. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets and repeat with the remaining dough. Set the shaped pretzels aside to puff for about 25 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Prepare the water bath: Bring 8 cups of water to a simmer in a large pot. (Make sure the water is at least a few inches below the rim of the pan, as it will bubble furiously when you add the baking soda.) Add the baking soda and the brown sugar to the water and whisk to combine. Once the bubbles have mostly subsided, carefully add 2 or 3 pretzels to the pot. (I think it’s easiest to put the pretzel into the bowl of a spider or large slotted spoon and lower it into the water.) Cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side, then use the spider or slotted spoon to transfer them to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pretzels and set aside.
- Bake the first batch of pretzels until puffed and deep golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and cinnamon. Brush the warm pretzels with the butter and dip in the cinnamon sugar to coat. Repeat with the remaining pretzels. Serve warm or at room temperature.