Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Pretzel Bread

Pretzel Bread The Finer Cookie

What fun I had making Pretzel Bread. I never considered it was possible to make Soft Pretzels at home, but now that I’ve made them, I see Pretzels in every book on my shelf. It’s funny, the more you experience, the more you notice in the world around you. 
Biting into my first homemade Pretzel Bread got me so excited. They tasted just like the pretzels I use to buy from the street trucks in NYC. It’s been so long since I had a pretzel like this, that I’d forgotten the real flavor of a soft pretzel. They were strikingly easy to make and I’m really proud of myself. 
Here’s my experience: 


I just want to say a few words about the ingredients necessary for making Pretzel Bread. I went to a great deal of trouble hunting down the malt powder and lye (sodium hydroxide). For the malt powder, I scoured Canada and was unsuccessful in my search. I guess brands don't think enough Canadians make bread. My solution was just to throw money at the problem and be patient while the ubiquitous-in-the-US malt powder arrived at my door.
The lye was a different story. Never having considered using it as an ingredient, it took me a while to find a brand that I felt comfortable enough using. Even if I used the sodium hydroxide sold as drain cleaner (lye at its impure state), at a 4% solution, I doubt anything much would have happened to me; however, I have to want to eat the pretzels after I bake them. Rick being a chemist, found me a brand that was pure enough for my purposes. It wasn’t until after the pretzels were baked and tasted that he told me a story about a highly concentrated sodium hydroxide solution that blew a tanker off its bolts. He thought that was funny.
100% Lye Crystals or sodium hydroxide


The dry ingredients for the pretzels

Initially the dough didn’t form a ball, so I was forced to add 1 tsp of water. After that it come together as described.

Pretzel Bread dough
I let it rest for the prescribed hour, and to my surprise, it didn’t rise hardly at all. Usually, the dough will puff some and form air pockets, but not for this dough. It was a very stiff, smooth and pliable.

Resting the dough for an hour

I cut the pieces willy-nilly without weighing them, and in retrospect, I should have been more precise because the baking times for the smaller pretzels were different.

Cutting the pretzel dough willy-nilly

The final 12 pieces of pretzel dough

Still, shaping the pretzels took some time. I wanted them to look like footballs and not pretzel nuggets. And I was impressed with how quickly the dough dried out even in the earliest stages of handling. It kept forming a dry crust after just a few minutes.

Pretzel bread in football shapes

I wondered why refrigerating them uncovered for one hour was important and I worried that leaving them in the fridge for three hours (that's what I did) would be the end of them.

I felt so concerned about the lye, that I took every precaution. Rick has a gas mask with vapour cartridges downstairs, and I considered wearing it, but then I thought better. I wouldn’t allow making pretzels to become a drama. The lye dissolved nicely and it didn’t splash around. I survived.

Lye crystals


Slashing the Pretzel Breads

The moment of truth. I suited up with those thick and cumbersome red rubber gloves and got to it. I dipped the first pretzel in the solution and it became soft and very slippery.

Dipping the Pretzel Breads in the lye solution

Of course the breads got slippery. Lye is one of the primary ingredients in making soap. I dipped them briefly in the solution and set them on the tray. I’ve since read Thomas Keller's pretzel recipe in which he says to leave the pretzel in the solution for at least 40 seconds. I wonder how more lye glaze would change the final pretzel?

Adding course sea salt the the pretzels

Salted and glazed pretzel breads


They baked easily and quickly, and they puffed substantially while in the oven. What a transformation. They looked like real pretzels and smelled like real pretzels, but did they taste like a real pretzel? YES!
Baked pretzels

I also noted that there were areas that I didn’t glaze well with the solution and those areas didn’t brown at all. They stayed white as a lily, as were the inside of the slashes. Fascinating. In conclusion, I had great fun with this recipe.

Salted Pretzel Breads The Finer Cookie


  1. These look absolutely delicious! I like pretzel with caramel and almonds. :P Oh.. I have never seen Lye crystals.. I always get in liquid form.

  2. Thanks Faithy! Try them. They aren't that difficult, certainly not for you!

  3. fantastic posting! i have to tell you that i treasured the lye given to me by the baker at Daniel where i did a baking stage. it as in a plastic storage container with skull and cross bones i drew on it hoping if someday i became senile i'd remember what that meant. turns out i didn't have to worry. over the period of a few years the lye ate it's way right through the container and destroyed some of the other things in the larger heavy plastic bin that i foolishly stored with them. i threw it all out and am wondering what i will do if motivated to baker them again. but it just doesn't taste like real pretzels without it.

    your pretzels look great but i can tell that they could use a little more water. your flour must be a wee bit higher in protein. it should be a very stiff dough but soft enough to be totally smooth when shaped.

    thank you for sharing the fascinating and fun details of this amazing recipe.

    1. Love your comment. I can't tell you what fun I had making these pretzels. I'm very happy you had fun reading about my fun.