If you read this blog, you know that I have somewhat of an affinity for soft pretzels. What is this now, my third pretzel post? So how can I possibly have anything new and exciting to share? Well I took a big leap in the pretzel making world. Bye bye baking soda, hello sodium hydroxide. You might know it as lye (it’s also used for making soap) but I like to use the fancy chemical name, it makes you sound like a mad scientist or something. Like you really know what you are talking about.
NaOH, sodium hydroxide is what causes the pretzels to transform into that impossibly dark brown color. It’s super basic (we’re talking about a pH of like 13-14) and also a relatively simple (basic, simple, get it?) concept. The lye yellows the dough which ends up turning brown in the heat of the oven. The heat also neutralizes everything so it is perfectly safe to eat.
(adapted from, you guessed it, the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook)
113g bread flour
8g instant yeast
483g bread flour
5g instant yeast
6g malt (I didn’t have any so I opted for buckwheat honey)
12g sea salt
15g sodium hydroxide (lye)
First make the levain by mixing together the flour, yeast and water. Knead lightly to allow it to come together. Cover and leave at room temperature for at least 4 hours (I was pressed for time so I did this) but up to 12 (the original recipe suggested this). Keep in mind that the original recipe also called for liquid levain (starter) instead of yeast so if you choose to use instant yeast, it will take much less time to activate.
When the levain is ready, you can make the dough. Mix it together with the rest of the ingredients and knead until it forms a smooth dough. Allow the dough to relax for about 5-10 minutes. Then you can portion it into 10-12 pieces and form the pretzels. Roll each into a long strand, bring the ends together, twist it a few times and bring the ends back to connect to the centre. You know the drill.
Place them on a parchment lined sheet tray and refrigerate uncovered for 2-3 hours (allowing them to rise while also forming a skin).
Now for the fun part, bring on the sodium hydroxide baby! I made a 3% solution by dissolving 15g of sodium hydroxide (lye) in 500g of water. Dunk the pretzels in there for about 30 seconds (use gloves, we want to retain our skin here) then remove, drain and place back on the sheet tray. Once you have finished all of the pretzels sprinkle them liberally with coarse salt. Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes. Cool and enjoy your authentically browned pretzels.