Perfect pretzels, with a side of poison

I am in the thick of pretzels. I talk about pretzels, I read about pretzels, I cook pretzels, I eat pretzels, and I feed people pretzels.

It all started with an overwhelming desire to make authentic hard pretzels (I’m not sure why the sudden infatuation, but hey, it’s a great food to be infatuated with, so I’m not messing with it), but neither my cookbooks nor the web revealed the plethora of information I hoped for. I tried Alton Brown’s pretzels recipe (it’s by far the most common one), but his pretzels, while pretty and perfectly edible, tasted mostly like eggy, dried out lumps of dough.

Then I dug a little deeper and started reading about soft pretzels, and I learned that the key to making them authentic is a little something called NaOH. Otherwise known as sodium hydroxide, and otherwise known as caustic soda, or lye, or highly poisonous chemicals that are used to clean out plugged-up drains. Real soft pretzels get dipped in the stuff.

I was intrigued. Was sodium hydroxide used to make hard pretzels, too? I checked out a popular Mennonite pretzel factory up in Pennsylvania, and sure enough, they also use it on their hard pretzels. Clearly, if I wanted to make real pretzels, hard or soft, I’d need to buy some poison.

After calling a couple hardware stores, I located the right stuff and my husband stopped by after work to pick it up. He said that when he told the guys at the store what he was going to use it for, they looked at him like he was deranged.

They must’ve really given him some serious stink eye because he spent an inordinate amount of time researching different brands of lye when he got home. He wanted to make sure no other toxic chemicals were hiding in our bottle of toxic chemicals besides just the toxic chemicals that we wanted. (There weren’t. If you want to buy some poison, a couple good brands are Rooto—as long as it was manufactured after October 2005—and Red Devil.)

While he researched, I dunked pretzels in lye and screeched at the kids to STAY BACK.

Yesterday was round three and four of my pretzelpaloosa. I still have yet to crack the hard pretzel code (clues, anyone?), but I’m thrilled beyond measure to tell you that I have conquered The Authentic German Soft Pretzel.

Man, are they good.

And fresh from the oven, with slices of sharp cheddar cheese, they become beyond good. They are heaven, doughy, chewy, salty—hallelujah!—heaven. I’ve eaten so many of them that I practically am a soft pretzel.

When I was growing up, I made soft pretzels by dipping them in a baking soda solution, but let me tell you, there is absolutely no comparison between baking soda-dipped pretzels and lye-dipped pretzels. None whatsoever. Do not be fooled into thinking that baking soda-dipped pretzels are anywhere close to the real thing. Because they are not.

Are we clear about this yet? REAL PRETZELS NEED POISON. Period.

And amen. (Auntie Anne’s uses lye, too. Though I’m not supposed to know that.) (Not true! Go here for the facts.)

Now, let’s talk technique.

Real soft pretzels are not for the faint of heart. There’s the poison, the yeast dough, and the boiling water bath. There’s also a bunch of nitpicky little steps, like proofing the dough and refrigerating the shaped pretzels so they’ll form a skin. There’s parchment paper and pretzel salt, tongs, trays, and cooling racks. Plus, you need goggles and plastic gloves.

A person could get bogged down in the details and decide to skip the whole process but DON’T YOU DARE. The end result—both the chewy, salty, malty pretzel and the high you’ll get from making them with your very own hands—is absolutely worth it. Plus, cooking with toxic chemicals takes kitchen wizardry to record heights. There’s something really special about slightly traumatizing your kids with horror stories of flesh-burning chemicals. It gets you some respect.

In all seriousness though, do be very careful with the lye. I’m not normally jumpy about dangerous things, but this lye gave me the jitter-itter-itters. When I’m dipping pretzels, I’m religious about wearing swimming goggles and gloves and keeping the kids on the opposite side of the kitchen. If your children aren’t old enough to be terrorized by pictures of lye burns (don’t click on that link if you have a queasy stomach), then either get a babysitter, or cook when there’s another adult around who can help with the kidlets. Please?

That said, it’s the lye crystals that are extremely dangerous, not the lye solution. Once you’ve mixed up the solution, the scariest part is over and you can relax (more). Even if you get some of the solution on your skin, you’ll have (I think) enough time to wash it off before it burns you. And since vinegar neutralizes the lye, keep a bottle a bottle of vinegar on hand for emergencies.

A few more pointers:
*Lye reacts—as in, sizzle, pop, BOOM!—with aluminum. To test if your utensils and pans are aluminum, stick them to a magnet. If they don’t stick, don’t use them.

testing, testing, one two three

*Lye does not react with glass, plastic, and stainless steel.
*Utensils that have been dipped in the NaOH solution should be placed on a plate, not the table, as the solution will leave burn marks on the table. No joke.
*While mixing the lye solution, do not breathe through your mouth. Do not breathe through your nose, either. In fact, it’s probably best if you forgo breathing all together. Just don’t pass out. (For those of you who are addicted to breathing, a damp hanky covering your nose and mouth works fine.)

A word about the boiling.

There are lots of soft pretzels recipes, lye-dipping ones included, that don’t call for boiling the pretzels. I’ve done some experimenting and the boiled pretzels win every time, hands down. Even my baby can tell the difference.

puffy, non-boiled pretzels on the left; wizened, boiled pretzels on the right

Unboiled pretzels are puffier, cakier, drier. The boiled pretzels are marvelously dense and chewy. It’s like the difference between a dinner roll and a bagel.

Authentic German Soft Pretzels

Adapted from this recipe

*It is easier to dip the pretzels if you’re working with a large amount of lye solution. Lye solution will last forever (so I’ve read), so keep the extra in the fridge.
*Do not put pretzels on wax paper to rise. They will stick fast and make you throw a panicked hissy fit.
*Do not mistake your rubber gloves for oven mitts and attempt to pick up the hot baking stone (so says an almost-burned dodo brain).
*This dough is super-stiff. It made my Kitchen Aid do a little dance. Stay close while it’s mixing, and add a little extra water if necessary. (I added a couple tablespoons extra.)
*I have done a little experimenting with freezing boiled, non-dipped pretzels. I think it works, but more experimenting is necessary before I can say for sure.

½ ounce (about 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) salt
½ ounce (about 1 tablespoon) sugar
½ ounce (about 1 tablespoon) butter
1 ounce (about 2 rounded tablespoons) yeast
2 cups warm milk
2 pounds (about 8 cups) flour
lye solution (see below)
pretzel salt

Other recommended necessities:
rubber gloves
a baking stone
parchment paper (brushed with a little oil)

Stir the yeast and butter into the warm milk. Once the yeast is dissolved, add the rest of the ingredients. Kneed the dough, either by hand or with a Kitchen Aid mixer. The dough will be very very stiff. Add a little extra water if necessary, but don’t shy away from a workout—the dough needs to be quite tough to withstand all the boiling, dipping, and baking. Cover the dough and let it rest for 20-30 minutes.

Now, ready the production line:
*Put your baking stone in a 450 degree oven.
*Fill a large kettle a third of the way full with water and bring it to a boil.
*Make your lye solution.
*Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of your baking stone and brush it lightly with oil.

Cut the dough into portions and shape as desired. I cut mine into 1 to 2 ounce portions, rolled them into 12-18 inch-long snakes and formed the snakes into the classic pretzel shape, pressing the ends firmly into the pretzels’ bellies. (Even so, the ends sometimes popped free, but it’s no big hardship.)

Set the shaped pretzels on a cloth-covered and lightly-floured tray. Cover with plastic and let rise for about half an hour.

Take the plastic off the pretzels and transfer them to the fridge or some place cool.

After about 10 minutes, the pretzels should feel tough, like they have a skin, which they do. This is good.

Put on your goggles and gloves, and, working with a few pretzels at a time (depending on the size of your kettle), drop the pretzels in the boiling water for 30 seconds, turning once after 15 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pretzels from the boiling water and drop them carefully into the lye solution. Flip (or dunk) the pretzels to make sure all sides have been completely baptized, and then transfer the pretzels to the hot baking stone (that has been lined with the aforementioned oiled parchment paper).

Sprinkle salt over the pretzels, reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees, and bake the pretzels for 15-25 minutes, depending on the size of the pretzels. The pretzels will get quite dark, thanks to the lye—this is a good thing and does not mean they are burning. (Unless they are burning, and then it’s a bad thing.)

Transfer the pretzels to a cooling rack and repeat the process till all the pretzels have been baked.

Lye Solution
Note: this is the really tricky step. Be careful! (I used eye protection and gloves, but no hanky over the mouth and I charred my throat just by inhaling the fumes.)

6 ounces lye (re all the concerned commenters: food grade lye is safest)
1 gallon cool water

Put the water in a large kettle and gradually add the lye, stirring after each addition till the lye is dissolved. Transfer the solution to your dipping container—a shallow plastic container that has a secure lid works great.

I’m submitting this recipe to yeastspottings.

This same time, years previous: creamy potato soup with bacon and boiled eggs and meatballs


  • Unknown

    Wow…just wow. Using factory grade lye as food grade is just the epitome of stupidity. Do not use hardware store lye for this…you need food grade lye. also you need to let the lye solution cool to room temp or cooler. Another thing is to mix the lye in a open air ventilation unless of course you wish to dance with death.

  • Drew458

    Ok, your recipe uses milk, not water. But I think you know what I meant. Experiment, try milk and beer. Also, another 1/2c liquid would make your big mound of dough easier to work with, and it's all going to evaporate while kneading and freezing anyway. Hmm, milk and beer … I just might try that myself.

  • Drew458

    I realize that this is an old post, but I'd like to add that freezing the pretzels once formed, or once formed and boiled, works just fine. I freeze mine for an hour to a day after forming, and they stay together while they thaw in the boil. Half a minute in the lye dip, let them drain and rest a few minutes, then salt and bake.

    Thanks for the tip about using a baking stone. Let me return a tip for your tip, for a true pretzel junkie like myself: make your soft pretzels with half bread flour and half spelt flour. Don't use water, use quality German beer, something a little malty not a bitter hops style, heated to 110F to start the yeast in. And use malt syrup instead of sugar. And just to make it labor intensive, proof the dough overnight in the fridge, 8-24 hours. This is the real deal, and you'll never go back. Be warned.

  • Unknown

    I'm amazed at all the people afraid of lye.

    We use it to make bread and butter pickles. You need to make hominy, lots of breads. You can't make soap without it. And you can clean walls, your drains, straighten hair (be very careful), strip paint. It can do so much, if you'll let it.

  • Chishopper

    *sigh*. Okay, I know a lot of this is just humor, but people are scared enough of lye as it is. Lye can be dangerous, yes. But to be clear, lye is both not toxic and it is not, in the strictest sense of the definition, poison. Lye can be potentially dangerous because it is caustic, not because it is toxic–pure lye is NOT toxic. The point? Well, lye will not poison you. The danger is that it will eat through your skin. No, that is not any better an outcome, but once you know this distinction, and you know that your skin is not being dissolved while you hold your finished pretzel, you can know with certainty that there is zero danger or harm in your pretzels or in the consumption of the pretzels. If you are left with something that is not caustic and does not eat your flesh, then 100% of all possible danger is gone because lye is not toxic so there is nothing possible left for it to do to you that could be bad. A pretzel bathed in lye solution and then baked has all caustic properties removed through the reaction of the lye with the dough and in baking.

    Oh, well, one point of distinction for the possible fringe case of idiocy: everything I have said assumes any lye was dissolved in water. Because, yes, dry lye crystals can touch your skin and you may not see or feel any effect. If you bake dry lye crystals into your pretzels, in that most curious and unreasonable case then, yes, that would totally kill people if they ate them. The crystals would dissolve in the body and then proceed to eat you from the inside out. If common sense is followed, lye is pretty safe. It is far more safe than many things people keep under their kitchen sinks and handle frequently. In the event of uncertainty, a total freak-out, or an actual problem, use vinegar to neutralise the lye.

  • Better Now

    You are officially the most hilarious person ever and I applaud you. I think I'm done eating poisonous pretzels now.

  • Anonymous

    I think it might not be a good idea to keep the leftover Lye solution in the fridge. Given it's a toxic substance, it shouldn't be kept near foodstuffs, or where people may accidentally drink it!

  • Unknown

    Drain cleaner? You should use Food Grade Lye which can be bought on Amazon. I would never use Drain Cleaner, but that is me. If it works for you so be it!

  • Kilau

    How stiff should the dough be before you start to knead it, and what do you look for while kneading – smooth? pliable? Should it pass the windowpane/membrane test? I made these today and while the results were dark brown and delicious, initially the dough was impossibly stiff. I couldn't even get the ingredients to form a shaggy mass until I added almost an additional 1/4 cup of water. Then I needed almost another 1/4 cup to reach a point t where I could begin to knead. I weighed all my ingredients, so I was surprised to see how under-hydrated the dough seemed.

    Oh, and I pooh-pooh all the food-grade lye alarmists. Lye solutions have been used in food preparation for years. Even sites that use a baking water boil-bath mention that authentic soft pretzels use a quick dunk in a lye bath after boiling in water. Good to see I am not he only one looking for the genuine dark color and deep flavor.

    We loved these and will probably made them again. I hope you can share a little guidance on how stiff/sticky the initial ball should be and what to look for while kneading.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Hi Kilau! I haven't made these for awhile, but I see in my notes that the dough IS supposed to be quite stiff. Maybe next time try a little less flour to start with and then build up to the full amount? I just know that with pretzels, as with bagels, it's better to have a stiff dough rather than a sticky one. It's a bugger to work with, but that's how it is…

  • Unknown

    You are spot on re:Al pans and the lye. Ruined a Calphalon pan a few years ago – The lye ate right thru the coating and sent little black flecks floating thru the water.

    Just found this excellent post while looking up what recipe I'll use for this year's pigs-in-pretzel-blanket Super Bowl snack. Saddened that boiling looks like it helps… Damn dogs are tough to keep in their blankets.

    • Anonymous

      Food Grade lye is 100% pure lye with no impurities like regular normal lye. It is more pure and just as strong and caustic. The Roebic Lye sold at Lowes, though sold as a drain cleaner.. is 100% pure lye and would qualify as "food grade lye" I bought a bottle a couple of weeks ago and have made several batches of Laugenbrezel since.

    • Anonymous

      THANK U FOR STATING THAT! While entertained by the post and writing style I couldn't help but shake my head at the drain-o lye!
      FOOD GRADE LYE!!! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I have a question, please — how does one (eventually) dispose of the lye wash? Did you just clean your drain with it? Thank for the great article/recipe!

    • Jennifer Jo

      I stored it in the fridge (in a glass jar) for months before finally dumping it down the drain. No idea if that was the right thing to do or not, but it's what I did.

    • Anonymous

      Love the recipe. Love your humor and spunk…but I am concerned with leaving lye in the fridge for someone else to unsuspecting come across. AHHH!

    • Anonymous

      You can dilute it and put it down the drain. I would pour it into a stock pot and then put it under my tap and fill the stock pot while stirring. If you're starting with a 3-4% solution and you dilute it 5 or 10x with water it's harmless.

      Alternatively, if you really want to be sure you can add some vinegar once it is dilute and stir it up. The vinegar will neutralize the base.

  • Anonymous

    ugh, some of the alarmist comments on here just make me roll my eyes so hard, they hurt. OMG OMG it's PAWSON! One minute you're a strappin' young man, then WHAM! dis pawsonous pretzel bites ya and next thing ya know yer folks is singin' "Rock of Ages…" Honestly, it's sad to see that common sense is just so hard to find in this country.

    Now about this information you presented, I don't know how to thank you. I'm no good at cooking. My wife is a bigtime cook, but she just won't try to make pretzels, so I decided to try to do it myself. My wife was pleasantly surprised that the pretzel rolls I made turned out so good, and they were actually not that hard to make. I am really interested in taking my pretzel roll making to the next level and working on perfecting a more authentic flavor. I can't wait to give this a try. I promise I'll be very careful with the "POISON" and I won't ingest any.

  • Bjorn

    Nice pretzels! I was using Lewis Red Devil for years. Way back in the 1980's for making soap (using the Red Devil recipe on the back), in the 90's for olives, in the 00's Hominy. Over the last 10 years Pretzels and Bagels—then I finally ran out. Off to the internet. Web-enabled bakers seemed scared of drain-opener so I splurged for "Food Grade" NaOH. I made bagels today, to go with lox, cream-cheese, capers and onions. For pretzels I use a very warm 4% wash.

    For safety, not a bad idea to read the MSDS.
    In mixing, it's safer to add the NaOH to cool water, then warm it.
    As a solid it's fairly nasty, diluted it's not so bad. The boiling pot of water is a greater risk, particularly if you are wearing cotton pants and socks—OUCH!
    Bagel wash: 0.5 — 2%
    Hair Straightener: 2% (What the ….!!)
    Pretzel Wash: 2 — 5%
    Oven Cleaner: 5%
    Floor Stripper:10%
    Drain Opener: 30%

    Rooto is likely CAS 1310-73-2. Listed impurities are NaCl, Na2CO3 and, oddly, Na2SO4. Other is <0.1% so whatever mix that could be, it's probably less than 1mg per pretzel, before baking. Any Hg, (very unlikely more that trace) will mostly evaporate—not that it's a good thing. When all goes well, it's probably quite safe, but I can envisage a scenario where it sourced from China and is cross-contaminated by misguided non-foodies.

    On using a magnet, I have some Al clad steel pie pans that will stick to a magnet, and yet will be stripped by NaOH. Conversely, some pans and utensils are non-magnetic austenitic stainless steel, like 316 "Surgical".

    Overall a great article, funny, entertaining and delicious!

  • Anonymous

    I have a PhD in food science. I don't say this to talk down to you, but to urge you to reconsider how your article is written. It is a good article but it has some fundamental flaws and as a result you are leading multiple people down a dangerous path.

    I know you have written this article in good faith and feel badly writing this because no one likes to have errors pointed out. I am not going to comment on the techniques given however I must address the fact that you must NOT under ANY circumstances, use drain cleaner in any situation where it will end up even incidentally in food for humans.

    You MUST use food grade NaOH. It must be CERTIFIED food grade by a responsible agency.

    There are no shortcuts. NO commercial drain cleaner is food grade. ALL drain cleaners, as industrial grade reagents (a 10 cent word for chemicals) carry substantial traces of lead, arsenic, cadmium and other toxic heavy metals. These elements will cause irreparable nerve and brain damage, particularly in infants and adolescents. You may be unable to see the effects of this damage as it impedes proper physiological development. Basically your children will not be as smart as they could be and will suffer health issues going forward that are extremely difficult to trace. You need only tiny bits of these elements to cause terrible damage. There is a reason arsenic and heavy metals were the poison of choice for assassins. Drain cleaners, when made, experience uneven uneven chemical distributions. These distributions can mean you receive even more of these chemicals in a particular batch. Thus even one pretzel can be enormously loaded with them.

    PLEASE be responsible and alter your article for the sake of others. When publishing exclusively through books in the old days, the editor would conduct research to verify techniques etc. for liability. With the arise of the internet it is so easy to, in good faith, use information that is not accurate and in fact dangerous and publish it to the masses.

  • Anonymous

    So far, I've only used lye to make soap-but I was reading somewhere else that a chemical process in the act of baking the pretzels neutralizes the caustic quality of the lye. Anyway, whenever I used lye, I covered my mouth with one of those masks they sell at hardware stores to keep you from inhaling particles. One of those white things with the rubbery strap to hold it in place. That and the rubber gloves and goggles creates quite a look. Sort of like I'm up to no good.
    I've read that you should be using food grade lye, rather than the stuff from the hardware store. There seems to be some belief that there's a difference between the two products. But then, nobody died from your pretzels, so who knows.-Stacey E.

  • Anonymous

    Just FYI, many stainless steel alloys are not magnetic. (For example, the stainless steel bowl that comes with a Kitchen Aid mixer.) If you know something is stainless steel, don't freak out because a magnet won't stick to it.

  • JT

    Thank you SOOOOOO much! I was searching for the real deal. I`ve made the baking soda bath pretzels – no comparison to the real lye version. Yes, baking renders the lye edible. Many hardware lyes ARE foodgrade, the same way GE silicone from the store is also foodgrade. Don`t be afraid.Compared to many other chemicals we ingest, this is wholesome. Thanks for your dedication to getting it right!

  • Unknown

    Spread baking soda on a baking sheet and bake it for an hour at 300. Then make your boiling bath with that instead of lye. Baking the baking soda raises the ph from approx 8 to 13ish. Granted lye is 16 but if you are scared of lye this method is way better than regular baking soda methods

    • Anonymous

      There's no such thing as a pH of 16.

      I want to piggy back on the FOOD GRADE LYE. For cryin' out loud, the industrial stuff is still made in smelters with heavy metals. You're ingesting lead, mercury, heavens to betsy. Buy it online from Essential Depot. To be food grade, you have to be FDA-certified.

  • daddysgirl129

    Hi I am not sure if anyone else has pointed this out yet but when making pretzels it is best to buy FOOD GRADE LYE . You can buy it on amazon really cheap and it is a much higer quality lye – has less junk in it. I am a production manager in a bakery and we make pretzels a few days a year and food grade lye is the way to go…..

  • Bill Crowder

    Ok. I live in Thailand and managed to buy some sodium hydroxide from a bakery supply shop in Chiang Mai. It's pure and food grade. I only need to use 20 grams (less than 1 ounce) to two cups of luke warm water. The lye solution dissolves in about 30 seconds. No smell. No fuss. No burning fumes at all. I still wear gloves etc while prepping the solution and dipping, but why make a whole gallon of the stuff. The amount of solution I am using, 2 cups, is enough to prepare about 6 dozen pretzels, which should fill anyone.
    You should probably find some food-grade lye. The experience is much nicer and you don't need to lock the kids in the bathroom.

  • mlaiuppa

    NO NO NO!

    Food grade lye! Do NOT use drain cleaner.

    You can buy food grade lye through several on lone sources. I live in California and they even delivered it here through the postal service.

    I bought the smallest amount I could on amazon (I believe it came from essentialdepot) and at 1 oz per quart per recipe I have enough to last a lifetime. You can save the solution to reuse if you're making pretzels again. My Mom and I made pretzels Dec. 21 and again Dec. 26. Wear gloves, goggles, long sleeves, an apron and closed toe shoes. I keep a bottle of vinegar on hand also and a wet rag. Surfaces are covered in plenty of newspaper.

    There are different recipes (mine does not include milk or eggs) but I feel shaping is the key. A fat belly and thin arms with three evenly spaced holes in between. A nice course Kosher or sea salt and you're good to go.

    There is no need to boil the pretzels in lye. Dipping them for 30 seconds in the 3% solution enough. No need to add the danger of boiling lye getting out of hand on the stove.

    But don't use drain cleaner EVER. There is food grade lye available. If you're going to go through the trouble of making real laugenbretzeln, go the extra mile and get food grade lye.

    You can always learn how to make soap and cure olives with the rest.

    • Anonymous

      Nobody mentioned boiling lye. You didn't read the receipe properly.
      It's boiling water, followed by a (cold) lye bath.

  • Anonymous

    Caution. Do not use drain clearner on food! I totally agree with almost everthing you have said and done. but DO NOT use drain cleaner for your Lye source! Even in soap making, most of us use food grade lye to avoide the mico contaminants that can be present in that bottle of red devil! Pouring it down the drain, contamininants are not such a big deal. Feeding it to your toddler, very big problem. If you plan on making these very often the little impurities can really add up, especially in your little baby's delicate system. Do a serch for "food grade lye" online or ask at your local pharmacy for it. The heavy metals and other contaminatens that are exceptable in drain cleaner, can really do a number on your health long term.

  • Jennifer Jo

    Anonymous, From what I've read, hard pretzels are first baked and then dried. I've tried it with these but they also got tough/tacky (though the flavor was excellent). I have yet to discover a really good hard pretzel recipe. It's certainly worth a few experiments, though!

  • Anonymous

    I am trying to make a hard< not to hard to bite into> big and smooth skin pretzel ,please help if you know how .:> So my q is " is this recipe good for hard pretzel too " just have to baking twist longer then this recipe time.Will i get a nice hard pretzel:>

  • Unknown

    Actually, lye is NaOH (well, historically it was a mixture of KOH, NaOH, and some other stuff made from wood ash, but now it usually means NaOH), sodium carbonate – Na2CO3 is soda ash, or washing soda, baking soda is NaHCO3. It's not a matter of heat breaking down lye, the lye reacts with carbon dioxide naturally present in the air (as well as produced by the yeast in the bread), neutralizing it somewhat down to the more mild soda ash.

    There are fun things you can do with this, for example NaOH can be used to scrub CO2 from air in air recycling systems, and if you have a saturated baking soda solution (in water), blowing bubbles through it with a straw will cause some soda ash to precipitate out.

  • Mozbo

    Hi again!
    One more thing about the "poison in your pretzels thing…"
    When you bake the pretzels, the heat of the oven BREAKS DOWN THE LYE into carbonate. Sodium carbonate is also known as "soda ash," and is one of the things used to make – you guessed it, baking soda…

    Chemistry is fun!

  • Madeline Osborne (please don't publish my URL!)

    Hi again!
    Well, after LOTS of researching on the web, I've found that you're spot on about the lye. While food grade lye is available for order from the web, it's not always easy to find in real life – it seems that methamphetamine makers use it too, which is why Red Devil is no longer in business, from what I can tell. Most hardware stores here in Colorado Springs carry root dissolver and drain cleaners, but NOT pure lye. I DID find one old-time hardware store that DOES carry "100% pure" crystals, and am going to pick up a container tomorrow. So Steve's comment impugning the quality of "hardware store grade" lye is somewhat moot. The online source, offers "food" grade and "technical" grade – technical grade is 99% pure, so I don't think it really makes THAT great a difference…

    Regarding your hard pretzels – perhaps double baking them like biscotti? I'm working on the "plump belly" pretzels and pretzel rolls, so I'm not much help in the hard pretzel area…

    Have a great day!
    PS: This is more an e-mail type thing, rather than a comment – feel free to edit as you wish if you want to add it to your blog comments…


  • Steve

    What, your not making your own lye!? I'm so disappointed in you… 😉

    I enjoy making pretzels frequently too, but I always just boil mine in baking soda water. I think I'd like to give this recipe a try sometime, but I'm a little concerned about using hardware store grade lye. I'm going to check around a bit and see if I can locate a local source of food grade lye like this.

    You may also want to read the Wikipedia entry on lye if you haven't done that yet. It says that lye (the concentrated crystals) actually will gradually eat through glass and should always be stored in plastic containers. They also mention that there is a difference between hardware store grade lye and food grade, but they don't say what the difference is. Perhaps it's the level of purity or concentration…?

  • teekaroo

    Wow. I've been wanting to re-create those German pretzels for several years and have been looking at a few recipes, and then here you go, reading my mind and scaring me to death! Even knowing that it somehow comes out okay, I don't think I would be able to cook with anything that came out of that poison container! I'll copy the recipe down in case I feel like living on the edge sometime in the future.

  • swonderful

    we made pretzels once, a long time ago, but NOT with lye. oh my. i read this on my iphone last night and my mouth literally dropped open at the drain cleaner photo. you are brave, and dedicated to the art of the soft pretzel. i admire you!

  • Anonymous

    The best hard pretzels in the world are made right here in Lancaster County. I hear it's in the water. I'm sure that the lye undergoes a chemical change so by the time you eat the pretzels it's not poisonous anymore.

    These soft pretzels sound scrumptious. Are you going to make them for the Baer get together?

    Aunt V.

  • Anonymous

    I once wanted to make pretzels, but now I'm reconsidering. Poison was never part of my plan. Seriously, I'm still shaking my head in disbelief. I mean, you're all alive right? And you ate the pretzels and all, but Poison???

    Wow. You really go to extreme measure to get the right recipe. I admire that in you.

  • Camille

    You are one scary, entertaining girl Jennifer Jo! LOL! You have convinced me that one requires lye for the job…too funny! Love the goggles photo…don't think that's quite what they mean. 🙂

  • Marie M.

    I love soft pretzels. I've thought of making them at home (instead of buying at the mall) but never realized dipping in lye was one of the steps. Makes me reconsider. Seriously reconsider. But I'm impressed beyond words at your accomplishment. Also, I love that you called Auntie Ann directly. People seldom think to call a company or restaurant and ask for a recipe or directions. I've found that it sometimes works — and it's worth trying.

  • Jennifer Jo

    Fiona, Thanks for introducing yourself, and for your kind words, too.

    Dr. P, Yes, Auntie Anne's uses lye. I called them. But I'm not sure of all the details, so I left a message for one of the food scientists. We'll see…

    goodbadi, Yes, I washed the gloves first!

  • elizabeth

    Hi Jennifer. Well, I tried a King Arthur sourdough bread recipe with my starter and it didn't work out either. I couldn't even get all the flour called for into the dough. I wonder if my starter is too thick? What is the consistency of your starter?

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    Oh, dear girl, you sometimes make my head spin and this is one of those times. There is a grin on that spinning head, though.

  • goodbadi

    So you did wash those gloves you borrowed from us, right? Before you used them for the pretzels? So there wouldn't be muriatic acid in your food? (Which was delicious, of course!)

    • Brian

      Muriatuc acid is hydrochloric acid, HCl. Lye is sodium hydroxide, NaOH. Mix them together and you get water and sodium chloride (NaCl, aka salt). Did everybody forget their high school chemistry? The lye would neutralize the acid, but if there was any acid left on your gloves it would have eaten holes in them by the time you used them again.

  • dr perfection

    So, do those soft pretzels from the mall use lye?
    Aunt Annies, or whatever? I am finding this hard to believe.


    This is the best pretzel post EVER! Your love for pretzel-making is totally contagious — and hilarious! Ok, it's a bit worrisome, too, with the whole poison thing you've got going on, but I'm inspired to add at least one pretzel recipe to my 'to try' list. Thanks!
    cheers, Fiona
    P.S. I've been lurking for a while and found you via Mama Pea. I've really enjoyed reading your adventures, culinary and otherwise.

  • Hello. My name is Meshan.

    You are officially CRAZY! I say that with greatest admiration. Although I most likely will never try these I still thank you for all the time and effort you put into creating the perfect recipe!!

  • meemsnyc

    Oh my goodness!! Lye! Seems like I would mess this up. I think I'll continue to buy pretzels, in hopes that I don't kill myself trying to make a yummy snack. LOL.

  • elizabeth

    Yes, I weighed everything. I used King Arthur bread flour and KA wheat germ. This sucker is like kneading a big piece of old chewing gum! Looks like you use the same kitchenaid mixer I tried using.

  • Jennifer Jo

    Hi Elizabeth, I'm so glad you liked the scones! About the dough: did you weigh the ingredients? If it's too tough, just add a little water. And don't dismay—once you get a feel for the bread, you'll know how to adjust accordingly. So keep playing; it will all come together eventually!

  • elizabeth

    Hi. I don't have a comment about pretzels, but yesterday made the ginger scone recipe you posted and today white chocolate cranberry. Thank you for the great recipes. I finally got my sourdough starter ready and today attempted the Farmhouse White. I am only on the first knead, but I think I screwed up something, the dough is so stiff, it was too stiff for mixer and hard to even knead by hand, I've never had a dough like this. Its not supposed to be this way, is it? What did I do wrong? I weighed everything.

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