Revealed: The Secret to Making Soft Pretzels

Soft pretzels bring up nostalgic memories for me of going to the zoo with my dad on Sunday mornings when I was a kid or fall football games in college. Now, of course, you see them at big-box stores and even your grocery store's freezer aisle, but have you ever thought about making them at home?

The Los Angeles Times wrote about soft pretzels last week, revealing an easy trick that will result in one mean pretzel: lye. Now I know what you're thinking (and I was, too). When I hear lye, I think of abrasive cleansers. But powerful alkalis, like lye, are often used in food preparation (think about baking soda or dutch-process cocoa powder, for example).

The trick is looking for food-grade lye, making a 3% solution, and using precautions that author Noelle Carter discusses in her piece. So why bother at all? What does lye to do a pretzel that makes it all worth the trouble? Carter explains, "when the pretzel is dipped in the solution, the lye immediately begins to react with the surface of the dough, yellowing it. As it bakes, the color intensifies and turns a deep, glossy brown, and the pretzel taking on a crisp, chewy texture. The alkali is neutralized in the process, making the pretzel safe to eat."

So using lye results in a perfectly brown, chewy pretzels with a lightly crisp exterior. I'm curious about the method, but still not certain I'd bring lye (even if it is food-grade) into the kitchen, incredibly brown pretzel or not. Would you?

Related: Recipe Review: Soft Pretzels from Smitten Kitchen

(Image: Emma Christensen)

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