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Homemade pretzels

Hello! I love a good project, don't you? Especially a cooking or baking project, of course. These days, with the mush, I don't have as much time as in the past to make multiple elements or construct elaborate designs on things -- but last week, Mark and I were so inspired by this story in the New York Times that we decided to dedicate some time to... making pretzels.

We had friends coming over, all of whom have babies the same age as the mush, so it was kind of a play date for the kids and for the adults. We called it for 3:30, waaaay too early for dinner, but smack squarely in the middle of snacktime. So we had a potluck snacktime, and one of our contributions was a batch of these gorgeous homemade pretzels.

This was not only a project in the actual baking itself, but also in gathering a key ingredient: food-grade lye. Now, the very idea of food-grade lye seems odd to me (is that like food-grade rat poison?) -- but evidently lye is what gives pretzels their signature color and flavor, so off we went to The Brooklyn Kitchen to procure some.

At some point I'll have to get back to you on the wonder that is The Brooklyn Kitchen... but for now, I'm going to share the pretzel recipe, implore you to make them, and say goodnight :)


Bavarian-Style Soft Pretzels
(adapted slightly from the New York Times, recipe here)
Makes 12

1 Tbsp. barley malt syrup or dark brown sugar (we used 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar and 1/2 Tbsp. molasses)
2 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. instant yeast (we used active dried)
6 cups bread flour (we used 1/2 all-purpose and 1/2 whole-wheat)
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt
Food-grade lye, for dipping (according to the Times, you can get it at Amazon)
Coarse salt, for sprinkling

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together sugar, butter, yeast, 2 cups warm water and half the flour. Add kosher salt and remaining flour and stir just until dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Turn out onto counter and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and supple. Cut into 12 pieces and let rest 5 minutes. (We covered the pieces with a slightly damp paper towel while they rested.)

2. Roll out each piece into a 22-inch rope. Lift both ends, twist them around each other once, then bring ends back and and press them on either side of fat "belly," at about 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock. Then gently spread out "shoulders" of pretzel. Transfer shaped pretzels to a baking sheet lined with parchment. Let rest at room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 425ºF. In a large, deep bowl, wearing rubber or latex gloves, make a solution of 1/2 cup lye and 10 cups water. Dip each pretzel in the solution, turning it over for 10 to 15 seconds, and place on baking sheet (make sure you line your baking sheets with parchment -- otherwise the lye can discolor them).

4. Sprinkle pretzels with salt. Bake for about 15 minutes, until deep brown. Remove to a rack and serve warm.

NOTE: We made a few different shapes, they all baked in 15 minutes and came out delicious! We served them with horseradish mustard.

Reader Comments (17)

Food grade lye, huh. If it helps to make pretzels like these I'd buy it.

I've been wanting to make homemade pretzels for a long time.

June 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMags

I've wanted to make homemade pretzels forever! I don't know if I have the patience.

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJessica @ How Sweet

What fun! My kids love making pretzels and twisting them into letters and funky shapes.

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCookie baker Lynn

Wow, I am impressed! These look like a great cooking project!

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

I've never made homemade pretzels, and yours look top-notch! Lye? I'll take your word for it that it's O.K. :)

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSue Sparks

I have made pretzels but never used the lye...guess that's why mine didn't turn that pretty color! Yours look gorgeous!

June 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercookies and cups

baking projects are so much fun :) especially when the outcome looks so delish!!!

June 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDani

Homemade pretzels rock! The recipe I used didn't call for lye, food grade or otherwise. :)

June 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIngrid

Wow these look so much fun to make! Ive never tried a pretzel before, theyre not really big in the UK :(

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie...

Pretzels look amazing! I'm really hesittant about using the lye even if it is food grade. Wondering if just using an egg wash instead for the colour would work. I may just try that. Thanks for posting the recipe.

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaula

I'm blown away. I remember making pretzels as a kid, but never with food grade lye? Who knew? I guess the adults didn't want it around me? Now I know they would have been better if I had all the right ingredients.

These look amazing! Makes me wish I was in Munich nibbling on one!

June 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterParis Pastry

How fun! I've always wanted to make homemade pretzels for a Super Bowl party :)

June 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRecipeGirl

Oh! I never made pretzel...yours look fun and yummie :-)

June 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJuliana

They look so thick and delicious :) What a treat.

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEliana

I loooooooove soft pretzels! And I love the ones that you twisted/braided into sticks. I'm a bit wary of the lye though...

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentereatme_delicious

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March 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersoobest

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