BRIAN IN THE KITCHEN  brought to you by Stittsworth Meats

September 30 2013

Homemade Pretzels...A Science Experiment

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Pretzels are not made at home very often, because their secret taste is due to them being dipped in lye before baking. Lye, or caustic soda burns skin and eyes and gloves and safety glasses are recommended when making this pretzel recipe. Not recommended for baking with children.

USE EXTREME CAUTION: Lye is caustic and a 3% solution is considered corrosive. Always use gloves and safety glasses. Wearing long sleeves, pants and close-toed shoes is recommended.

Measure the flour into a mixing bowl, add the salt and the proofed yeast and 1 cup of warm water. Mix by hand or with a stand mixer with dough hook until flour mixture comes together into a stiff ball. Add water as needed to form dough.

Knead for 5 minutes, let rest for a few minutes and then add the butter and knead for at least 5 more minutes, or until butter is fully incorporated. At this time, the dough should be firm and soft, velvety to the touch.

Form into a ball, butter all surfaces and let rise until double, about 1 hour in a warm spot.

Wipe up spills with paper towels and dispose immediately. Rinse with water or vinegar. Rinse all utensils and gloves with large amounts of water and wash arms and hands after working with the solution. If you feel anything burning on the skin, rewash with soap and water, rinse and dry.

Place wax paper on a baking sheet.

Degas the dough (punch down) and divide into 12, 2 ounce pieces. Form into balls. Using very little flour, form balls into 1-foot long strands, thicker in the middle and tapering towards the ends. I use water to make the dough slightly sticky. This helps with shaping.

Take each strand and roll out again to form 2-foot strands. Twist into pretzel shape, using a little water again to make the ends stick to the loop. Pretzel bakers can flip pretzels into shape, but I have to coax them.

A good, German Brezel is thick and soft in the middle, thin and crunchy but not dry on the arms, or ends and splits the loop of dough into three equal parts. The picture shows amateur pretzels lacking these traits.

Place the pretzels on the baking sheet and refrigerate for 1 hour. This dries out the surface and makes them easier to handle.

Make the lye solution: Don gloves and goggles. Place 1 quart of water in a plastic or glass container, weigh 1 ounce of food grade or reagent grade sodium hydroxide into a bowl and add slowly to the water, stirring with a plastic spoon or similar object. ALWAYS ADD THE LYE TO THE WATER! For scientists: The lye solution will be approximately 0.75 M NaOH (FW 39.99g/mol) or almost 3% w/w.

Remove from refrigerator and dip each for 30 seconds in the lye solution. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on greased or parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.

Sprinkle pretzel with salt. Make a deep cut through the thick part of the pretzel horizontally with a razor blade or lamé. Let pretzels rest for 15 minutes.

Heat oven to 375°F. Bake pretzels for 20-25 minutes, or until deep golden brown.

Dispose of lye solution according to county and state hazardous waste regulations. This might include dilution of the solution with water, neutralization with an acid and subsequent dilution, or taking the waste to a disposal facility. You might also keep the lye solution in a tightly closed, non metallic container, clearly labeled, to use again, although I don't recommend this.