In the interest of full disclosure, I made poop pretzels last week. I am not joking, they bore a very strong resemblance to Mr. Hankey. I’m not totally sure what went wrong. Everything was going well right up until the end when I pulled the poop sticks out of the oven. I suspect my second proofing after shaping wasn’t quite long enough.
The silver lining? They were for Cecilia’s school winter carnival so the fact that my proposed pretzel braids came out looking like poop emojis might have actually made them more attractive to first and second graders. The other silver lining? I was planning on making them again for the church bake sale this past week. I’m not sure poop would go over so well there…..
Spoiler alert: while not perfect, this second round did not resemble feces and were a recognizable pretzel-like shape. Hooray!
The key to getting that distinctly caramel colored pretzel and more importantly that contrasting chewy/crunchy pretzel texture is lye. Yes, that type of lye.
Cold lye will definitely burn and irritate your skin, so you need to work with gloves and preferably with a window cracked open. But once in the hot oven, the lye transforms the starch on the pretzel surface, browning it quickly while the interior bakes more slowly giving you those contrasting textures in the finished product.
Many recipes will try to convince you to use baking soda as a reasonable replacement, but it just doesn’t come close no matter how much baking soda you pour into the pot. You might make some nice pretzel-shaped bread, but it won’t really taste like a pretzel and you and all your family and friends will know it.
The good news is that with some common sense and caution, using food-grade lye (you can find it on amazon – this is the one I bought) to make reliably good soft pretzels at home is not difficult. Even when they turn out looking like poop, they still tasted pretty damn good.
To the bowl of a stand mixer add the bread flour, 1 tablespoon of barley malt powder (can substitute brown sugar), 1 tablespoon of softened butter, 1/2 tablespoon of active dry yeast.
Stir those ingredients together.
Add the kosher salt. Stir to combine.
Slowly add 1 cup of warm water (90-100 degrees F) while mixing until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Add additional water 1 tablespoon at a time if necessary.
Knead on med-high for 8 minutes.
Remove the dough and divide into 8 equal pieces. Place pieces on parchment-lined baking sheet and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes.
After the dough has proofed for 30 mintues, roll out each piece into a long rope about 18-20 inches long. Lift both ends, twist them around each other once, then bring ends back and press them on either side at about 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock. Carefully adjust the top of the pretzels into desired shape. Place back on parchment baking sheet and cover again. Let rest for 60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
After the second proofing, prep the lye solution for dipping the pretzels. Set a wide non-reactive (stainless steel) bowl into your sink, and fill it with 4 cups of water. Measure out 1/4 cup of the lye, and slowly stir it into the water until it is dissolved. Turn your head away while doing this or do it near that cracked window to avoid the initial fumes from mixing.
Once mixed, carefully float one pretzel in the lye solution for 10-15 seconds, then flip it over, and let it float for another 10-15 seconds. Transfer the pretzel back to the parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with the others.
Sprinkle pretzel salt or coarse sea salt generously over the pretzels.
Bake approximately 15 minutes until deep brown and blistered on the outside.