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Where can I get-- and which is the right kind of lye for pretzel making? [moved from Boston]

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Huge hankering for soft pretzels here. Thanks!

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  1. Other than the Auntie Annie's at the local malls, I'm not sure where you can get fresh soft pretzels around here.

    This is a fun pretzel segment from Alton Brown, though.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70pRPA...

    2 Replies
    1. re: bear

      fwiw, I made a hybrid of the AB/Joy of Cooking recipes, which included a baking soda boil. They came out nicely brown and "pretzelly" on the outside. If you can't find lye in time, try the baking soda approach.

      Of course, Harold McGee disagrees, saying that baking soda is a poor lye substitute for pretzels. You might also try making your own sodium carbonate by baking baking soda, as he instructs here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/din.... He thinks that "baked soda" is a pretty good stand-in for lye.

      1. re: emannths

        I'll probably go that route, figure as a first try baking (or baked baking - thx for the tip) soda will work..hard to argue if McGee puts it out there..

        But if someplace local had it (and I didn't have to buy like 20#'s of it), I'd go the "purist" route and try to use it.

        Thx..

    2. Here's a link to a recipe that was just published in the New York Times. It includes some suggestions for lye sources.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/26/din...

      1. This recipe is good. http://www.kitchenproject.com/german/...
        Would I lye to you?

        1. Don't really see an answer in the post.. I can order some online, but is there a Boston-metro-area place that sells food grade lye?

          4 Replies
          1. re: grant.cook

            Bumping this because I didn't plan ahead and am lye-less for my Superbowl pretzel baking session. Has anyone found lye locally?

            1. re: emannths

              You might want to try Howard McGee's suggestion for baking (drying) baking soda given the time crunch. There are options for non food grade lye, such as Play Time in Arlington (for soapmaking, may have to ask) and a plumber's supply. But I have seen a mention that the US still permits certain industrial processes (not used in the EU) which involve mercury so would suggest avoiding those. I can't think that Skenderian Apothecary would have lye on hand, but that would be your best bet for a food grade source. In the future if you have more time
              http://www.essentialdepot.com/servlet...

              1. re: itaunas

                Just called Skenderian. They do not carry lye.

                1. re: emannths

                  I got decent browning using the "baked" baking soda (the NY Times article describes how to use it).

                  Just slowly whisk it into the bath, and rinse the pretzels after the dip. I threw some egg wash onto them as well to go for more browning..

          2. http://www.essentialdepot.com/ has food grade lye. 2 lbs for $4.99 Be sure to use a stainless steel pan and use gloves.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Bostonphotobill

              Plus $12+ for shipping. Maybe if I made pretzels every day (2lb makes about 140L of pretzel lye bath), but it's just not worth it for a few batches.

              1. re: Bostonphotobill

                Even wearing some eye protection is not a bad idea.

              2. There are Filipino recipes that incorporate lye (called 'lihia' in Tagalog), e.g. in sticky rice in banana leaves. Lihia (potassium hydroxide in solution) may be available from an Asian grocery: they will be in clear bottles, and the dead giveaway is the presence of precipitated KOH outside the bottle. The problem is that I have no idea what their concentration is.

                Here's the MSDS sheet for KOH. Getting them on your skin can cause some burns, as I found out from a chemistry lab mishap some time back.

                http://avogadro.chem.iastate.edu/MSDS...

                OTOH, I've had success with dipping the soft pretzel dough in boiling baking soda solution.

                1 Reply
                1. re: amy_wong

                  I was thinking about looking for things related to making alkali-treated Asian foods. Some (much?) of the "lye water" that's sold is made using carbonate instead of hydroxide, so you have to keep an eye out for that if you care.