Saturday, August 05, 2006

Pretzel Bread

Saturday, August 5, 2006
The most extraordinary thing about this bread is its pre-baking bath in a lye solution. Yes, that's right, you dip it in a caustic drain cleaner solution before baking. At first I wondered if Rose was kidding her readers, just to see how faithful they'd be at following directions. So I Googled "pretzel and lye," and, sure enough, there are all kinds of recipes that say the typical shiny pretzel glaze is due to a lye dip. (Of course, most people with pretzel recipes admit that they personally didn't go for the lye). I decided that I might as well be authentic.
As a public defender, I know that Red Devil lye (the kind specified in the recipe) is used to make methamphetamine. I also know that the local drug task forces go around to hardware stores to tell them to be on the lookout for people who buy lye, or the other nasty things used to make meth. I was kind of scared to go into the hardware store and buy my Red Devil lye, but I thought if I just did it very casually, no one would suspect me. All went well until the hardware store man found the lye for me and asked me what I was going to do with it. "I'm not going to make methamphetamine," I blurted. Dang! That was stupid. Now he looks suspicious. "Are you going to make soap?" "No, bread, actually." He seems very dubious. "Thanks!" I say cheerily, bound on escape, and I pay for the lye--in cash, of course, so they can't trace me.
Once home with my lye (Red Devil seems to have gone out of business, by the way, so I got the only other brand. I feel bad for the Red Devil people if the methamphetamine craze has put them out of business), I again have doubts about the wisdom of this lye bath. There are all kinds of bold-face cautions in the recipe: Use rubber gloves! Put a cloth over your face so you don't smell the fumes! Don't touch the lye solution--it will burn! I wonder why it won't burn my throat, but I decide just to have faith that Rose will not want to kill off her most faithful fans, so I go ahead with the lye dip.
It's actually a very, very easy bread to make, once you get over the trauma of the lye. You just mix everything together, shape the bread, and let it rise for a short time. And it's quite good: enough whole wheat flour to give it a little color and heartiness, bread flour for good texture, and coarse salt sprinkled on top to make it pretzel-y. Once again, Jim and I eat much more of the fresh bread than we intended to do. Or at least than I intended.


ben said...

I am curious which hardware store you found lye at. I can't seem to find it anywhere in mpls. I'm trying to make soap. I know this is an old post, but if you read this let me know. Thanks,

Manfred said...


I want try this recipe and I noticed that the instructions seem to have you divide the bread into 12 loaves twice. Did you just divide the bread into the 12 smaller loaves at the end?

Also, I ordered the lye online from a chemical company. Just search for food grade lye on google.



breadbasketcase said...

The recipe is confusing because it seems to instruct you to cut it into 12 pieces in two different places. As I interpret it, you shape it into 12 pieces, and let those 12 little loaves rise individually.
Very clever of you to search for food grade lye! If I get around to making these again, I think I'll do the alternative egg white glaze.

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