I have been sitting on this recipe for what feels like a long time, but is really just over a week. Recently I saw a post with a recipe for German style soft pretzels. If you have been to Germany, you know that these are amazing. In fact, for some strange reason, all bread on the other side of the Atlantic is amazing. Typical United States bread is just kind of squishy and blah.
I was shocked to learn that the hardest part of making soft-pretzels is actually getting all of the ingredients - specifically, food-grade lye. Yes, that gut reaction you just had? Lye is a poison and a drain cleaner, although when you cook it, that's supposed to neutralize.
The recipe for the dough? Easy, peasy. If you throw it together in the stand mixer, you don't even have to get your hands dirty. Honestly. I probably should invest in bread flour to make these again, but they came out just fine without it. And it's fun. You roll the dough into long strands, kind of like playing with playdough. It's also fast. Door to door (cabinet door? to my mouth door?) was about 2 hours, 90+ minutes of that is spent resting in various places.
But the LYE. It's hard to find, in store. You can order it online (but that felt like it would take too long, even though again I sat on this recipe for like 10 days) and you can ask google where to find it locally. Not a big help, but I did learn that Science can help out.
See, Harold McGee is a food science genius, and he wrote a column in the Times about baking soda vs lye. Essentially, lye is a very strong alkaloid, and baking soda a relatively weak one. But! If you put the baking soda in the oven, some sort of reaction with the heat makes it a stronger alkaloid - strong enough that it gets a pretty good effect on soft pretzels. I have proof!