I've been wanting to attempt pretzels for a while now.  What has kept me from it mostly is the lye.  I don't really want to use it.  I know how dangerous it can be (I have that master's degree in chemistry you know) but also know how to work with dangerous things.  Just chicken I guess!

Then an email from Tasting Table arrived with this recipe for Traditional Soft Pretzels.  Instead of lye, baking soda is used.  I can do that, right?  Today was the day.

I went out to the recipe to print it (no tablet in my kitchen) and noticed there were a couple of comments about the recipe, neither very flattering.  Yikes!  I was all set to make these and now there was a comment that they were so bad even the person's dog wouldn't eat them!  But I wanted to make pretzels!

I went out to my "Breads" board on Pinterest and looked up another recipe.  Maybe I could still make pretzels just with another recipe.  I had pinned a Michael Ruhlman recipe for pretzels.  I've never had a Ruhlman recipe fail, maybe I'd make those.  Well, they called for lye!  He did mention that baking soda could be used but he wasn't sure of the amount.  So, gosh darn it, I was making the original recipe.

To start, the baking soda is placed in a 250 degree F oven for an hour.  The recipe doesn't say specifically but I'm guessing this is to remove more moisture and make the soda more basic.  For you chemistry geeks out there, baking soda is a base.  It has a pH of about 8 while lye is more like a 13 or 14 on the pH scale.  I had no way of testing if the hour in the oven made the soda more basic, I'm just guessing!

The dough is simple to put together, bloom some yeast in warm water with some brown sugar.  To this flour, pilsner style beer, butter and salt are added.  I don't know beers.  I don't like beer.  I'm allergic to barley so most of them just congest me.  I like wine.  I'm lucky to have a husband who is a beer connoisseur.  I grabbed a beer from his beer frig behind the bar and walked it outside where he was shoveling the driveway.  "Is this a pilsner beer?"  His response (read this with a chuckle in his voice) "Um, no."  He then came in and found me a suitable beer.  He said a pilsner is a lighter beer and he doesn't usually drink lighter beers.  This is what he picked.

You are supposed to mix this until it makes a "shaggy mass."  I don't really know what a shaggy mass is but I'm guessing it looks like this, because this is what my mixture looked like!

Once you have the shaggy mass it's time to knead until you have an elastic dough.  I do know what an elastic dough is!  I did have to add 3 teaspoons of water to get my dough just right.

I have to say the dough smelled really good.  I found myself wondering how a dough that smells so good could create tasteless pretzels that a dog wouldn't eat.

According to the recipe, for best flavor the dough should be refrigerated for 8 hours or up to 24 hours but for "quick" pretzels you could just let it rise for three and a half hours.  That's what I did!

After the rise, the dough is punched down and separated into 8 pieces.

Each piece is rolled into about a 12 or 16 inch log.  Once they've all been rolled you can go back to the first one that has been resting and roll it into a 24 to 28 inch log.  These are then shaped into pretzel shapes.  Mine didn't look exactly like the once in the picture on the recipe but I wasn't worried!

The eight pretzels then get a little rest for a half hour or so before being soaked in a warm solution of water and the baking soda prepared earlier.  If I'd been thinking, I would have left one out of the bath just to see how different it was.  Next time!

Each pretzel is soaked for only about 20 seconds then put back on the baking sheet.  The directions say to cut a slit in the thickest part of the pretzel so I did.  Not sure what that got me.  They then get a little egg wash and some salt (or whatever topping you want) and into the oven they go.

They came out beautiful!  The smelled good!  But, according to that one reviewer, hers did too.  

So how did they taste?  Mine weren't terrible and I'm sure the dogs would have eaten them!  I might have had to put butter on Cider's but he would have eaten it!  

Flavor-wise I thought they were good.  I could taste the beer.  They weren't tasteless as reported.  They were soft and slightly chewy.  They didn't have that tough, really chewy crust of a good Bavarian pretzel.  My guess is had I used lye I would have gotten that crust.  Bottom line, they were good, they were fun and I will make pretzels again.  Maybe I'll try Mr. Ruhlman's recipe next time and maybe I'll see if I can find some lye.  Maybe I'll do a couple with no bath, a couple in lye and a couple with the baking soda and see what the differences really are.  Or maybe I'll just make them all the same way and eat them!

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