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Soda Ash Dip for Pretzels

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emmsf's picture
emmsf

Soda Ash Dip for Pretzels

I  know there has been a lot written about the use of lye/baking soda/soda ash (sodium carbonate) when making pretzels and bagels.  I think I understand the pros and cons of each, and for better or worse I've settled on soda ash (sodium carbonate).  I don't mean to reignite the debate on these options.  However, I still find conflicting information on how soda ash should be used.  Specifically, how much soda ash should be used in the dipping solution?  (I've seen recommendations from a tablespoon per quart of water to 2/3 cup per 2 quarts.)  Hot or cold water?  (I've seen formulas that say the water must be cold, and others saying it must be boiling.)  And how long should the pretzels remain in the solution?  (Some formulas say 30 seconds, others say up to 4 minutes.)  Finally, is it necessary to rinse the pretzels in fresh water before baking?  So many questions.  I'd really appreciate a bit of guidance.  Thanks.

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

I'll just say that my results, using the NY Times prescribed cold dip method, were unimpressive.  The NYT method is linked in a couple of posts in the "Pretzels" thread. I got much better results with the boiling method using regular baking soda.

Only tried it once(cold soda ash) though,  so maybe not so fair to judge so quickly.

emmsf's picture
emmsf

Thanks for your input.  I too looked at the NY Times version, but after reading about your experience and a few other comments (including one writer who felt strongly about the need to boil them like bagels), I think maybe I'll be creative - I'll gently boil them for a minute or 2 with soda ash.  My fingers are crossed....

kgmom's picture
kgmom

Here is a quote from the NY Times article I read: "dissolve 2/3 cup (about 100 grams) in 2 cups of water, immerse the formed raw pretzels in this solution for three to four minutes, rinse off the excess dipping solution in a large bowl of plain water, and bake."  Is that way too much "baked soda" aka sodium carbonate?

emmsf's picture
emmsf

I agree with you - the NY Times proportions didn't make sense to me either.  It seems like too much baked soda.  I doubt it would be harmful - after all, lye is more potent (alkaline) by far -  but it just seems unnecessary to use that much.  Ultimately I decided to use about 1/2 cup of sodium carbonate in 2 quarts of water, and it worked very well.

copyu's picture
copyu

I would go with simmering the pretzels in the Sodium Carbonate solution...depending on the pretzel formula you use, they may sink in the solution, but should then begin to float. That's when to remove them.

You quoted two measures for the Carbonate solution and I don't think it matters which you use. With Sodium Hydroxide, the upper limit is 4% strength, but the Carbonate  is many times weaker, so just use something between the lowest and highest figures you've seen. Please be careful to use a very clean [non-oily!] stainless steel pan for the simmering, as your solution should be strong enough to make soap from any fat in the pan (and that would not help the taste of your pretzels!)

Request: for 'scientific' purposes, could you also prepare a small pan of simmering water (with or without Baking Soda) and try simmering one or two pretzels in that, before baking, so we get a side-by-side comparison? I suspect that the carbonate will be strong enough to attack the surface starch of your pretzels, so you can expect good color and 'chew' in those. The Baking Soda or simmering water pretzels should also look fairly pale after baking. It would be great if you do that and provide some pics!

[Caveat: Sodium Hydroxide can be re-used for many batches, but with Sodium Carbonate, you may have to mix a new solution for every batch you do. I'm guessing it will probably become weak, fairly quickly, when stored...just a heads-up!]

Best,

copyu

 

emmsf's picture
emmsf

Thanks very much for your recommendations.  Actually, I did very much as you suggested.  I used a very gently boiling solution of sodium carbonate (baked soda per the NY Times) at 1/2 cup per 2 quarts of water.  I left the pretzels in the solution for about 30 seconds +/-, flipped them, then 30 seconds +/- on the other side.  They floated from the start.  I placed them very briefly in a bowl of warm fresh water to rinse off the excess solution before putting on the baking sheet.  (I'm not sure if this last step is really necessary, but it gave me peace of mind, and it surely didn't seem to do any harm.)  Ultimately, I was really very happy with the way the pretzels came out, and the technique seems to have worked overall.  The exteriors of the pretzels had a nice deep brown gloss, and you could definitely taste that classic "pretzel" taste on the outside.   Though I didn't do a side-by-side comparison this time, I've made pretzels with a baking soda solution in the past, and there is no doubt in my mind that, at least for me, the sodium carbonate method is far, far superior. 

copyu's picture
copyu

It's bad luck I got in too late, but your observations that the Sodium Carbonate works MUCH better than the Sodium Bi-carbonate ('Baking Soda') is what I was hoping the test would prove. (It's very simple chemistry.) There's no way in the world that baking soda (being not much more alkaline than tap-water or sea-water) would have any NOTICEABLE effect on pretzel dough at all.

Sodium Carbonate is about 10,000 times more alkaline than baking soda...[Sodium Hydroxide is another ten times stronger, ie, 100,000 times stronger than baking soda.] The object of the exercise is to get the biggest reaction in the minimum amount of time, which you did by simmering for a while in a 'fairly strong' alkali that's quite a bit easier and safer to handle than NaOH.

I can easily understand why people might not want to use the strongest alkali available (NaOH) so it's great that you've shown them a good alternative. That 'deep brown gloss' you refer to is the result of using a strong alkaline solution and definitely affects the taste in a very positive way. Well done!

copyu 

[Edited for warning: People who use Sodium Hydroxide /Brezellauge/ [NaOH] at 3-4% solution strength should use it COLD as it gives the same effect in a matter of seconds! copyu]

emmsf's picture
emmsf

Thanks for your comments.  I did have one quick question.  You mentioned that the goal was to get the biggest reaction in the minimum amount of time.  Why is there a benefit to minimizing the time?  I don't doubt it's true, but I'm curious about the chemistry of it all.  Thanks.

copyu's picture
copyu

All I meant was that baking is all about 'timing' and that means, I suppose, getting the dough into the oven at the 'optimal moment' to make something not only edible, but also tasty.

I was hinting that a solution of a weak alkali, such as baking soda, whether it's hot ot cold, might work OK in attacking the surface starch if it were given enough TIME to do the job: three hours, three days, or three weeks...(I have no idea how long it would actually take, but I know it would take too long!) I suspect our patience would probably run out, soon—perhaps even before our pretzels were over-proofed!    ;-)

Just 'playing with logic' and the practicalities of baking.

Thank you for asking,

copyu

kgmom's picture
kgmom

Ignore this post - can't figure out how to remove it.  Sorry.

 

Finally made pretzels today, or I should say pretzel rolls.   I made half a batch, and shaped them like kaiser rolls, 2 1/2 oz. each.  I used mostly white whole wheat flour with some high protein white.  I gave 5 a bath in 1/2 c. of sodium carbonate to 2 qts. of water.  I put each roll in the gently boiling solution, turned over after 30 secs. and left for another 30 secs.  I then dipped each pretzel into fresh water, and placed on cookie sheet with silpat and sprinkled with coarse salt.  Baked at 450 for 14 mins.  The 6th pretzel roll I used the same process, but used plain boiling water.  

 

kgmom's picture
kgmom

Finally made pretzels today, or I should say pretzel rolls.   I made half a batch, and shaped them like kaiser rolls, 2 1/2 oz. each.  I used mostly white whole wheat flour with some high protein white.  I gave 5 a bath in 1/2 c. of sodium carbonate to 2 qts. of water.  I put each roll in the gently boiling solution, turned over after 30 secs. and left for another 30 secs.  I then dipped each pretzel into fresh water, and placed on cookie sheet with silpat and sprinkled with coarse salt.  Baked at 450 for 14 mins.  The 6th pretzel roll I used the same process, but used plain boiling water.  

I was happy with my results.  The rolls smelled very "pretzely" and tasted great!  The pretzel bathed in water was lighter in color right after the bath and also after baking.  Can't say the taste was significantly different.  I will definitely make these again.  I might try making the sodium carbonate solution stronger next time.  

kgmom's picture
kgmom

I appreciate everyone efforts to share wisdom and experience.  I won't be able to make pretzels until next week, I'll try to remember to simmer a couple pretzels without the baked soda.  I'm a scientist at heart, so that's right up my alley!

copyu's picture
copyu

and reported the results back here, on TFL!

I made pretzels several times using the 'simmer in baking soda' a few decades ago (before the internet) and they were...well...the very best pretzels I'd ever made...good enough, but they were still 'sub-standard', to put it politely.

The only 'really good' pretzels I remember eating when I was a young migrant to Australia were (probably) slightly stale ones, on New Year's day. My folks always went to a German dance on New Year's Eve and my mother would invariably return with a paper bag full of beautiful, chocolate-brown Brezeln for us kids the next day...some croissant-shaped ones with caraway seeds, but mostly the traditional shape with large salt crystals. I loved them!

I could never work out how they got that deep tan outside, while the inside was obviously just white flour. I thought they must have been 'painted' with something...sugar-water...eggs...food coloring...the mind boggled. The simple answer was 'Brezellauge'. 

Best,

copyu

 

kgmom's picture
kgmom

Thinking ahead to my first batch of pretzels.  I'm hopeful that with all the help and advice they will be wonderful.  Now I have started to wonder - what is the best way to store any that are left?  I have a memory of pretzels that I made years ago.  They looked great, shamrocks for St. Pat's day.  After 24 hours in a plastic storage box, and the salt had sucked up a lot of water, and they did not look very appetizing.  Can't remember how texture/flavor were affected.  Anyway, any storage recommendation would be appreciated!

emmsf's picture
emmsf

I don't think soft pretzels stay good for very long.  I was really very happy with mine, but the next day they were soggy in appearance and the exteriors felt a little bit slippery.  (I suspectd the alkaline dip contributed to that.)  They warmed up perfectly in the oven, though.   If you intend to keep them for a while, I'd suggest planning to give them a quick reheat, or just freeze them - they thaw quickly and when warmed up they're terrific all over again.

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

I tried the NY Times method yesterday, but went a little stronger: I put about 1/2 c in 2.5 c very hot water so it would dissolve better, and stirred well for several minutes until it was all dissolved. I did the same in a 2nd bowl (both ceramic). After shaping the pretzels I let them float in this solution for about 2-3 minutes each, using a spoon to ladle some solution over them at the start and again halfway through. I neglected to rinse them. 

I put them into a 250 C oven with plentiful steam, then two minutes later turned it down to the prescribed temp. My pretzels browned VERY early, so I am going to use a lower temp the next time.

The dark brown gloss, slick surface and pretzel-like flavor were all superb. I can't imagine lye working better. I wouldn't WANT something that worked better, by which I mean that I think I will rinse them after the bath next time, as eating them left a little too much aftertaste and my tongue felt slightly chemical-like.

copyu's picture
copyu

Hi Dragonbones,

Thanks a lot for your post. I was kind-of anticipating this...you mentioned an 'after-taste'...I have a ready supply of very cheap, mixed Sodium and Potassium Carbonate (70-30) for use in foods, but I won't go to the trouble of doing the 'pretzel experiments' myself. I'm leaving that to others. (Pretzels are a rare treat for me and troublesome to make in a small Japanese kitchen.) I once had an experience using baking soda to make 'pikelets', a kind of small pancake, also known as a 'drop scone'. Our baking powder was dead, so I whipped some up myself, using baking soda and cream of tartar. I used about 50-50, which was a BIG mistake...I know, now, that it needed a lot more of the acid than the alkali. The results were barely edible. Most of what I cooked for breakfast that day went to the birds, quite literally.

Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is a dangerous and toxic chemical, but when you look at it from a chemical point of view, it's very simple. The Na+ ions are the same as you find in saltwater and the OH- ions (hydroxyl radical/"hydroxide" ions) although they are VERY alkaline, are not too far away from pure water—they are so REACTIVE that they don't last very long in the presence of any other compounds. They won't affect the taste of anything if you have any starch, sugar, vinegar or alcohol nearby...these compounds (which are all made from just C and H and O atoms and which are probably all present in pretzel dough) will quickly neutralize the OH radical [which I think, preferably, turns into H2O, which is quite harmless ;-)] Furthermore, it's well-known that baking something dipped in NaOH definitely neutralizes any residual toxic or alkaline effect.

Carbonates, on the other hand, are associated with soil, sedimentary rocks, limestone, chalk, seashells...they look for suitable 'metallic' [positive] ions and 'want' to make a compound that might or might not be palatable. Sodium carbonate (a fairly strong alkali) will readily turn into baking soda (a weak alkali) when mixed with water. Even the presence of baking soda (a bitter salt) might be a bit 'off-putting' on a pretzel...I'd definitely try the 'rinsing' approach...

I can buy an ounce of "kansui" powder in Japan for about $1 which will make a liter of strong alkali. However, I trust my Schwabian ancestors enough to stick with the more expensive, more dangerous and harder-to source NaOH for pretzels. I understand, perfectly, why others would disagree for whatever reasons...availability, expense, safety...Happy experimenting!

I'm learning a lot more than I ever expected from these 'pretzel threads' on TFL, so thank you very much for your response/feedback.

Best,

copyu

 

 

 

 

emmsf's picture
emmsf

Dragonbones - Just curious about what your pretzels were like the second day.  I found mine were a little slimy the next day, presumably from the alkali dip, and I was wondering if I may have dipped them too long or perhaps didn't rinse them adequately.  Did you have a similar experience?

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

Copyu, I wonder whether the kanji for kansui might not mean 'alkaline water'. I'm just guessing based on my Mandarin.

Emmsf, no, mine didn't turn slimy. They remained dry and shiny for several days, in a brown paper bag in a humid climate. I dipped mine a long time, used an extra strong solution, and didn't rinse them (but will next time).   

copyu's picture
copyu

suggests that the "Kan" part of 'kansui' comes from a famous lake of the same name (ie, Lake Kan) in China, which was famed for its alkaline water. I've rarely seen it written in Kanji and didn't recognize it when I did, assuming it was a Chinese character not used in modern Japanese. (I might be wrong about that!)

Come to think of it, Mr Kan is our present PM and I don't know what the Kanji for his name looks like, as I usually read the English-language press. Interesting...

Thank you Dragonbones,

copyu