The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


michaelreeves's picture

Use of Chemicals to influence Maillard reaction and flavor

April 9, 2013 - 4:17pm -- michaelreeves

Hi All,

I have questions concerning the use of chemicals for dipping baked goods into. Specifically pertaining to pretzels. Specifically these chemicals- Lye, Potassium Hydroxide, Calcium Hydroxide (Lime), Sodium Carbonate, Baking Soda, Salt, and Alkaline Water. My reasoning for choosing all of these ingredients is because they are alkaline and influence the Maillard Reaction. Which is essentially where the color and taste of a pretzel comes from.

winstonsmith's picture

A couple months ago I was using my KA Pro 6 of a dozen or so years of age when it finally stripped a gear. I ordered parts and repaired it, but as I thought about it I realized that it no longer suited my needs. I expect it will last another decade or more, but it will be reserved for light loads.

The bagel formula I have been using is from Jeff Hamelman and I like it quite a lot. This time I decided to try the BBA, or at least a somewhat modified version. That makes a bakers dozen, which would have been too much for the KA since I use HG flour. Fortunately, I have a new Bosch Universal! I decided to double the recipe and see how the new machine worked.

I want to say right now that this post is not about a KA vs. whatever. The KA is a fine machine for many purposes, but it was never intended to make 26 large bagels worth of high gluten dough at once. Consequently any comparison between the two is irrelevant. Use what you have within its limits and if you move beyond it do so and remember the good things you've made rather than bemoan what you could not do. My 2 cents. 


I followed the BBA formula as I've said, creating the sponge in the mixing bowl. Once it sufficiently proofed I added part of the flour to collapse the sponge. I've read that getting dough into the center column could be a problem so I incorporated the ingredients in two batches, mixing half the flour in for a few moments then in with the rest. In doing so I had no problems later.

One concern was that I wasn't sure just how long I should mix the ingredients. This was an untried formula in an unfamiliar machine. I decided that I would let it knead for 5 minutes and try to windowpane test it every minute thereafter. I found that 8 minutes provided sufficient time. I could have gone a little longer, but I don't like to over-oxidize. 

Please forgive the low quality cell phone pics. 

Here's the Beast with its first "victim" 


This may not look like much, but it's roughly 7 lbs of high gluten bagel dough which ultimately made 26 bagels of about 4&1/4 ounces each. That would have been impossible before, but the Bosch acted like it didn't care at all. 


I went back and forth on Hamelman or Reinhart and ultimately the latter won simply because I wanted to try it. That said I didn't depart entirely from my old ways and  follow everything to the letter. 

What follows is my standard work practice for bagels. 

I use an apartment sized fridge for retarding dough and I pre-cut sheets of parchment to fit the shelves. I then spray them lightly with Pam and rub it into the paper. I then  cut the number of portions from the dough ball which will fit onto the sheet and roll them into ropes and form the bagel. Onto the sheet they go and into the fridge after covering with plastic wrap. Once that's all done I let them sit for about 15 hours until the next morning.

I preset the oven to go off an hour before I woke set to 500F. The bottom two racks have rectangular stones and the top one has a large aluminum flat sheet. 

When I get up I take another set of parchment sheets sized to fit the stone and spray as before to avoid sticking.  I don a pair of surgical gloves and add three teaspoonfuls of lye to three quarts of cold water in a stainless pan. Note cold water. The reason the reason for that is lye will react strongly with water, and if the water is hot it could go everywhere, including yourself. Cold is definately the safe way to go.

There's a thread explaining the use of lye with bagels. Coincidentally it turns out the fellow who does this shares my profession and we both grew up in Philly. Small world, eh?

Once the water gets up to a boil I put 4 bagels in and flip them over at about 30 seconds for a total of a minute them remove them. One side of the bagel is flatter than the other and what I do is put whatever topping I want on the more curved surface and have that side down on the parchment. I then carefully take the hot sheet out of the oven and quickly slide parchment and all onto it. The reason being is that I want both sides to bake a bit, but not completely set. The hot sheet holds enough heat to start the process without burning the toppings and the flat side being exposed to the open oven has a chance to rise and round itself. I then use tongs and slide the parchment and bagels onto another flat sheet, close the oven and quickly flip them over. Back into the oven onto one of the stones. I'll repeat the process of boiling and topping on another parchment paper and repeat, then put that onto the other stone. Total baking time is about 22 minutes at 500F. With the oven opening and closing I doubt the oven stays quite that hot for the second batch so I may give another minute or two if needed. 26 bagels required three batches on the size stones I have and here's the results, minus several. 



I took some with me to work that morning and they were well received. They were nice and chewey with a light crunch when bitten into. I will have to try Hamelman again with the Bosch to compare the results between it and the Pro 6. There was better development of gluten this time, but there are too many variables to know why.

As far as the machine itself, I'm thrilled with it. I would have to do this in three or four batches and the time involved would have been prohibitive. I believe I could have done perhaps three dozen, but this is about the perfect quantity. 

copyu's picture

Hi all,

I'm getting tired of repeating myself on "Pretzel-Related" threads where discussion of "Lye" is concerned and I always have to resist the temptation to turn the whole discussion into a Chemistry lecture. I decided a few days ago to do a little "Kitchen Science" and do an incomplete, but slightly more detailed explanation of what alkalis are all about

What I wanted to do was examine some of the claims I've read here, and on many other pretzel-making/baking/soap-making sites. I got tired of reading YahooAnswers, where someone says "If you can't get Sodium Carbonate (Na2CO3), use Sodium BI-Carbonate, because they are very similar chemicals..." This is a true, but totally vapid and rather stupid statement. Common Salt, Sodium Chloride, (NaCL) is also a 'similar chemical' to Sodium BI-Carbonate, (NaHCO3) and similar to Caustic Soda, (NaOH) because they all have only one sodium ion, per molecule, when in solution...It doesn't mean they will perform similar chemical reactions on your bread or noodle dough, however

Understanding pH in detail isn't that straightforward or easy, but as a guide-line, pH7.0 is completely 'neutral' (or in balance) and it's the measurement you should get from pure distilled water. Lower numbers are found with sour, acidic foods, such as lemon juice and vinegar, around pH3-4. Numbers above 7.0 indicate a 'basic' or 'alkaline' property. Any liquid you test will be either acidic, [low pH, well-under pH7.0]; neutral [pH7.0 or pretty close to it]; or alkaline [pH higher than 7.0]

The problems arise when people fail to realize that the pH scale is "logarithmic" [or negative logarithmic] in the same way that dB [deciBels] are in electronics. This is an "engineering solution" to dealing with ridiculously big numbers. What this means is that the difference between one point on the pH scale represents a difference of a power of ten: pH8.0 is about TEN TIMES more alkaline than pH 7.0; a solution of pH9.0 is 100 times more alkaline; pH10 is 1000 times more alkaline, and so on...A tap-water reading in many cities around the world could be as high as pH8.5, which is also the most-often quoted pH figure for Baking Soda. Caustic Soda, or 'Pretzel Lye', on the other hand (one of the strongest known alkalis), is at least 5pH points higher, meaning that it is at least 100,000 times stronger than baking soda. It is this which allows the alkali to attack the surface starch of your pretzel dough quickly and that gives the brown color and the perfect crust that many pretzel fanatics love!

What I did was make solutions using 'Aqua Purificata', the nearest thing you'll find to pure, ion-free, distilled water at a reasonable price. I measured 3g each, using my most accurate scale, of Baking Soda, Kansui Powder (the ingredients of Chinese Lye Water) and Caustic Soda (or 'Pretzel lye') and mixed the powders with 100g of purified water. I mixed each solution for two minutes in brand-new plastic containers, rinsed with the pure water and dried with heavy paper towels. I measured the pH using an $80 pH meter that is fairly well-calibrated. After 3 minutes in each solution, I took photos of the meter readings. I now think I should have delayed the photography until 5 minutes had passed, but the pics I have will give you an idea of the differences among the three main chemicals I tested

I hope this is clear enough and useful to somebody,





Brot Backer's picture

Lye source in North California (Sonoma County)?

October 28, 2010 - 8:31am -- Brot Backer

First of all, I did a search and couldn't find what I was looking for.

I live in Sonama County (Santa Rosa) and if at all possible I'd like to get my hands on some food grade lye today. I have a last minute request for pretzels and prefer to not make a mess boiling them with baking soda. Anyone have any ideas where I could pick some up around here?


Thanks a ton,


summerbaker's picture

Food Grade Lye - Cheap(er)

July 22, 2009 - 6:45pm -- summerbaker

I keep reading posts about how food grade lye is expensive and have been kicking myself for not remembering where I ordered mine from.  Finally my source, Essencial Depot, sent me a promotional email so now I'd like to pass their address on to adventurous bagel bakers everywhere:

2 lbs. is $4.49 plus $8.11 shipping for a total of: $12.60

guerrillafood's picture

Food Based Lye vs. Baking Soda for making authentic German Pretzels?

October 27, 2007 - 10:24pm -- guerrillafood

I am an American that lived in Germany for many years, and misses the breads of Munich so much. I have a European culinary apprenticeship under my belt and countless years of restaurant experience, but I am not able to recreate “simple” German pretzels. I find that there is a phenomenon in the American bread world. I find everyday breads in supermarkets and even artisan bakeries that look identical to European breads, but when you pick them up and take a bite, they are much softer, and well… weaker breads.

The same things happens with my pretzels.

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