The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Lye bath sourdough bagels

trailrunner's picture

Lye bath sourdough bagels

I finally got around to purchasing a container of food grade lye . I had tried to find info on lye baths for bagels but there is very little out there and the percent of lye to water that was used seemed way off. I am glad that I pursued this and have some data that I hope will help others. I purchased the lye on Amazon  here . Will likely last me a good long while. I used 5 grams in 1 gallon of filtered tap water. This is approx. 12-12.5 % alkalinity. Baking soda is only 9 if fully saturated  so can't get the water where I wanted it to optimize the crust . I will  use a bit more next time and get it up to the full 14% that is possible if fully saturated. . I am VERY pleased with how these came out. I added the lye to the cold water and brought it to a boil. Just to be on the safe side ( my husband is a chemist and insisted) I wore goggles and had some vinegar in a dish off to the side to neutralize any splash on the skin. I had no problems. 

I bathed the bagels for 10 seconds on a side...lifted out and drained, replaced on the sheet pan dusted with semolina where they had retarded. I baked them as always in 400 degree oven approx 22 min. rotated pans at the 1/2. Formula I use is here. I used whey instead of water as I had a lot from my kefir cheese making. I also used half white and half rye starter. 

The crust is amazing. So crisp. Beautiful blisters and a nice glow to the crust. Perfect chewy crumb. Lovely fragrance. Any residue of lye is  hydrolyzed by the proteins in the bagel dough and is neutralized so you don't need to worry about rinsing the bagels after dipping. 

Here are some pics. 

note the difference in the boiled vs unboiled bagels:  photo IMG_6519_zps3c764110.jpg  photo IMG_6520_zps315e4861.jpg baked :  photo IMG_6522_zps1c08d5f1.jpg crumb ( small flaw from rolling/shaping )  photo IMG_6524_zpsc6a35858.jpg  photo IMG_6523_zps94d31ff3.jpg  photo IMG_6526_zps5b596f3d.jpg


russthebus's picture

This crust looks fantastic! congrats

dabrownman's picture

an authentic crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside NY bagel.  Your example is exceptional.  I think you could do 20 seconds a side and not have to adjust the bath at all?  Oh those blisters......Well done and happy baking!

trailrunner's picture

Thank you russ. I appreciate you looking. 

dab...nothing like it !!  Thank you for the kind words. I intended to do 20 each side :) got so excited at the whole thing and did 20 all together !  Next time...and will post results with slight increase in is logarithmic  so have to be careful. Like the Richter Scale...don't want to have a big boom !  c

hanseata's picture

Your post comes just at the right time!

A while ago, I ordered a container with food grade lye from amazon, too. It took three trials to deliver it, because I wasn't at home, and they couldn't just leave it on the porch, it's a hazardous good.

But now it is sitting in a corner, because I didn't quite know how to work with it.




trailrunner's picture

They left mine on the porch...not sure about the rules. You won't have any problem with the lye. One thing to be cautious of are the few links on the web that say the person used a 1-2% solution. That is WAY too much lye. The ph scale shows that the maximum alkalinity one can get is 14%. So anymore lye in the solution won't give you anymore alkalinity it will just be super saturated with lye for no good purpose. All you want is to achieve the high alkalinity. As to the worry about burning oneself etc it is next to impossible with this solution but it could definitely hurt your eyes, thus the goggles. I have teak wood countertops in my kitchen so I covered them with dishtowels to prevent spotting of the finish. 

Oh and remember that the alkalinity is a logarithmic scale...meaning that if you use 5 mg lye to get "X" ph you DO NOT use 10 mg to get double that !  I believe that is where the errors begin for those that have posted a 1-2% solution. 

Anyway you can message  me if you have anymore questions. You will love the finish on the bagels. c

hanseata's picture

This is very helpful information!

I knew about eye protection, but didn't have a clue about the ratio lye/water in the bath.

I made great bagels before (Peter Reinhart's and ITJB ones, and I made pretzel rolls. They tasted very good, but my pretzel rolls were pale, compared with the much more attractive looking ones on the photo.

I'm fasting right now, but when I'm done, and baked the Bohemian Hazelnut Torte my husband craves for his birthday, I'll give it a try with your instructions.


winstonsmith's picture

I'm about to make more lye bagels and I thought I'd pop in to the forum and see if there was anything new since I last checked, and found your nicely done efforts. Congratulations, and I hope you've done more in the last 6 months since you posted. 

If I'm not mistaken 5 grams of sodium hydroxide in a gallon of water, which is about 3.785L, produces a pH of 11.1


I like mine best when closer to pH 13, so I make a 1/2% solution. That calculates out to pH 13.1, so for a gallon I'd add 19g.

Of course the usual handling of strong bases applies. Have water running where you can rinse off a spill and some vinegar handy as well, along with glasses and disposable gloves. Add the lye to cool water, DON'T add water to lye. The dissolving of lye in water produces a lot of heat. If you add lye to a large quantity of water it's perfectly safe, however if you do the opposite you create a lot of heat upon contact and you can cause highly concentrated solution to shoot all over, a distinctly unpleasant thing to do.

I like Jeffrey Hamelmans formula the best, and 15 seconds or so a side is to my liking. Of course YMMV.