Food Based Lye vs. Baking Soda for making authentic German Pretzels?
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. I have tried literally a dozen recipes from American baking books and even from German books written in German. And they come out looking exactly like German pretzels, but the crust is always softer than in Munich. In Munich the inside crumb is soft and supple, but the brown crust is deeply brown with a crisp crackle.
My big question is about food grade lye. Will this save my pretzels? I’ve been using a baking soda/water boiling solution before I bake the pretzels. If I switched to lye, would that make the crust better? Baking soda is an 8 on the pH scale, which is only slightly alkaline, while Lye is a 13-14 which is about like the strongest alkaline you can find. I’d hate to spend a month and $50 tracking down some food grade lye, only to find out that it is a huge hassle that produces the same or worse results than baking soda.
Can anyone help?