Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Baked baking soda...is that a thing?
I have used lye when baking pretzels and bagels, and I remember well the goggles, rubber gloves, long sleeved shirt, extra towels, and extreme caution necessary to safely handle the lye solution. Not the most fun, but hey...the price we pay for yummy pretzels, right?
Not so! There is actually a perfectly effective stand-in for lye when baking pretzels or bagels, and most kitchens have it...or at least the raw form of it. Yes, I am referring to baking soda.
Now, before you roll your eyes and remind me that everyone knows baking soda doesn't work like lye does, let me explain a few things for those who may not be familiar with the process.
Bear in mind, you will need to be properly protected from that lye solution in order to prevent injury to yourself. Oddly enough, after baking those pretzels are not dangerous at all!
A tiny bit of chemistry:
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. When heated above 300 degrees it loses moisture and decomposes into sodium carbonate, water, and carbon dioxide. Incidentally, the release of carbon dioxide is the reaction that causes baked goods to rise when leavened with baking soda or baking powder. When heated alone the carbon dioxide dissipates, the water evaporates, and we are left with sodium carbonate with a ph around 9.4. Significantly more alkaline than the original baking soda, and definitely alkaline enough to make our pretzels perfect!
If you are a dyed-in-the-wool believer in lye being absolutely necessary for good pretzels and bagels, I may not have changed your mind and that's okay! But if you would like to give pretzels or bagels a try without the culinary version of a haz-mat suit, you might enjoy the baked baking soda method.
As always, I welcome your comments so feel free to share your thoughts!
Here's to great and simple baking,