Dipping the dough in a lye solution gives traditional German pretzels their characteristic salinity; chew; and smooth mahogany exterior, but the strong alkali (sodium hydroxide) is corrosive and can burn your skin, so it must be handled with caution. (Don’t worry about eating baked pretzels; baking neutralizes the lye and makes it perfectly safe to consume.) Follow this guide to make your experience safe and comfortable.
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Lye-Dipping Station Setup
Work in a well-ventilated room, on a stable and roomy counter near an empty sink, if possible. Do not use lye around small children or pets.
- Food-grade lye (also known as sodium hydroxide), available at baking shops or online
- Long sleeves with long rubber gloves (such as for dishwashing; before wearing, blow up each glove like a balloon to ensure that there are no holes)
- Safety goggles
- Digital scale that measures in grams
- Rags in case of spills or drips
- Counter protection (plastic wrap or large plastic bag)
- Cover counter with plastic wrap or large plastic bag. Put on rubber gloves, making sure no skin on your arms is showing. Put on safety goggles.
- Measure out exactly 40 grams of lye crystals into small bowl on scale. Set aside small bowl with lye crystals. Cover container of lye crystals and store in locked/secure location per package instructions.
- Place large bowl on scale. Add 1,000 grams cold water to large bowl. Add reserved 40 grams lye crystals to water and whisk gently to dissolve. Order of operations is important: Always add lye to water instead of adding water to lye. (Lye solution in bowl will heat up slightly and will give off some vapors, which are barely noticeable, but it’s not advisable to put your face directly over solution.) Rinse whisk well with cool water. Remove scale.
- Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and place to right of lye solution. Unwrap sheet of chilled pretzels, place to left of lye solution, and proceed with recipe. (Clear counter while pretzels bake; see below.)
If Your Skin or Eyes Come in Contact with Lye
Avoid touching anything but the pretzels while working with the lye solution. Before touching something else, rinse your gloved hands with cool water and dry them with rags.
If any unintentional exposure occurs, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222, and follow these steps:
- If you get lye solution on your skin or in your eyes: Rinse your skin or flush your eyes immediately with cool running water for at least 15 minutes.
- If you touch lye crystals: Brush them off with a dry cloth, and then rinse your skin with cool running water for at least 10 minutes.
- Still wearing gloves and goggles, transfer bowl of lye solution to sink.
- Run cold water into bowl in gentle stream to dilute solution. Pour solution down drain. Flush drain and rinse bowl and sink thoroughly with plenty of cold water.
- Rinse rimmed baking sheets and wire rack with plenty of cold water. Dispose of plastic wrap or plastic bag on counter. Rinse gloves before removing. Once gloves are off, remove goggles.