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calendar   Friday - February 28, 2020

Ain’t No Lye: Pretzel Experiment 2.1, Doing It On The Cheap

updated with the 4th bake

In response to a comment on one of those baking forums I sometimes visit, I made another batch of pretzels and used the washing soda dip method.

Washing soda, also known as soda ash, is merely baked baking soda. Spread some baking soda out on a cookie pan, put it in a 400°F oven for an hour. This transforms baking soda, which is sodium bicarbonate, into sodium carbonate, aka soda ash. The chemical reaction drives off some CO2 and the resulting powder is quite a bit more alkaline.  Finding out if it is alkaline enough was the nature of this experiment.

While I was at it, I made the dough on the cheap. Instead of using the expensive King Arthur high gluten flour and the spendy spelt flour, I used plain old Gold Metal unbleached all purpose flour. Instead of using the organic malt syrup and a teaspoon of white sugar, I used a rounded tablespoon of dark brown sugar. I used Sam Adams Boston Lager which is no less expensive than the crisp European Pilsner lagers I prefer, but the Sammy has a full flavor with a good balance between malt and hops; my hope was that it would add some malt taste that the brown sugar substitution couldn’t provide. After mixing the dough, it felt very weak to me, so I added in 2tbl of vital wheat gluten. I was going to use bread flour, but I’m out of KABF. So a bit of extra gluten might make up the difference. Other than that, the dough was made in the exact same way.

And what a difference. For starters, this mix has much less gluten than what I usually make. That made it difficult to roll out the ropes without tearing, so I left them a little thicker, which resulted in small fat pretzels. And my fancy recipe simply tastes much better. But it was the dipping solution that was on trial here.

Washing soda makes a much less alkaline solution than lye. pH is a logarithmic scale; a pH of 9 is 10 times more alkaline than a pH of 8. Lye solutions run between pH 13 and pH 14. Washing soda solution run between pH 11.5 and pH 12; even a weak lye solution is 10x stronger.

I ran 3 bakes. Here are the results.

The first bake used a 0.13M CaC03 (washing soda) solution; 11gm of soda ash in a liter of water. One pretzel dipped for 30 seconds, one dipped for 60 seconds. They baked at my usual time and temperature, 450°F for 11 minutes, but were so unbrowned that I let them go another 2 minutes. So 13 minutes total.

image
top: 30 second dip. bottom: 60 second dip

The 30 second dip was a breadstick. Only the faintest pretzel flavor. The 60 second dip was better, but still very mild. I’m thinking 60 seconds is the minimum with this weaker alkaline solution. I worry that a really long dip might create some off flavors, so I’ll stop at 90 seconds.



The second bake used a 0.25M solution, 21gm of soda ash in a liter of water. One pretzel dipped for 60 seconds, one pretzel dipped for 90 seconds. They baked at 450°F for 13 minutes, but browned considerably more.

image
top right: 60 second dip (it broke) bottom right: 90 second dip

These two came out quite crusty; the extra 2 minutes of baking time was not needed. They are starting to taste like pretzels, about what you’d get at WaWa or from a street vendor. The 90 second dip was slightly more pretzel tasting than the 60 second dip one.



The third bake used a 0.38M solution, 32gm of soda ash in a liter of water. They were baked at 450°F for my standard 11 minutes.

image
top far right: 60 second dip. bottom far right: 90 second dip

They browned up a bit more than the second bake, even though they were in the oven for 2 minutes less. Pretzel flavor is beginning to be acceptable, but I prefer it quite a bit more than this. Very little taste difference between the 60 and 90 second dips.

I was going to do a fourth bake, using a solid half mole (42gm) solution, but I ran out of sea salt. So I’ll leave those 2 in the freezer, and maybe finish this tomorrow. Maybe I’ll just jump a step, and crank the molarity up to 0.75, using 63gm of soda ash. That should also kick off any strange tastes, if they are an aspect of using a washing soda dip. With any luck, I’ll start getting that glossy, deep mahogany color that a lye dip gives, and maybe some of that strong flavor I love.



Conclusion, and my personal bias:
So it can be done, to some extent. The strongest solution generated an acceptable level of pretzel flavor with no odd flavors, and the dough made from common ingredients will meet most people’s expectations. However, lye is vastly superior for both browning and pretzel taste, and my fancy recipe has much better body and taste.




Fourth Bake
Ok, I added all the rest of the washing soda that I’d made, which totaled 75 grams. This is an 0.89M solution, which should have a pH of 12.14. At this point the pH increase starts to flatline; doubling the amount of soda to 150gm only increases the pH by 0.15. Not worth it.
With the standard 11 minute bake at 450°F they came up quite brown, although with a rather matte finish. Yeah, I know, ugly pretzels. I used kosher salt on top.

image
top: 60 second dip. bottom: 90 second dip.

Taste is what this test is all about ... and we’ve reached a limit. While the pretzel taste was pretty good but not exceptional, both had an off taste I’d call metallic or chalky. In the 60 second dip this was present but fairly mild; in the 90 second dip it was pretty strong. So I’d say that an even shorter dip or a weaker solution would be a better approach. Maybe and average between the last two dips? Let’s see ... 32 + 74 = 107; 107/2 = 53.5. So probably 50gm of washing soda is a good maximum amount, but I’d probably stick with 40gm if I were to use this dip method again.

Just buy the lye.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 02/28/2020 at 02:36 PM   
Filed Under: • FoodScience-Technology •  
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