Pretzels are simply bread dough that has been coated with a lye solution and baked. Lye is a base, and every bit as burning as a powerful acid when mixed with water, so do be careful, especially if baking with kids. Wear rubber gloves if you’re concerned, but I find that working carefully with spatulas is fine. The general rule of thumb is 4 percent lye by weight—that is, 4 grams lye for every 100 milliliters water. Do use parchment paper as the lye may discolor your baking sheet. Order food-grade lye (which is powdered) and chunky pretzel salt or flaky Maldon salt for garnish. These will be traditional pretzels with a crisp crust and soft, chewy interior.
Punch down the risen bread dough, divide it into 16 balls, and let them rest, covered with a towel, for 10 minutes. Roll each ball into an 8-inch/20-centimeter rope, cross the two ends, and flip it over, attaching the ends to the inner rounded part of the pretzel and leaving the nubs extended for a traditional pretzel shape. You can also simply bake them as is for pretzel rods. Cover the pretzels with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
Using one or two slotted spatulas or spiders, lower each pretzel into the lye mixture for 10 seconds or so, then put it on the lined baking sheet. Garnish the pretzels with salt.
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