Have you ever decided to try a recipe for the first time for a party? That was our first attempt at Sourdough Pretzel Bites. Several years back, George and I volunteered to prepare a fondue-themed surprise party for a dear friend. We bought about 10 kinds of cheese and made several sweet and savory fondues: classic Emmenthaler, cheddar and beer, Gruyere and wine, gjetost, Brie and shiitake, squash and cheddar, Spanish Manchego, bagna cauda, and of course chocolate. I guess that 30, maybe 40, people passed through the house that night, poking various dippers into every fondue pot we could get our hands on.
Our first sourdough soft pretzel attempt disappeared quickly that night, but in the years since I’ve tweaked and perfected the recipe. The dough is straightforward; where opinions vary widely is in how to achieve a crisp “shell” and soft center. German soft pretzels have long been dipped in lye, an alkaline substance so caustic that it’s used to clean clogged drains and requires gloves when handling. As much as I love traditional flavors and techniques, I wasn’t ready to introduce that element into my kitchen.
The eminent Harold McGee has recommended sodium carbonate, sometimes called soda ash, as a replacement: simply bake sodium bicarbonate, also known as the common kitchen staple baking soda, at a low temperature until most of its water and carbon dioxide evaporate. On the upside, your pretzels will have that traditional bite; on the downside, this “baked soda” will still irritate your skin. So I prefer standard baking soda in my soda water bath. It may be less traditional and less flavorful, but it balances well with the sourdough tang and doesn’t eat into my hands.
Learn to make Sourdough Pretzel Bites and Beer–Cheese Dip