On a recent trip to New York City, I was fortunate to discover Mad. Sq. Eats, a monthlong “pop-up restaurant city” offering an amazing array of food and drink. Unfortunately, I had just finished eating lunch in Soho and could only fathom a snack while I looked longingly at the incredible offerings from some of New York City’s best eateries.
Sigmunds pretzels jumped out at me immediately. Their offerings were unique and lusciously enticing. They explained to me that Sigmunds makes pretzels in the traditional German style – dipping the pretzels in a lye solution before baking. This long established method creates a pretzel with a thick dark chewy crust and soft interior. I immediately countered with “You use lye? Are you kidding me?” As a soapmaker, I was familiar with working with lye, a caustic ingredient that quickly dissipates in water and therefore is not required to be listed as an ingredient by the soapmaker.
Apparently not, I bought two pretzels – a warmed salted pumpkin seed topped beauty, and a garlic parsley pretzel, which was equally heavenly, even better after dipping in their “special” German mustard.
As a soapmaker, I was familiar with working with lye, commonly known as sodium hydroxide.During the soapmaking process, lye’s hydroxide ion (base/alkaline) is mixed with oil or fat (acid) it becomes neutral, and in this case, soothing glycerine is formed during this reaction. But, I digress….
When I returned home, still curious and a bit wary about using lye in my pretzelmaking, I researched the lye-soaking method for pretzels. It seems that the prefered method for the home baker is to use baking soda as a less intensive recipe substitute for lye (which purists decry as not alkaline enough to get a good “crusty crust”) and perhaps less scary alternative for the uninitiated. About.com has lye-based recipe on their German food site. You may reference it here:
Certainly, Sigmunds has other secrets up their sleeves, including, but not limited to, the use of beer in their pretzels. I imagine as their amazing pretzels continue to catch on, pretzel and beer pairing may become a trendy alternative to chocolate and beer pairing. I will look forward to visiting their East Village location at 29 Avenue B, the next time I am in New York City, where I will attempt to sample their incredible selection of dips and giant pretzels.