This recipe gets its pretzel-y taste from some nifty kitchen magic. The deep brown color and intense flavor of traditional Bavarian pretzels is achieved by, before baking, dipping the waffles in lye: a highly caustic substance made from firewood ash, useful for such things as making soap or brandishing jars of it at your opponents in your neighborhood Fight Club.
The pH scale, which measures a substance's acidity, runs from 0 (hydrochloric acid), past the neutrality of water at 7, down to the pure alkali of 14. Lye hits the charts with a solid level of 13, which makes it no surprise that it can unclog drains, or take the blame for the existence of lutefisk.
Danger and lutefisk aside, lye has actually been used culinarily for centuries with many brilliant results. Once diluted and cooked it poses no danger; it merely accelerates the browning by helping break down some of the proteins on the surface, which also created its distinctive taste and texture. Yet even if you muster up the bravery to take a crack at baking like it’s 1699, it will likely be difficult to find the lye in the first place. Many bakers swap it out for a far more common (and safer) alkali: baking soda.
Although baking soda is an easy substitution, the pretzels it makes never have the “oomph” that lye pretzels do. It’s far too gentle make a significant dent in flavor and its comparatively mild pH of 9 results in something that tastes more like slightly soapy bread rather than a yeasty German dynamo. To get the intense flavor and dark brown crust we’re looking for, and to achieve it as quickly as possible (this is breakfast, after all), we’ll have to draw even more inspiration from Germany than just pretzels. We must develop superior engineering, coupled with a dash of their world-famous efficiency.
By cooking the baking soda dry on the stovetop, the molecules will begin to react and reorganize themselves, creating carbon dioxide and water, which will immediately evaporate as steam. This process is barely perceptible to the eye, but soon you’ll see the baking soda has decreased in volume. It’s transformed from sodium bicarbonate into sodium carbonate, which has a pH of around 11. That’s just alkaline enough to create superior flavor, but not so much so that you will be putting yourself or loved ones in mortal peril.
This raises the question: Why bother doing all this work in the first place? How is anyone supposed to be able to function highly enough at 8 a.m. to be dealing with breakfast at all, much less danger breakfast?
Now we bring in the efficiency. Instead of a batter, you’ll be using a yeast dough inspired by Belgian Liège waffles. Make it a day ahead—you can even freeze it—and let it rest in the fridge overnight so it’s ready to go in the morning. Same goes for the supersoda, which can be stored sealed in a jar in a cupboard for damn well near forever. Most true lye pretzels are never boiled, so a quick dip in a soda bath is all they need. Truthfully you can find a reason to eat these for any meal, but breakfast is an excuse to slather them with peanut butter syrup and pretend it’s healthy.
Note: Allow for one to two hours rising time.
Pretzel Waffles with Peanut Butter Maple Syrup Sauce
- Yields: 8 waffles
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Hands-On Time: 40 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
For the waffles:
For the syrup:
Make the dough: Stir together warm water, sugar, egg, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and let sit until it becomes foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour.
Using the hook attachment, mix on medium-low speed until the dough begins to come together into a soft, shaggy dough. Turn the speed to medium. Cut the butter into small pieces and add a bit at a time, waiting for each piece to be incorporated before adding the next. Add the salt.
Continue to knead the dough in the mixer until it forms a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and gathers on the hook, about five minutes.
Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
Using your hands, deflate the dough and gently shape it into a round disc. You can make the waffles immediately at this point, or store the dough in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours until you are ready to use it.
Make the soda water: Spread the baking soda over the bottom of a large saute pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the volume is reduced by ⅓.
Turn off heat, put overhead fan on high, and carefully whisk in the water a cup at a time. Keep your face away from the pan as you do this. Transfer soda bath to a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.
Make the waffles: Heat waffle maker to your manufacturer's directions.
Divide dough into 8 pieces. Flatten each into a small disc about ½” high.
Lightly coat the waffle maker with nonstick spray. Working one at a time, submerge dough pieces in soda water for five seconds, then lightly shake off excess. Place in the center of the waffle iron, brush the top of the dough generously with melted butter, sprinkle with coarse salt, and close lid. Cook until the top and bottom are a deep pretzel brown, between 3 and 5 minutes depending on your iron. Transfer pretzel waffle to a tray, and repeat process with the rest of the dough.
Make the syrup: Stir together all ingredients in a microwave safe bowl and cook for 3 minutes, stopping every 30 seconds to stir. Alternatively, you can do this on the stovetop in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Serve with waffles, along with banana slices, bacon bits and any other toppings you find festive.
Allison and Matt Robicelli are the authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook Robicelli's: A Love Story, with Cupcakes and have created multiple internationally viral desserts.