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I made pretzel dough and its ready to be shaped.

Somehow I have no baking soda left. Can I use baking powder in place of baking soda? Or is there something else I can use for the dipping step?

What will happen if I just skip the dipping step?

  • As mentioned the answer to your question is “no” — but of note you can’t even use baking soda! It’s simply not nearly alkaline enough. It may modify your baked product but the result won’t be like pretzels. – Konrad Rudolph Dec 17 '19 at 10:00
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    @KonradRudolph thanks. I know it's not what is typically used, but I would argue that the result is similar to pretzels (I lived near the border in Switzerland and visited Germany often, I know what pretzels are like). It may not be exactly the same, but it's enough to satisfy the craving for someone who doesn't have access to caustic chemicals. I don't even know where to buy food-grade lye here without ending up on some sort of an FBI list. – Catsunami Dec 17 '19 at 17:04
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    Not directly relevant to the question, but related to some comments/answers. If you bake your baking soda, you can get pretty good results. epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/… – Kevin Dec 17 '19 at 17:45
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No, you cannot use baking powder to dip pretzels. To get their characteristic color and crust, pretzels are traditionally boiled in lye. Another alkaline solution, i.e. those containing a base, can be used as well. Let's look at how baking soda and powder are used as leavers:

  1. Baking soda is a base (namely sodium bicarbonate) that releases carbon dioxide gas when mixed with an acid. That's why, in a recipe like buttermilk pancakes, acidic buttermilk can mix with baking soda to produce bubbles of gas that leaven the pancake.

  2. Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda with a dry acidic substance. When mixed with water, it makes carbon dioxide gas all by itself.

Baking powder mixed with water will not be alkaline, since it contains both an acid and a base. Thus it won't work for boiling pretzels. Unfortunately, there aren't very many bases in your kitchen cabinets. While it is easy to substitute acids, the only bases you are likely to bake with are lye and baking soda.

If you skip the dipping step entirely, you will get plain rolls instead of pretzels. Boiling in plain water, or water with honey or barley malt syrup, will give you a more bagel-like crust. But to get a true pretzel, you really must boil in an alkaline solution.

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    I have never made a pretzel, but this answer helped me understand the difference between the soda and the powder. Interesting kitchen chemistry! :D – varun Dec 16 '19 at 11:33
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    Thanks! I didn't feel like going out to get baking soda (I may or may not have been drinking wine while baking), so I just put egg wash on them. Still tasty and pretzel-shaped, but not pretzels ;) – Catsunami Dec 16 '19 at 16:20
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    Egg white is one of the few food products that is naturally alkaline, with an initial pH value that can be as low as 7.6 at time of lay, but with increasing alkalinity as the egg ages, and can reach pH of 9.2. I'm uncertain whether you could achieve the same molarity as baking soda (pH=~8.4) with a reasonable number of eggs, however you might try. Bonus, if you have red cabbage laying around, it'll turn blue-green in a sufficiently alkaline solution. – bishop Dec 16 '19 at 18:20
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    I prefer to use sodium carbonate, which is more alkaline than sodium bicarbonate, while still safer than using lye. You can buy it as washing soda, or make your own by cooking baking soda in a hot oven for a couple of hours. – barbecue Dec 16 '19 at 22:04
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    And it gives your pretzels that lovely lavender-fresh flavour. – Dawood ibn Kareem Dec 17 '19 at 1:45

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