Pretzel Challah

Written by Leah Schapira on Monday, 24 November 2014. Posted in Food Mood

The first time I served my pretzel challah to guests, I was asked. “How do you make the crust of the challah so delicious and pretzel like?”


"Lye, as in the acid? As the one you use to make soap?"


Poor guests, they were scared to ask any further questions (or eat for that matter). 

So what is Pretzel Challah? Dark, salty, soft pretzels on the outside, with the delicious inside of a challah. Addictive challah that becomes the star of you meal. 

While using lye seems scary, it’s perfectly safe if you follow some basic steps. 

In the past I’ve made hot pretzels with baking soda from my cookbook  co-authored with Victoria Dwek. “Kids Cooking Made Easy”. But and it’s a big BUT you can’t compare using baking soda instead of lye to achieve authentic (and dark) pretzels. Feel free to use the lye to make hot pretzels too. 

The first step I did was get some food grade lye. Lye micro beads are easier to use than powder or liquid and can be easily bought on amazon for a great price. 

Before I ordered my first bottle I called up the Ou Kosher Line (212 613 8241)  to inquire if I need some sort of certification. The Rabbi on the line told me they no certification was need  and the Ou accepts lye from any source. And then in a fatherly tone he added “Please be careful. Don’t drink it, ok?”

With the Rabbis blessing (that was a blessing, no?) I got to work. 

1. Prepare your usually challah recipe. I’ve tried it with egg challah, water challah, a sweet challah. it doesn’t matter to the actual process. 

2. Wear gloves

3. An apron or clothing you don’t mind get ruined is recommended. Although I’ve never ruined anything, I’ve read comments that some of the lye spilled on them and it “bleached” the outfit. 

4. Make sure no kids (or pets) are around. 

Pretzel Challah

1 recipe of your favorite challah dough 

5 cups water

1/4 cup food grade lye


1. Prepare your challah recipe, rise, and braid it as usual. 

2. Preheat oven to 350F. 

3. Grease the baking sheet. I’ve found that parchment paper sticks to the challah. You can either grease the parchment paper or grease the sheet pan diectly. 

4.Prepare the lye bath. In a glass or plastic container big enough to hold the challah loaf, combine the water and lye, mixing it slowly so that it does’t splash. 

I prefer to place my container directly into the sink and work there to prevent any accidental spills on the counter. 

Some argue that glass is preferable to plastic, or vice versa. As long as you prepare the lye bath right before using and don’t let the water sit after you are done, I’ve had success with both.

5. Wearing gloves, carefully dip each loaf into the water bath, top side down. Let sit for 10-15 seconds. If your challah is taller than the water, flip over and let sit another few seconds.

6. Lift challah, letting the lye water drip down, and place on prepared baking sheet. 

7. Sprinkle with coarse salt or everything mix (sesame, salt and poppy).

8. Bake as usual. 

While the challah browns very quickly the inside may not be ready. Depending on the challah size keep it in the oven an extra 5-10 minutes after you believe the challah is done. 




In the US, food grade lye must meet the requirements set up by the FCC and FDA. However lower grades of lye which are unsuitable for the food prep are commonly used to de-clog drains and oven cleaners. 

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About the Author

Leah Schapira

Leah Schapira is the bestselling author of Fresh & Easy Kosher Cooking. In 2010, Leah launched, the popular online kosher recipe exchange. Her cookbook career began at the age of 21, when she wrote her first cookbook as a fundraiser to begin channeling her passion for recipes. Leah is also a monthly columnist for Whisk, the popular kosher food magazine published by Ami Magazine, where readers appreciate her humor and wit. She has been featured in The Washington Post, The Star Ledger, and The Blue Lifestyle, among many others. When she's not writing cookbooks Leah enjoys traveling the world with her husband and children.

Comments (1)

  • Lottie
    22 December 2014 at 19:00 |

    I always wanted to know the trick of creating beautifully crusted Challos. My Challos are a far cry from these beautiful pictures here. Thanks for sharing. Though I don't know if I'm brave enough to try Lye, as of yet!

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