Buffalo Chicken Pretzel Bao

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I’m on a pretzel kick. I want to pretzel-ize everything. Recently, I tried dipping a small loaf of unbaked sourdough in lye. That didn’t turn out so well. One thing that did turn out well was the idea of a pretzel bao – pretzel dough stuffed with something ooey gooey on the inside, dipped in lye and baked until deeply brown. While the dough is not a real ‘bao’ dough – yet – the name has a ring to it and works.

A note on lye. Don’t mess around with lye if you aren’t prepared. It will burn the crap out of your hands, and I don’t even want to think about what would happen if you got it in your eyes. I wear latex gloves when doing this, but it burns through them quite quickly so I’ve upgraded to chemical grade. Also, make sure the water you use is cold, and don’t add water to the lye. Add the lye to the water. If you aren’t comfortable using lye, you can do a baking soda bath in bubbling/boiling water for 30 seconds on each side and then proceed with the baking.

I’ll play around with using a real bao dough soon, but until then, here’s the rough recipe for these tasty buns:

Pretzel Dough:

This is my tried and true, go-to recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

For dough
1/2 tablespoon barley malt syrup or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil or melted, cooled butter
1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 cup lukewarm water (warm to touch, or between 105-110 degrees)
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

For dipping
1/4 cup food-grade lye
1 quart water

Filling*

~2 cups shredded cooked chicken

~3 ounces cream cheese

~1/4 cup Franks Red Hot

Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar in bowl that you’ll be mixing in. Wait about five minutes for it to get foamy. Add in the fat, flour and salt. Using a stand mixer with the dough hook setting, mix for about 5-7 minutes.

Take dough out of bowl and put on counter, and cut equal segments of dough. I made 8 large-ish bao with this recipe, but you could cut more pieces and do 12 smaller bao. Up to you. Set aside and cover with a kitchen towel while you make the filling.

Filling*:

  • ~2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • ~3 ounces cream cheese
  • ~1/4 cup Franks Red Hot

Combine all three ingredients in a bowl.

Use a large soup spoon to add to one of the pretzel dough pieces. Wrap the dough around the filling, making sure to seal it all in. Place on cookie sheet, seam side down, and repeat until you have used up all the filling. Proof for 30 minutes in a warm, draft free area (I like to turn the oven on for about a minute then pop the tray in the oven to proof there). After the proofing, preheat the oven to 425 while doing the dipping.

*These values are all approximations as I didn’t measure. Add a bit more sauce if you want it spicier. Add more cream cheese if you want it cheesier. It’s like choosing your own adventure!

For dipping
1/4 cup food-grade lye
1 quart water

Lye is not for the faint of heart. You need to be well prepared with proper safety attire and tools to make this a success. First things first. Find a plastic bowl that you can put in your empty sink and put 1 quart of cold water in it. Get your chemical grade gloves and goggles on, and then mix in the lye, stirring carefully to dissolve.

Once you have the lye ready, dip each pretzel in the lye for 10 seconds on each side. Place on a rack above a tray to dry briefly. Then place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle pretzel salt and slice the tops.

Bake on 425 for 12-15 minutes until dark brown.

Each once cooked. Best within the first few hours.

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