Salt is ubiquitous. Virtually every dish that comes out of the kitchen has salt added. In fact, salt is so elemental to our culture that the word “salary” comes from the Latin salarium, which refers to Roman Soldiers’ payment for the purchase of salt.
Since it’s so commonplace do we even need to examine salt as an ingredient? Can’t we just take for granted that we should add a little salt to every recipe without considering the effect? Well, no.
Types of Salt
First we need to consider the kinds of salt available. Table salt, sea salt and kosher salt can all be used for baking. But the volume varies between types and brands of salt. For example, 1 teaspoon of table salt is equal by weight to 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, depending on the brand. A ½ teaspoon less or more of salt may not make much difference in a pot of soup, but it can make a great deal of difference in cake batter or bread dough. If you swap out the type of salt listed in a recipe you’ll need to weigh your ingredients to be sure you’re adding the same amount of salt.
Salt crystals differ in shape and size and the various types will melt at differing rates. Choose a lighter, smaller crystal like table salt for baked goods and larger grains or flakes as a finishing salt.
Table Salt – 1 tablespoon weighs 20 grams
Morton Kosher Salt – 1 tablespoon weighs 15 grams
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt – 1 tablespoons weighs 10 grams
Granulated Sea Salt – 1 tablespoon weighs 20 grams
Flaky Sea Salt – 1 tablespoon weighs 10 grams
Salt & Flavor
Whichever type of salt is used, it directly influences flavor in a surprisingly complex way. Adding a hint of salt to batter won’t give the cake a salty flavor. Rather, salt reduces bitterness and allows sweetness to come forward, producing a more well-rounded flavor. Same is true with bread dough, just a little salt takes the flavor from flat to full.
But don’t limit your use of salt to batter and dough. I often add just a pinch of salt to pie filling, fruit curds, jams and jellies to highlight the fruit flavor. A little pinch of salt in a chocolate recipe can enhance the overall flavor without tasting salty. Of course, salted caramel has become ubiquitous.
Salt & Flour
Salt is not only a flavor enhancer. Salt also affects the tenderness of a baked good. Salt molecules form strong bonds with flour proteins, causing the gluten molecules to become less mobile, which, in turn, makes the dough or batter tighter and more elastic. This is a desirable trait in a bread dough, but is not desirable in a cake batter.
Salt & Eggs
Salt “denatures”, or loosens up, egg proteins. Add a little salt to egg wash to thin it down. A thinner egg wash is easier to brush onto bread or pastry for a glossy finish.
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