Why Salt Is Important in Baking
When I first starting obsessively baking in earnest, I was living in a breezy little apartment four blocks from the beach in Santa Monica. Newly married and childless, I slept past 8:00 a.m. more often than not and baked at all hours since I wouldn't be woken at the crack of dawn by tiny feet pattering on the floors. I also wore way too many tank tops with my bra straps peeking out and had a thing for aviator sunglasses that were too big for my face. So it wasn't all rosy. But none of this is actually my point.
My point is that when I first started baking, I didn't fully appreciate the importance of salt when whipping up sweets. Now I know that salt is my best friend in the kitchen, the Gayle to my Oprah. Sometimes salt plays a crucial role in the chemistry of a recipe. In bread baking, salt controls yeast growth and has a strengthening effect on the gluten in the dough. In pastry-making, it helps cut the oily mouthfeel of buttery doughs and encourages browning.
But mostly, salt is about making things more delicious. It's the key to waking up flavors, creating balance and making desserts totally crave-worthy, giving everything that little edge that makes you take one more bite. For someone with a serious sweet tooth, I seriously have the hots for salt. And I love it so much so that I have three kinds in the Piece of Cake kitchen at all times. As your friend, I suggest you consider doing the same. Of course, all of these salts pull double duty for savory recipes, too. Here are my salty essentials.
Fine Sea Salt. This is what I use in place of table salt in my recipes. Most recipes, unless they specify kosher salt or another type of salt, use your standard-issue table salt where salt is called for. I like fine sea salt because it has the same level of saltiness as table salt, but without the sort chemical-y tinniness that regular iodized table salt can have. It's an overall cleaner flavor. It's also great for baking because it's fine-grained, so it will fall easily through a sifter with your dry ingredients and it dissolves easily. Love it.
Kosher Salt. I think this kind of salt has kind of become trendy in the home kitchen because all the chefs on food TV shows tend to use it. And I don't know about you, but I love to pretend I'm a TV chef when I'm alone in the house. Sometimes I even talk to myself. But that is neither here nor there.
Kosher salt has long been an essential in professional kitchens. It has a coarser grain than your typical table salt, and it's perfect for picking up a big pinch with your fingertips and really feeling how much salt you're adding to your food. Like the aforementioned fine sea salt, it also has a fabulously clean, non-astringent salty flavor.
Something really important to remember about kosher salt is that not all brands are created equal. Morton kosher salt, for example, is made in such a way that it actually ends up denser and twice as salty as Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt. Diamond Crystal kosher salt is the gold standard of professionals, and is often the kind with which recipes calling for kosher salt are tested (it is also the brand I use in my own kitchen). To use Diamond Crystal kosher salt in place of table salt, roughly double the amount. For Morton, use the same amount as you would table salt. For baking, kosher salt is best in recipes where's there's a lot of liquid, so you can be sure the large grains will dissolve.
Fleur de Sel. Another salty buzzword as of late, this is basically a fancy French way of saying "sea salt" (literally translated as "flower of salt"--ooh la la). Like so many things food-related, the French do this one just un petit peu better than the rest of us. Fleur de Sel is typically hand-harvested, skimmed off the surface of bodies of salt water. It's a flaky, large-grained salt that has the most beautifully clean and complex salty flavor, an extra-special level above kosher salt. This is the kind of salt you'll find in specialty shops in nifty little containers. It begs for special occasions. This isn't the kind of salt you toss by the handful into pasta water. It's the glamorous sort of finishing salt you see sprinkled on things like sea salt caramels and bougie chocolate chip cookies. I use Maldon brand, myself, which is readily available in stores these days, and online. It adds saltiness, visual appeal and a tiny bit of crunch. It makes you feel fancy. So dreamy, and the final essential in my kitchen's salty trifecta.