Salty Lass

If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I am back working in pastry. Actually, for about a month and a half now, since Easter really. I had been working in Banquets, exposing myself to parts of the kitchen I never seen, making soups and stocks, butchering, and working with copius amount of salt.

A lot of what a cook does is tasting and adjusting the salt levels of the food they are serving, using the seasoning to bring out the flavors of the food without adding a salty quality. I spent years cooking before I took the plunge into the pastry department of the restaurant to follow my heart, and salting became ingrained in my inner chef.

“Dana! You need to salt and pepper your pillow before you go to sleep at night,” a chef early in my career told me to emphasize the importance of this.

So now that I am in the pastry department, why, oh why, is the salt missing? Hardly a recipe I come across calls for salt, hardly a pastry cook I see reaches for the small, tightly lidded container almost forgotton high on a shelf. Does salt loose it’s magic when sugar is involved?

NO!

Of course not.

Salt has the same value in sweets as it does on the savory line. A little hit of salt makes chocolate taste exceptional, a little in your caramel makes it memorable. While I don’t use nearly the amounts the savory cooks go through each day, I do apply salt to many, many, many of my recipes.

It makes such a remarkable difference in even the simplest of tart doughs, cookies, truffles, even rhubarb compote. I can’t help but wonder why the time honored tradition of using salt to bring out flavors is lost to the pastry department. We know never to buy salted butter, but seem to forget to add the salt back.

Don’t believe me? Try it! But please, use kosher or sea salt, and use it sparingly. You can always add a little more, but you can’t take it out. And remember, because there are no written rules, like “When adding salt to Rhubarb, use a diluted quantity blah blah blah” so it’s going to be trial and error on your part. Start with chocolate and caramel, move on to apple sauce and rhubarb compote, advance to buttercreams, custards, and ice creams, and always use a light hand.

4 Responses to “Salty Lass”

  1. britt says:

    So True!! I’ve pretty much always done pastry, however, I did cook brunch for a few years and during that time I became used to tasting/satlting/adjusting my food. I’ve been out of the cooking gig for a few years now, but I’ve learned to “season” my sweets like a cook. I stir it into cooling ice cream bases and caramel sauces, and it makes the chocolate in ganache come alive on your tongue- I’m now ashamed of the gallons of ganache I have served over the years without that last little pinch of salt added to it! Kosher salt has always been my stand by, but I’ve recently started using La Bailene fine sea salt….this stuff is amazing. I’ll never go kosher again.

  2. Ok, I just salted my chocolate – actually dipped a piece in some salt and it was amazing! now I’ll have to experiment with flavored salts.

  3. Michael says:

    Salt might very well be the most interesting ingredient of all those available in the modern kitchen. The effects it has on food go further than a flavor enhancer. Think about cured meats and the majic that occurs there. My own ode to finishing salts is at:

    http://viewfromthekitchen.blogspot.com/2006/11/salty-cooks.html

    I’m a freshman as it goes with cooking sweets, but I’ve never hesitated to use salt as a sharp contrast to sweetness, my original epiphany came with an accute addiction to chocolate covered pretzles.

  4. Yvonne says:

    Salt is a wondrous thing indeed. Several months ago I was making a flavoured ganache–I infused the cream with green tea before making the ganache and it didn’t have enough of the green tea flavor. I was really disappointed and trying to figure out what I should do next when the woman next to me tasted it and sprinkled in some kosher salt… It was perfect. And it reminded me that there is so much for me to learn still.

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