Everyone who has ever baked anything from scratch - whether bread, pastry, cake, or beyond - has probably noticed that the recipe called for some form of salt. Very few recipes don't require this essential ingredient. But why do baking recipes need it, and what's the best kind of salt for recipes? Let's dig a little into the science of baking to discover why salt is required, so we can find out which salt is best for baking.
Salt is extremely important before, during, and after the process of baking, for several reasons:
Flavor Enhancement: Salt is a natural flavor enhancer, and even a small amount can significantly improve the taste of baked goods. It helps to balance and round out flavors, intensifying sweetness and reducing bitterness. Salt can elevate the overall taste profile, making the flavors more pronounced and satisfying.
Dough Development: Salt plays a crucial role in dough development by affecting gluten formation. Gluten is a network of proteins that gives structure and elasticity to dough, allowing it to rise and retain its shape. Salt helps regulate the formation of gluten strands, promoting better texture and crumb in baked goods. It strengthens the gluten structure, providing better support during fermentation and proofing.
Yeast Control: In recipes that use yeast as a leavening agent, salt helps regulate the fermentation process. Yeast feeds on sugars and produces carbon dioxide gas, causing the dough to rise. Salt inhibits excessive yeast activity, preventing the dough from rising too rapidly and resulting in a more controlled fermentation. This controlled rise improves the flavor and texture of the final baked product.
Enzyme Regulation: Salt also influences enzyme activity in baking. Enzymes, naturally present in flour, contribute to processes such as starch degradation and protein breakdown. Salt helps regulate enzyme activity, ensuring proper dough development and controlling the release of starches and sugars during baking. This regulation contributes to the overall texture and structure of the baked goods.
Shelf Life Extension: Salt acts as a natural preservative, inhibiting microbial growth and extending the shelf life of baked goods. It helps to create an environment that is less hospitable to spoilage-causing microorganisms, increasing the longevity and freshness of the products.
So now that we know why salt is important, which one is best to use? Well, it depends on who you ask! There are two schools of thought here. If you're looking for salt to disperse evenly throughout your baked goods, you'll want a salt with a small, consistent grain size. For this, we would recommend our all-natural fine grain Baja Sea Salt, which has a consistent grain size, no caking agents, and a balanced flavor.
If, however, you enjoy getting a little bit of a salty flavor here and there in your baked goods, you can't go wrong with kosher salt, which is a favorite among chefs and bakers alike. While it's generally thought to have a "less salty" and smoother flavor profile, the crystals are larger and less consistent, which can lead to more pockets of salt within baked goods. That might be a good thing, depending on what you're looking for!