Bitterman's Craft Salt Cooking: The Single Ingredient That Transforms All Your Favorite Foods and Recipes - Mark Bitterman (2016)
Chapter 7. SWEETS
Iam not a big sweets eater, but put salt and sweet into competition, and I jump right from skipping dessert to having seconds. Sweets need something to bring out the underlying flavors, to give them some backbone. Salt doesn’t just make sweets taste better, it also makes them taste worthwhile.
We taste lots of things with our tongues, and flavor scientists are constantly finding more and more taste receptors for specific flavors. At this point in history, we agree on five: sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and umami. One of the awesome things about these tastes is that once they exist in food they are always perceptible. One can never wipe out the perception of another. You’ve probably heard that if you oversalt something you can add sugar to diminish the saltiness. Not true. Sweet doesn’t cancel salt, but it does counter it. Instead of neutralizing one another, sparks fly as the two tastes spar: sweet-salty, salty-sweet. Every time we try to pin our palates down to one, the other taste pops up. Salt and sweet are powerful competitors, but we can reap the benefits of both in every bite.
Summer Berry Clafoutis with Fleur de Sel Brûlée
MAKES 6 SERVINGS
Drop your fear of pretentious French fare and go clafoutis. Clafoutis sounds to me like a combination of doily and froufrou, but they are in fact totally down to earth—among the most forgiving of French pastries. This dessert is sort of a cross between custard and pancakes, inundated with fruit. You literally can’t screw it up. It has more fruit than most clafoutis, and the raspberries are especially juicy, so we’ve reduced the amount of milk from a traditional recipe. The finished cake-pie-crêpe-pudding is best served warm. We’ve added a pane of caramel on top, dusted with minute fleur de sel crystals.
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1¼ teaspoons fleur de sel, divided
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
¾ cup whole milk
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 pint fresh raspberries
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray the interior of a 9-inch round pan with oil.
Mix the flour, granulated sugar, and ¼ teaspoon of fleur de sel in a bowl. Whisk in the eggs, melted butter, and lime zest. Whisk in the milk until the batter is smooth and light. Fold in the blueberries and half the raspberries just until distributed evenly; do not overmix. Pour and scrape into the prepared cake pan. Top with the remaining half of the raspberries.
Bake until the clafoutis is set and golden, about 45 minutes. Cool on a rack for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top of the clafoutis. Gently smooth the layer with the back of a spoon. There should be a thin, even layer across the surface, no more than a film. Too thick and the surface will burn before the sugar beneath melts and caramelizes.
Use a kitchen torch set to medium flame to melt and caramelize the sugar: Move the flame back and forth over the surface of the sugar (the tip of the flame should just touch the sugar) until all of the sugar is melted and browned. Immediately sprinkle the melted sugar with the remaining 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel before it sets.
Wait a few minutes for the sugar pane to set. Cut into wedges and serve.
Sal Rosada de Maras, Fiore di Cervia, Ilocano Asin, Sugpo Asin, Bitterman’s Fleur de Sel, Gulf Coast White Sea Salt
Lavender Salted Lemon Blondies
MAKES 24 SERVINGS
Without salt these torte-like bar cookies are lemon goo through and through—delicious lemon goo, admittedly, but goo in search of higher meaning. Lavender salt, with its rich floral aroma and just-perceptible camphor edge, lends both logic and poetry to the lemon. Enticing texture, arousing aroma, and richer flavor, are all transformed by a few pinches into something you can believe in.
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1¼ cups ground unpeeled almonds
1 cup sugar
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon fleur de sel
1 extra-large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons Blue Lavender Flake Salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch square pan with spray oil.
In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter halfway. Add the almonds and continue cooking until the butter is completely melted, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla, fleur de sel, and egg until smooth. Add the baking powder in pinches and stir until incorporated. Stir in the flour until there are no lumps. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the lavender salt over the top.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned and just set. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Cut into 16 (2-inch) squares. Store in a tightly closed container at room temperature for up to 5 days. If storing longer, wrap individually and freeze for up to 2 months.
Lavender salt is a great example of a strategic ingredient: It is more versatile and more effective than straight lavender. Use it in salads, crème brûlée, leg of lamb, goat cheese, and in honey over tart stone fruit.
Ugly Duckling Brownies with Chiles and Flake Salt
MAKES 16 SERVINGS
Intensely chocolate, exceptionally moist, dense without being heavy, these brownies camouflage themselves behind a humble crumbly exterior. If you have consumed anything chocolate sometime in the past decade, you are no doubt familiar with the sex appeal of chiles and chocolate. Chocolate and chile may be enjoying a love affair in this dessert, but crunchy shards of salt are what gives them wings.
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1 teaspoon chopped ancho chiles
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon Fleur de Hell
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large or extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon flake salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch square pan with spray oil.
In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter halfway. Add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is half-melted. Add the chiles, remove from the heat, and stir until completely melted.
Add the sugar, cocoa, Fleur de Hell, and vanilla, and stir until smooth. Beat in the eggs until completely incorporated. Add the baking powder and stir to incorporate. Stir in the flour until there are no lumps.
Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Level the top and sprinkle with the flake salt. Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a damp crumb clinging to it, 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overbake.
Cool completely in the pan on a rack overnight. Cut the pan into 16 brownies and lift out with a small spatula. To store them, stack in a tightly closed tin with parchment or plastic wrap between the layers, or wrap individually in plastic wrap and store for up to 5 days at room temperature; freeze for up to 1 month.
Brownies are fertile fields for playing with salt. You get a big bold crunch with French sel gris, an even bigger crunch with a coarse traditional salt, or try an infused salt like Taha’a Vanilla.
Devil’s Food Layer Cake with Salted Marshmallow Icing
MAKES 12 SERVINGS
It wasn’t until I lived in France that I discovered that layer cake was more than a big spongy thing people ate at birthday parties. In Europe, cake is paned in glaze and sliced into discreet, pristine wedges barely thick enough to reach the rim of the plate. This is cake? Though hardly low-profile, this layer cake builds on the restrained audacity of European cake—tactile, firm, and bursting with flavor. Then it goes over the top by seasoning the devil’s food with chocolate fleur de sel, studding the frosting with flaky vanilla salt, and speckling the top with more of the chocolate fleur de sel.
Nonstick baking spray
¾ cup (١½ sticks) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2½ cups packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Chocolate Salt, plus more for garnish
4 large eggs
1½ teaspoons baking soda
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
1⅓ cups sugar
⅓ cup water
4 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Taha’a Vanilla Salt
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two (8-inch) cake pans with baking spray.
In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter until half melted. Stir in the chocolate. Remove from the heat and stir until everything is melted.
Stir in the sugar, vanilla, chocolate salt, and eggs. Add the baking soda in pinches, breaking up any lumps with your fingers. Stir thoroughly. Stir in the flour, just until well blended. Stir in the boiling water.
Pour into the prepared cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cake is springy and pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan.
Cool on a rack for 5 minutes. Remove them from the pans, and let cool on a rack to room temperature, at least 2 hours.
To make the icing, mix the sugar and water in a medium heavy saucepan until the sugar is fully moistened. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring gently, until the sugar dissolves. When the syrup boils, stop stirring and let the syrup cook until it reaches 236°F on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment just until frothy. When the syrup is up to temperature, pour it in a thin stream into the whites, beating constantly on medium-high speed. Aim your stream of syrup just beside the rotating beaters. If some of the syrup should hit the beater, it will be thrown against the side of the bowl rather than into the egg whites, so try to avoid this (but it is going to happen some, so don’t fret). Beat until the mixture is opaque, dense, and glossy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat until the icing is barely warm, about another 3 minutes. Fold the vanilla salt into the meringue using a spatula.
To assemble, put one cake layer on a cake stand. Spread a thick layer of icing over the top. Top with the other layer. Spread the icing over the sides and finally over the top of the cake, swirling your icing spatula to create peaks across the top of the cake. Sprinkle with more chocolate salt. Cut in wedges to serve. Store any leftovers at room temperature, in a cake tin or loosely covered with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.
Any number of infused salts will work wonderfully here, adding a quiver of aroma to excite the senses. No-brainers include Blue Lavender Flake Salt, Lemon Flake Salt, Orange Flake Salt, and Pinot Noir Sea Salt.
Salt Chip Chocolate Chunk Cookies
MAKES 24 COOKIES
One bite of these cookies and your mind will vibrate with memories. On the way back from the beach in the family station wagon, my brother and I would wrestle madly. This was in the halcyon days before seatbelts, so we could fly over the back seat and land on the dog, jump back and land on each other, turn upside down or smash each other against a (often unlocked) door, oblivious to my harried parents yelling for us to stop it or they’d pull over. It’s a wonder where caramelized brown sugar, dark chocolate chunks, and bright flakes of salt can take you. I’ve chosen black salt for these cookies because it looks like incognito chips, but white flake salt will work just as well.
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon fleur de sel
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1¼ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into ¼-inch chunks (makes 1 cup)
1 teaspoon black salt, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon coarse flake salt
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, aluminum foil, or silicone baking liners. (Do not grease.)
Mix the flour, baking soda, and fleur de sel in a small bowl.
Mix the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl of a stand mixer until creamy, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Stir in the flour mixture until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chunks with a spoon, and gently fold in the 1 teaspoon of black salt.
To form the cookies, scoop 24 (2-tablespoon, or 1-ounce) mounds onto a sheet of foil. Wet your hands and roll into balls. Equally space the balls of cookie dough on the baking sheets. You should get 12 cookies comfortably spaced per sheet. Wet your hands again and flatten the balls into ¼-inch-thick disks. Sprinkle the tops with the flake salt or more black salt.
Bake until browned on the bottom and edge, 9 minutes per batch. If you are baking both sheets at once, swap oven positions halfway through.
Cool the cookies on the sheet until set, about 5 minutes. Transfer with a small spatula to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store in a tightly closed container for up to 5 days at room temperature, or wrap tightly and freeze for up to 1 month.
Black Salt: Black Lava Salt, Icelandic Lava Salt
White Flake Salt: Cornish Flake Sea Salt, Maldon Sea Salt, Hana Flake Salt
Apple Pie with Salted Walnut Streusel
MAKES 12 SERVINGS
My grandpa, a German immigrant who worked patriotically for the American cause during World War II as an engineer and inventor, would always amaze us with whatever tractor and garage door opener he had just manufactured by hand from his machine shop in the basement. What I also remember about him was that the man loved apple pie. The strangest thing about him, though, was his penchant for salting each bite. This Grandpa-ization of the all-American classic switches out the top crust for a salt-spangled avalanche of nutty streusel.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
3 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thickly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
⅔ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons rum
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell, store-bought or homemade
1½ cups chopped walnuts
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon sel gris or coarse traditional salt
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the apples, lemon juice, sugar, cloves, nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon until the apples are tender, about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let cool, and then stir in the cornstarch, vanilla, and rum. Mound into the pie shell.
Mix the walnuts, flour, brown sugar, sel gris, remaining 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a bowl, using your fingers, until the mixture is uniform and thoroughly crumbly. Pack into an even layer over the apples. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry and topping are brown and the filling is bubbling. Cool before slicing and serving.
Piran Sel Gris, Dolce di Cervia, French sel gris, Popohaku Opal Sea Salt, Kona Deep Sea Salt, Maine Sea Salt, Wellfleet Sea Salt, North Fork Sea Salt, Oryx Desert Salt, J.Q. Dickinson
White Chocolate Bark with Dark Chocolate Salt
MAKES 6 TO 8 SERVINGS (ABOUT ¾ POUND)
White chocolate is supersweet stuff made from cocoa butter, milk, and sugar. Technically, it’s not chocolate—at least according to some people. The white chocolate naysayers would tell you that cocoa solids contain all the chocolate flavor, not the cocoa butter, so white chocolate is just sweetened vegetable fat. It is true that white chocolate’s lack of cocoa solids make it both cloyingly sweet and culinarily hard to classify. So is it really chocolate? If you’re a glass-half-full person, consider that chocolate is naturally more than 50 percent cocoa butter. It’s up to you to decide. Or better yet, embrace the argument, sprinkle it with chocolate salt, and let your senses battle it out.
1 cup unsalted pecan halves
8 ounces white chocolate, broken into pieces, divided
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons Chocolate Salt
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Place the pecans on a sheet pan, and toast until browned and crisp, about 6 minutes, stirring once. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Put 6 ounces of the chocolate in a covered microwave-safe bowl and cook in the microwave at full power for 2 minutes, or in the top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water.
Meanwhile, chop the remaining 2 ounces of chocolate finely. Remove the melted chocolate from the microwave and mix with a whisk until smooth. Add the chopped chocolate in 2 or 3 handfuls, whisking in each addition before adding another. Stir in the nutmeg.
Fold the toasted pecans into the chocolate using a rubber spatula, folding until the nuts are completely coated and the chocolate begins to firm up. It is important that the chocolate is firm enough to mound around the nuts without being runny.
Pour and scrape the chocolate onto a sheet pan and spread into a rough rectangle about ½ inch thick. Sprinkle the top with the salt and allow to set completely at room temperature until hard, about 2 hours. When the chocolate is solid, cut into shards and serve. Store in a tightly closed tin at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
Equal parts Pinot Noir Sea Salt, Blue Lavender Flake Salt and Lemon Flake Salt, or Halen Môn Gold Sea Salt, Gulf Coast Pecan Smoked Salt, Persian Blue Salt, or try any other smoked salt, flavored salt, or rock salt.
Hot Mocha Sundaes with Sweet Salt Crunchies
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
The recipe on the box of rice cereal for marshmallow treats has to be the most lucrative recipe written. Enough rice cereal and marshmallows flow out the doors of supermarkets every day to float the Spanish Armada. Tragically, they got the recipe wrong. Here we load up the crispy treats with crunchy salt, and then break them apart to float on hot fudge sundaes. The salt-sweet-chocolate-crunch is a sensory deluge. If the cereal and marshmallow companies ever adopt this trick, I’m buying a boat.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
13 large marshmallows or ¾ cup mini marshmallows
2 cups crisp rice cereal
1 tablespoon sel gris, coarse traditional salt, or rock salt
⅔ cup natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
¾ cup sugar
1 cup brewed coffee
¼ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pint coffee ice cream or your choice of flavor
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Stir in the rice cereal and salt until thoroughly combined. Pour onto a sheet pan and press in a thin layer. Cool completely, and then chop into fine pieces.
Mix the cocoa and sugar in a medium heavy saucepan. Slowly whisk in the coffee until smooth. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Add the cream, and simmer for 3 minutes.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and simmer for 3 minutes more. Stir in the vanilla and let cool for 10 minutes.
Make sundaes with 2 scoops of ice cream, a dousing of warm mocha syrup, and a big handful of salty crunchies.
Really want to dazzle? Serve your sundae in a luminous pink bowl cut from 600 million-year-old Himalayan salt. Make the recipe as directed, but omit the salt. An hour before you’re ready to serve, place 4 small Himalayan salt bowls in the freezer. Take the chilled bowls out just before serving, then scoop in the ice cream and drizzle on the sauce. The longer the ice cream sits in the salt bowls, the more salty mineral flavor it will pick up.