The Importance of Salt in Baking
I always say to never trust a baked good that doesn’t contain salt! You will find that your favorite recipes will always contain at least a small amount of salt because it is crucial for a well-rounded flavor profile.
The Function of Salt in Baking
Salt is one of the most underrated ingredients in baking. Baked goods made without salt will taste flat and boring. Salt enhances and balances flavors, especially sweetness. The proper amount of salt can take a mediocre recipe and make it outstanding. You will notice that all professional kitchens and bakeries use salt in their baked goods.
Another role of salt in baking is preservation. Because salt attracts moisture, it helps to keep your baked goods fresh for longer. Without it, your baked good will stale much quicker.
How Yeast Interacts with Salt
Salt is a crucial ingredient when working with yeast because it helps to control yeast activity. It controls the rise of the dough and stabilizes the fermentation rate. Bread dough made without any salt would not only taste very bland but would likely overproof much quicker.
Salt can also kill yeast in very high quantities. I would avoid adding salt directly into the liquid you proofed your yeast in. However, there is a common misconception that you must be super careful about salt touching your yeast while mixing your bread dough. Salt will only kill yeast in quantities that would make your bread taste inedible anyway. This is not something to be overly concerned with.
Salt and Gluten
Salt is a key part of what helps strengthen a gluten structure in bread dough. You’ll notice if you utilize the autolyse step in bread baking, that when you come back to work in your salt the dough becomes stronger immediately as you are working it in. This is because salt makes the gluten network more compact.
Best Type of Salt for Baking
I personally prefer to use kosher salt in all of my cooking and baking, with the exception of cakes where I prefer to use fine sea salt. Kosher salt has a coarser grain and I like the way it gives little flecks of saltiness throughout the baked good, rather than blending in completely.
For cakes, I find it more necessary for the salt to be more evenly dispersed. However, this is completely a personal preference, and you can use fine sea salt for all of your baking if you prefer.
It is important to note that all salts vary in density and therefore they are more or less salty by volume when compared to each other. All of my recipes are tested with Morton Kosher salt which weighs about 5 grams per teaspoon. In contrast, table salt weighs about 16 grams per teaspoon. This is one of the many reasons why measuring by weight is much more beneficial for baking.
Low Sodium Baking
Reducing salt in baked goods can be a bit tricky. One easy way is to swap your baking powder for a sodium-free baking powder. Other than that, since there is such a small amount of salt in baking, cutting it out won’t remove that much sodium from your diet. And since it is so important to the quality and structure, I don’t recommend completely leaving it out of recipes.