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A Pinch of Salt: The Not-So-Secret Ingredient in To-Die-For Desserts

A little salt enhances decadent butterscotch, chocolate, and caramel desserts.

October/November 2014 Issue
Photos: Colin Clark
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As a recipe developer with a major sweet tooth, I’m in charge of the desserts in my house—except when my husband whips up his culinary specialty, hot fudge. I usually stand back and let him do his thing, but one night as I watched him make it, I spotted a huge hole in his formula. Pulling rank, I reached over his shoulder and made a quick addition that took the flavor from good to great. The secret? A generous pinch of salt—just enough to be noticeable. It accented the chocolate’s sweetness, masked its bitterness, and generally made the flavors pop.

See a slideshow of more salty-sweet desserts.

While salt as a backdrop in confections is nothing new, it’s becoming increasingly common to use enough that desserts actually have a bit of a salty edge to them. Think of the now-ubiquitous salted caramel: The salt keeps the caramel from being too sweet and pulls all those warm, toasty notes to the forefront. It’s what makes the Salted Caramel Apple-Pear Tart especially delicious.

Inspired by the hot fudge experience, I decided to play with salted desserts beyond caramel. I came up with a to-die-for browned butter-banana cake with salted dark chocolate ganache, seen here, and a sinfully rich salted butterscotch crème brûlée. Try them and you’ll see that a sprinkle of salt is all it takes to make desserts taste as if they were prepared with a professional sweet tooth looking over your shoulder.

What a flake

Kosher salt is fine to use when the salt will be dissolved, as in the salted caramel tart filling on page 84, but I like to use a coarser finishing salt as a garnish, for both looks and crunch.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Maldon: This sea salt harvested in England forms little pyramids that break down into light, fluffy, crunchy flakes.

Fleur de sel: French for “flowers of salt,” this Atlantic sea salt is handharvested and has a fine, fluffy appearance and texture.

Cyprus flake: These pyramids of salt have a shiny, crystalline appearance and strong crunch. It can also be found in black.

Himalayan pink salt: Naturally striking in color, this salt has coarse, crunchy crystals and a minerally flavor. It adds a dramatic pop of color.

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