Salt is an essential ingredient in all kinds of cooking and baking. You may think sweet recipes don't need salt, but salt brings out the flavors in your cookies, cakes and other desserts. It particularly accentuates the flavors of butter, sugar, flour and chocolate. In bread baking, salt helps the gluten hold more water and carbon dioxide. It also creates a stronger and tighter crumb.
With so many kinds of salt available, how do you choose the right one for baking? It comes down to crystal size, with finer grains more appropriate for baking and larger grains better for cooking meat and finishing.
Table salt is typically produced by sending water down into inland, underground salt mines, then evaporating that water until only salt crystals remain. Most table salt in the U.S. includes iodide, a nutrient that prevents goiters (which was a problem about 100 years ago). It may also include a non-caking agent to improve the flow from the container.
Like the name suggests, sea water is evaporated in a number of processes to create salt in a variety of crystal structures, from fine to flaky to coarse. Sea salt also contains the minerals that are prevalent in the local sea water, thus adding color and flavor to salt. Fleur de sel and flaky sea salt are pretty and great for finishing. Sea salts, especially "artisan" salts, can be very expensive.
Kosher salt is typically just salt - additive free and available in medium and coarse grains. It can be produced from underground salt deposits or sea water. Morton's, which is sold nearly everywhere, is a small/medium grain kosher salt. Diamond Crystal is a large grain salt that is popular with foodies, but may be more difficult to source locally. ONE MORE THING: The term kosher refers to "koshering," the process of sprinkling larger crystals of salt over meat to draw out blood. All salt is Kosher.
BEST FOR BAKING
Fine sea salt, fine kosher salt or table salt.
BEST FOR COOKING
We like to use a small/medium grain kosher salt. It's rougher texture makes it easy to grab a pinch and sprinkle where you want. For pasta water or liquid based meals, table salt works well, too. When cooking meats like steak, try a coarse salt.
BEST FOR FINISHING
A fleur de sel or flaky salt dresses up baked goods, salads and other items, adding sparkle and crunch.
IN OUR KITCHEN
We keep it simple. We use a fine sea salt for baking, Morton's Kosher salt for cooking and Maldon's sea salt for finishing. They are all affordable, easily sourced and taste good.
substituting salt in a recipe
The volume and saltiness of salts are not the same. Some people feel that iodized table salt seems saltier than fine sea salt. And larger grained kosher salts may provide less salt flavor than medium kosher salts because the coarse structure leaves air gaps (less salt in the same teaspoon). Check the chart below if you need to make substitutions in a recipe that calls for a specific type or brand of salt.
Salt Mass and Volume
source: Serious Eats
want to learn more about salt?
Link to a great article about salt on Serious Eats here.
When we try a new recipe, we often make a smaller version of the original recipe. For cookies, that's as simple as cutting the ingredients in half and making a smaller quantity. But for cakes, it gets quite a bit more complicated. And - horrors - requires some math!
In this post, we explain how to adjust your recipes for the pans you have on hand or when you want to make a smaller cake or cheesecake because you're not feeding a large group. Thanks to Alice Medrich from Food 52 for these calculations!
common pan sizes
(with the numbers rounded up to the nearest inch):
AREA OF RECTANGULAR PANS
AREA OF ROUND PANS
HOW TO USE THESE NUMBERS:
Once you know the area of any pan, you can compare it to the area of another pan to see how much bigger or smaller it is. You can divide the area of a large pan by the area of a small pan to figure out how many times to multiply a recipe to fill the larger pan with the same depth of batter. In our case, we usually are dividing a larger recipe. So, for example, if we want to divide a recipe designed for a 9-inch round pan (64) and make it in a 6-inch round pan (29), we multiple each of the ingredients by .45 or 45% (29/64). In this case, we'd round up to 50 percent for ease of conversion - as long as the pan can accommodate the small increase in total ingredients. For such as small increase, it's not likely that the baking time would need to be increased for most recipes.
how to do your own calculations
For squares and rectangles: The area of a square or rectangular pan is calculated by multiplying one side times the other side. The area of an 8-inch square is 64 square inches because 8 x 8 = 64; the area of a 9 x 13-inch pan is 117 square inches because 9 x 13 = 117. Easy.
For rounds: The area of a circle equals π times the radius squared. In case you don’t remember, π = 3.14; the radius of a circle is half of its diameter; and squaring means multiplying a number by itself. Ready? To calculate the area of an 8-inch round pan, multiply 3.14 (π) by 4 (because it’s half of 8) times 4. Thus, the area of an 8-inch circle is 3.14 x 4 x 4, approximately 50 square inches. Not so hard!
Do you wonder how and when you should sift your ingredients? Is sifting really necessary?
For most recipes where you use a stand mixer - like cakes, cookies, cheesecakes - it's fine to combine your dry ingredients with a whisk. Whisking breaks up most lumps, including when you're incorporating cocoa powder (which can be clumpy).
When should you sift? When the recipe calls for it! Sifting is called for when you are folding dry ingredients gently into delicate, wet batter like angel food cake or our recent madeleines.
Do you need a sifter? We don't use one. We use a fine-mesh sieve over a piece of parchment paper or a bowl. A sieve can be used in many other ways and justifies its place in our kitchen.
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Consider this an ode to my favorite cocoa powder, Saco brand, a combination of natural and Dutch process (or "dutched") cocoa. I'm sad to say I can no longer find it at any local grocer, so must now order it in bulk online. But to me, it's totally worth it. There's a huge difference in flavor between it and it's more common cousin, natural cocoa (like Hershey's). While natural cocoa has a more bitter, thinner chocolate flavor, dutched cocoa is bolder, darker and earthier.
I went online to discover why this is, and found some great articles, which I have links to in this post. I've summarized the facts below, but these articles have much more science and one shows baked goods comparisons.
We have no relationship with Saco, by the way. We're just fans!
what is natural cocoa powder?
Most cocoa powders begin life in the same way. Cacao beans are fermented, dried, and roasted. The beans are cracked into nibs, which are then ground into a paste made of cocoa solids suspended in near-flavorless cocoa butter. They extract the butter, are left with crumbly solids, which are ground into a fine powder. Seems like one too many steps, but I'm no expert! The end result is pure chocolate flavor, without any added fat, sugar or milk. This process creates "natural" cocoa powder, the ones you normally find in your supermarket, like Hershey's, Nestle, Ghirardelli and others.
Natural cocoa is acidic, and has a slightly bitter, almost citrus, flavor. Recipes that use it typically call for baking soda as a raising agent. Natural cocoa also achieves a higher rise than dutched cocoa, as the chemical reaction creates a lot of carbon dioxide bubbles.
what is dutching?
Natural cocoa powder is washed with a solution that neutralizes its acidity to 7, which is the same as water. This process gives the cocoa a darker color and makes the flavor more mellow and earthy. Black cocoa is heavily dutched, and more alkaline. It's flavor is the one you might associate with Oreos.
Dutch process cocoa isn't acidic, so it doesn't react to alkaline leaveners like baking soda to create carbon dioxide (so no lift). You'll need to use baking powder in recipes using 100 percent dutched cocoa.
A combination - we like this best!
We prefer the flavor of dutched cocoa, but appreciate the ability of natural cocoa to provide lift and a lovely open structure. So we like cocoas that include a combination of natural and dutched cocoas. We've used Saco brand for many years and have never had any issues using it in a variety of recipes. There are other brands of combination cocoas on the market, and I'm sure they also work well and are extremely versatile, too.
want to know more?
Recipes and mixing tips
Simple recipes for home cooks using SideSwipe + your mixer. Tips for using + caring for your mixer. Our goal = Helping you get a perfect mix + great taste.