Salt in Breadmaking

Written by Warwick Quinton. Posted in Salts

'I love you like salt', she said, and the king, her father, was so spurned that he rejected her in favour of more flattering praise.

coarse salt

But as we all know, the daughter was professing her essential relationship with her dad - without him, all else would be ordinary. He made her life have substance and meaning. Thus, he was essential to her.

That's the way it is, too, with bread and salt. Without salt, bread has no meaning.

I don't hold too much truck with those who advocate 'salt free' bread - you can make bread even with tiny amounts of salt - so small as to be negligable, and yet it still has a profound effect. Salt is a bit like religion, or 'spirit', or micronutrients. A little is almost always better than none at all, and definitely always better than too much!

Technically, salt laminates gluten. Without it, the gluten will tear apart or become porous.  If, like me, you've forgotten to put the salt in a dough, you'll eventually discover that the bread didn't rise properly. It will either not rise at all, or fall over after attempting to rise. And certainly, if you press on and try to bake it, you will eventually end up with a flavourless mass of flour and water.

Gluten requires salt for its structural integrity. Salt adds 'spine', if you like. It also restricts the action of yeast. Effectively, it 'sets' the gluten. That's why I advocate the delayed salt method - the idea is cysteine, an amino acid in gluten, is allowed to develop naturally, and once this has occurred, salt is added, which has the effect of 'setting' this process, which then helps to provide a predictable and even rise for the bread.

Mostly, people think of salt as sodium chloride (NaCl), but it is actually more complex than that. Salt also contains some essential trace elements in very small concentrations. The main ones are calcium, magnesium and sulphate, which, while they are there in tiny concentrations (we're talking parts per million here), they are important to human health and to bread production.

What kind of Salt is the best for making Bread?

Bakers in Australia use either regular cooking salt, or flossy salt, or both. Sea Salt is also used in some bakeries.

Cooking Salt

Cooking salt comes in Fine, Coarse or Medium grades, and the use of each is dictated by the desired end result. Generally, a fine salt will be used in pastries and in white breads, while coarse grades hold up better in sourdoughs and wholemeal breads. The more coarse the salt, the better it suits a 'slow' dough. What this effectively means is that slow doughs allow the salt to dissolve into them over time, whereas 'fast' doughs (i.e., doughs which proof in an hour or less, for example yeasted dough) need finer salt, which dissolves more rapidly.

Flossy Salt

Continental bakeries like flossy salt, and I also think that for sourdough bread, flossy salt is very good. That's because the flakes dissolve easily in the dough, assisting with the appearance that sourdough and continental bakers go for - a loose textured, uneven crumb. Essentially, flossy salt is like flakes of salt, rather than chunks.This is because it has been milled, in the same way that flour is milled.

Sea Salt

There are differences between sea salts, though in many cases 'sea salt' is also 'cooking salt', because both are harvested from seaside salt flats - though this is not always the case.

Sea salt tends to be more crystallline than other salts, and so structurally doesn't dissolve as quickly. This can be fine for slow fermenting doughs, but be careful, because a chunk of salt left over in dough can be quite offputting if you're not expecting it. If you are using a coarse sea salt, it can be a good idea to grind it a bit smaller with a mortar and pestle before adding it to your dough. 

Until next time,

Happy Sourdough Baking!


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