Bring on the Salty Sweets | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Bring on the Salty Sweets

As any baker knows, salt is as common an ingredient in cookies and cakes as flour, though usually in small enough quantities that it hardly registers. According to Progressive Baker, salt is included to add strength, slow down chemical reactions and, of course, enhance flavor. Lately, though, I've ...

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Momofuku milk cookie, courtesy of Flickr user food_in_mouth


As any baker knows, salt is as common an ingredient in cookies and cakes as flour, though usually in small enough quantities that it hardly registers. According to Progressive Baker, salt is included to add strength, slow down chemical reactions and, of course, enhance flavor. Lately, though, I've been noticing salt taking a more visible role in sweets—and in some unusual ways.

A little over a year ago, the wildly popular Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City started making "compost cookies"—a mixture of pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch and chocolate chips. Pastry chef/owner Christina Tosi also incorporates salty snack foods into other items on the seasonally changing menu, like pretzels in the candy bar pie, and cheddar popcorn as an optional topping for soft-serve ice cream.

At first, these sounded to me like the kinds of culinary mash-ups that would appeal mostly to someone with a serious case of the munchies. But then my eminently sober mother called me last week raving about the chocolate–potato chip cookie she had tasted in Los Angeles.

It turns out that potato chips are not as unusual a baked-good ingredient as I had thought; there are numerous recipes for potato chip cookies online. I also found recipes for Frito candy, Cheeto dessert (it looks like peanut brittle), and even Cool Ranch Dorito creme brulee.

I haven't tried any of the above, and I'm not sure I'd want to. In general, though, I am all for a little bit of saltiness in my sweets. I often find that if I eat something that is very sweet, I want to follow it up with something salty or savory to counteract it. If the salty and sweet are combined, though, both impulses are satisfied simultaneously.

The recipes in the new cookbook Salty Sweets: Delectable Desserts and Tempting Treats with a Sublime Kiss of Salt sound more up my alley than the ones that include Frito-Lay products in their ingredient lists. The cover photo of dark chocolate fleur de sel cupcakes with butterscotch icing looks amazing (and the recipe can be found at Leite's Culinaria), and Nantucket sea salt ice cream sounds like the essence of summer itself.

This reminds me—salt-water taffy is one of my favorite treats; it has just the right amount of saltiness. On the other hand, one salty sweet I tried years ago—the incredibly salty licorice candy popular with Dutch people—still makes my mouth pucker in disgust. A little salt goes a long way.

How do you feel about salt in your sweets?
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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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