Friday, August 7, 2009

A salty and sweet soap box

I am a firm believer that there needs to be a good deal more balance in this world. Aside from the saying that there needs to be darkness in order to appreciate light and Sirius Black's firm contention that the world is not divided between good people and Death Eaters, balance is an important component to the world of cooking and enjoying cooked food. One thing that I really appreciate about a good burger is when the vegetables (lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onions) are cold in contrast to the hot hamburger patty. Throw in a soft bun to help hold together the crisp veggies and you get a very happy! The Japanese contend that this is part of the sixth sense of gastronomy...mouth feel...but it is more than that. However, I would argue that the Asian world has a better sense of where I am going. I refer mainly to that complete contrast of flavors that makes some food so appealing. The contrast of sweet and spicy or sweet and sour that awakens our taste buds in a way that more complimenting flavors can not. While most of us appreciate (and are beginning to appreciate even more) the presence of sweet and spicy in everything from fast food Sweet and Sour Pork to the Cherry BBQ glazed, Free-range, Lamb Ribs I had at Madden's a few weeks back, few of us realize what an important component this is to baking...especially when baking with Chocolate.

I didn't realize how few people realize the importance of salt to balance out the flavors of sweet items was until I continued to get crazy looks from several people when describing different cookies. Even people that know a little about baking would look at me strangely if I commented on a particular dessert having just the right amount of saltiness. I suppose that some would write off salt in a dessert because often (not always) unsalted butter is called for in the recipe, but this is to control the amount of salt in a dessert, not to eliminate it all together. Forget about the fact that many desserts simply cannot behave properly in a chemical sense if the salt is left out, the simple fact of the matter is without the salt you have an overload of sweetness that is not enhanced by more sweetness in the way that it is with that touch of salt. A really easy way for you to understand my soap box is to go buy a package of Rainbow Chips Deluxe cookies. Once you get home with them, do not enjoy them right away, instead stick them in the fridge for at least (and I really mean this) a day. When they are nice and chilled, slowly eat one specifically looking for the salty, buttery flavor. If you do not have the patience to wait for it to be chilled, buy Oreos, eat all of the creme filling, and look for the salty flavor in the cookie. You will be surprised by the depth of flavor in a simple packaged cookie when your mind is open to receiving it.

A place that knows a thing or two about the salty, buttery balance of flavor is the Corner Bakery Cafe. It is something of a chain and if you have not been there, it is like an upscale Panera with the same prices. I first partook of this wonderful Sandwich (and more) shop when attending the Holocaust Museum Houston's Summer Institute and was delighted to find a cookie very similar to this one in my lunch. It is a chocolate chip and m & m cookie with m & m's on both sides of the cookie. One might think this was too much chocolate, but you would be wrong because of one simple fact...yes...because of the salt/butter balance present in the cookie. I was given an extra cookie by a friend, took it home, and showed my complete devotion to Matt by letting him enjoy it after dinner. He did not believe how much of an act of love this was (thinking it was a regular store bought cookie) until he took his first bite. He now knows how much I love him with this simple gesture.

I had to include a picture of myself and Mattie's grandmother because she understands a thing or two about the salty necessity in her baking. Her chocolate chip cookies are famous among the grand kids. They are not ooey, gooey cookies, but there is something about them that screams "Eat me" when all of us make the trip up to Oklahoma to see her. The cookies are dense, chocolate chip filled, and not only do they have a nice layer of butter flavor (thus having a good amount of salt and butter) but they also have pecans which adds more texture and a contrasting flavor to the chocolate. She has so perfected her cookie that you can literally experience different flavors as you eat her cookie. It is first sweet, then chocolaty, then nutty, then has that wonderful bread/salt/butter flavor. Any woman that can take a three bite cookie and turn it into such complexity definitely has my admiration. In fact, I have some of her cookies in the freezer, I think I need one now.

There is no recipe for this post because the flavor is out there, I am just asking you to go look for it. And just because I mentioned cookies, does not mean that there are not other salty and sweet combinations already out there. Take your time, don't wolf down your food, and look for multiple reasons to enjoy it!


The Allisons said...

First off, you just revealed your extreme state of pregnant by recommending refrigerated store-bought cookies to your readers!
I love it!!
Second, I agree; salty/sweet is way under appreciated!!!

Ashley Howard said...

I really do enjoy most of my desserts cold...cold cake especially...yummy!

McKay said...

Did you try the salty sweet cupcake recipe ever?

McKay said...

Your words are Beauty, Inspiration, and Truth!

Ashley Howard said...


Were the cupcakes caramel? If so, Mattie doesn't like caramel which makes it hard to make an entire batch of cupcakes just for me...I guess I am not as pregnant as we thought!!!