For the Love of Salty Sweets: Rich Chocolate Brownies with Sea Salt

Sweet and salty are a craveworthy match when it comes to dessert. Hear from Heather Baird of Sprinkle Bakes as she shares a salty-sweet recipe and tips for balanced bites.

Heather Baird of Sprinkle Bakes is back and more delicious than ever with her sophomore cookbook, Sea Salt Sweet. Sea Salt Sweet strikes the perfect balance between the art and the science of pastry and baking with fun, accessible recipes that tickle both your sweet cravings and your salty ones.

We checked in with Baird to get her top do’s and don’ts for using salt. Hear what she has to say below, and read on for some of her favorite salty-sweet flavor combinations. And those brownies up there? Those are Baird's Double Chocolate Cream Cheese Brownies with Maldon Flake. Check out the recipe for these beauties below.

  • Experiment with finishing salts. There’s a whole world of sea salt flavors and textures to choose from, so have fun with it! Try smoked salt in place of pink Himalayan salt. Mix coarse crystals with flake salt.
  • Make your own salts! Flavored salts are remarkably easy to make at home, and there’s an entire section of the book dedicated to this practice. Two of my favorites are hot chili (Sriracha) salt and red wine salt. Both are wonderful on chocolate truffles and candy caramels.
  • Some brands of snack foods are saltier than others. I recommend taste-testing potato chips and pretzels to gauge their saltiness before using them as an ingredient.
  • I have only one major don’t: Don’t use too much salt. You can’t unsalt what you’ve salted, so add finishing salts a little at a time to taste.

Everyone loves the salty-sweet combo of chocolate and salt, and salted caramel is undoubtedly having a moment. What are some of your other salty-sweet flavor combinations?

Heather Baird: One of the most-unusual ingredients I’ve added to cookie dough is Kalamata olives. They have a surprising fruity quality, especially when they are candied and dredged in sugar. There’s a Kalamata olive cookie recipe in the book, and preceding that is a recipe for candied Kalamata olives, which are great to eat on their own. They’re a real treat for people who love bold flavors. First you taste the crunchy sweetness of sugar and then a wallop of olive flavor and brine. I use them in chocolate, too. They make a nice addition to chocolate bark.

Which recipes surprised and delighted you the most while writing this book?

HB: I loved experimenting with white miso paste ( shiromiso) in buttery caramel sauce. I ended up creating a Caramel-Miso Cupcake for the book, and the recipe has been well loved by everyone who tries it. The white miso paste gives caramel a new depth of flavor. It’s salty and savory and a nice foil for caramelized sugar. I was surprised at how well the flavors married.

I was delighted by Apple Stuffed Cheddar Puffs. I love a slice of sharp cheddar on a slice of apple pie, and that was the inspiration for the recipe. I stuffed cheddar choux puffs (gougeres) with fried cinnamon apples and garnished the puffs with fried sage leaves. It’s one of my all-time favorite recipes.

What are the most-common salt-as-an-ingredient myths you see people fall for?

HB: I think there’s a misconception about the salt content in salty sweets, particularly that it’s high. That’s not true in most cases. You’ll often end up using less salt in a recipe, because of where it’s placed. Butter toffee finished with a sprinkle of coarse salt will have obvious salty flavor, not because of high salt content, but because it is placed where it can best be appreciated — right on top.

Are there any rules or guidelines for subbing one salt out for another?

HB: Texture is the most-important consideration for substitutions. If you’re using a fine-grain salt such as sel gris in batter or dough, then be sure to use another fine-grain salt in its place. Coarser finishing salts can be endlessly swapped and mixed. There’s a greater opportunity to be playful with finishing salts.

You can order your own copy of Sea Salt Sweet here.

Double Chocolate Cream Cheese Brownies with Maldon Flake

Yields 30 servings
Bittersweet brownie layer:
Unsalted butter and flour, for baking pan
8 ounces/230 g bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks)/170 g unsalted butter, cubed
1 1/2 cups/300 g granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup/120 g all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 cup/130 g walnut pieces
Cream cheese layer:
16 ounces/450 g cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick)/60 g unsalted butter, softened
3 cups/360 g confectioners’ sugar
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean
Semisweet ganache glaze:
6 ounces/170 g semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons/30 g unsalted butter
1/2 cup/120 ml heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Maldon flake sea salt
Make the bittersweet brownie layer:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.

Butter and flour a 13-by-9-inch/33-by-23-cm baking pan; set aside.

Place the chocolate and butter in a medium saucepan and place the pan over low heat. Stir until the chocolate and butter are melted and well combined. Remove the pan from the heat source and pour the chocolate mixture into a large mixing bowl. Let the mixture stand until it is barely warm to the touch, about 10 minutes.

Stir the sugar into the cooled chocolate mixture with a large wooden spoon. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Add the flour and salt and stir until just combined. Gently fold in the walnuts.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and smooth evenly with the back of the wooden spoon. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan.

Make the cream cheese layer:

Combine the cream cheese, butter and confectioners’ sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat on low speed with an electric mixer until just combined. Increase the speed to high and beat for 3 minutes, or until the mixture lightens in color. Add the vanilla seeds and beat for 1 minute longer.

Spread the frosting evenly over the brownie layer and chill until firm, about 2 hours.

Make the semisweet ganache glaze:

In a small saucepan, combine the chocolate, butter and heavy whipping cream. Cook over low heat, stirring slowly and constantly with a whisk, until the mixture is smooth, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat source and stir in the corn syrup. Let the glaze cool to room temperature, about 25 minutes. Pour the glaze over the set cream cheese layer and use an offset spatula to spread the glaze evenly to the corners of the pan.

Chill the brownies for 3 hours, or overnight. Cut the chilled brownie slab with a sharp knife. Garnish each slice with a 2-finger pinch (meaning, pinch the salt between your thumb and 2 fingers) of Maldon salt; add more to taste. The brownies will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Reprinted with permission from Sea Salt Sweet © 2015 by Heather Baird, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Photography by Heather Baird, 2015.

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