Everyone knows that salt is an important or even essential seasoning for many foods, and most bread recipes call for it (the notable exception being Tuscan Saltless Bread). Salt accentuates the flavors of baked goods, and in yeast breads it strengthens the gluten matrix and helps yield a lighter crumb. But what kind of salt to use: table, kosher, or sea salt? They have virtually the same chemical composition, but each has a unique density and texture.
Table salt comes from mining salt deposits and has fine, evenly shaped crystals. It has greater density than other salts, and often has additives like calcium silicate (an anti-clumping agent) and iodine (a nutrient which helps prevent goiters). As its name suggests, it’s most often used as a last minute seasoning at the table. When a recipe calls simply for “salt”, table salt is what is usually meant. All of my recipes, both on this site and in my cookboks, call for table salt.
Kosher salt became more common in the United States after the wave of Eastern European immigrants in the early 1900’s, who used this coarse salt to remove blood from the meat they served at home, thereby making it kosher. In the late 1960’s it began to be popular with chefs as a cooking ingredient because its coarse grains were slow to dissolve and added a light crunch. It’s an excellent salt for seasoning meats before cooking. It also comes in a finer grain which many bakers prefer over table salt.
Sea salt is produced by evaporating sea water, and since each body of water has a unique blend of trace elements, each sea salt has a unique flavor, although the differences are often subtle. It tends to be more expensive and is best used as a finishing seasoning for a dish.
So which is best for baking? Very few chefs recommend sea salt for baking, and at least one commentator says that kosher salt owes some of its current popularity to food television: kosher salt’s coarse grains show up better on camera. In a sweet muffin or a baguette, you might not be able to discern much of a difference between table salt, kosher salt or sea salt. Just one cautionary note: if a recipe uses kosher salt and table salt is all you have on hand, remember that table salt is denser and a smaller amount should be used. For example, if 1¼ teaspoons of coarse kosher salt are called for, only 1 teaspoon of table salt would be needed.