Thursday, April 1, 2010

Neighbor Friday: Motherese

Aloha, readers! We are winding down here, planning on a safe landing Easter Sunday. Can I wax any more poetic about my guest today? Kristen brings it. Every post she writes on her blog is thoughtful and makes me stop in my tracks. Which is a pretty impressive feat, since I write recipes for popsicles and burgers and don't use my brain on a regular basis. Enjoy her. I know you will.

For more Friday fun, click on the icon below and check out other neighbors at The Never-True Tales!

Savoring the Sweet
by Kristen @ Motherese

I like to bake.

Baking appeals not only to my insatiable appetite for sweets, but also to my love of order, my passion for following directions. (Yes, it is possible to feel passion for following directions.) I like to cook, too, but not in the same way. To cook well, I think, takes improvisation. And, as you may have gleaned, I am not all that comfortable with improvisation. (But that, perhaps, is a topic for another post.)

Yesterday, Big Boy and I were baking chocolate chip cookies. (Baking with a toddler and the ample metaphors it affords is yet another topic for yet another post.) To me, the perfect chocolate chip cookie is the Holy Grail of the confectionery world.

The ideal cookie can’t be too chewy. It can’t be too crispy. The ratio of chocolate chip to cookie dough must be just right. The chip itself can’t be too sweet or too bitter. The center of the cookie must not be undercooked. (A common sin of the chocolate chip cookies available in many bakeries.) And the cookie must have just the right amount of salt.

Yes, salt.

That delectably sweet cookie needs to have the precise punch of salt.

Dorie Greenspan, author of my favorite recent baking cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours, helped teach me this lesson, one which I think applies to cookies and – wait for it – to life. In the New York Times article, “Perfection? Hint: It’s Warm and Has a Secret,” a number of noted bakers shared their theories on what makes the perfect chocolate chip cookie. My eyes instantly widened when I saw my beloved Dorie among those interviewed.

Although unsure she could bring anything new to the party, she went through the usual checklist: read through the recipe first, make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature, use the best-quality ingredients you can find, don’t overmix. Then she hit upon something everyone else had missed, and some home bakers are nervous about: salt.

“You can’t underestimate the importance of salt in sweet baked goods,” she said. Salt, in the dough and sprinkled on top, adds dimension that can lift even a plebeian cookie…Five years ago, sea salt as a must-have ingredient and garnish for sweets wouldn’t have registered on the radar of many home bakers, but now it has become almost commonplace, in part because of Ms. Greenspan’s unwavering belief in its virtue.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? Salty in the sweet. (You know, Sweet | Salty.)

Think about it: how often have you heard someone express a desire for something savory when they’re eating something sweet? For something sweet when they’re eating something salty? For a coffee break in the middle of an afternoon at work? For a rest stop on a long drive? For a languorous stretch in the middle of a long session at the computer? For a chance to stop and bake cookies with a two year old in the middle of a Saturday morning of writing?

And isn’t that a metaphor for life? A treacly tonic for our elusive quest for balance? A gastronomic reminder to stop and smell the flour?

Variety. It’s the spice of life. It’s the salt in the cookies. Bon appetit.

What little treats do you give yourself every day? What puts the salty in your sweet?


  1. Kristen, it is almost too much to see you over here at another one of my favorite blogs!

    I agree with you. Salt is absolutely necessary in the Holy Grail of chocolate chip cookie perfection. Alas, I have yet to find the "perfect" cookie, although I cheat my kids out of all white flour and substitute half with unbleached, whole wheat flour...devious, I know, but still pretty good.

    As for treats, doing this, carving some time out for me and what makes me feel human, are my daily treats.

    And I bet it was a treat to bake with your toddler. One of my favorite things is to make things my boys like with their help...

    Thanks for a lovely post...Happy Easter to you!

  2. I tried to make the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie once ... researched the heck out of it. They were terrible. I must have forgotten the salt! =>

  3. I tried to make the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie once ... researched the heck out of it. They were terrible. I must have forgotten the salt! =>

  4. I tried to make the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie once ... researched the heck out of it. They were terrible. I must have forgotten the salt! =>

  5. Here's where I tell you my secret: I don't like chocolate chip cookies. Gasp! I know! But I love a good white chocolate macadamia nut or an oatmeal peanut butter. Yum!

    Do you ever watch Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate? They showcased a decadent chocolate brownie with salt. I want to taste it so badly!

  6. Back to add: LOOK! It's online (sweet & salty)!

  7. I love to bake too, even if it only comes out of boxes! But my kids love it (and husband) and the smells are so heavenly and it's fun to see something go from liquid into something so completely different looking, even if I can't eat it. :( And, unfortunately, I can't. If I ever move to "from scratch" I'll remember the salt!

  8. I agree cooking can have a lot o "psychic feel" while baking requires a comforting order. Savory and Sweet are both in a good cookie, just like life it takes balance.

  9. I'm not a sweet's person, sorry. I do find it interesting how you put sugar and salt into bread. I could live on good bread, no butter or anything. I love to snack on olives, cherry tomatoes, dill pickles, apples, oranges and cocktail onions -- all with salt sprinkled on. Terrible, I know.

  10. I agree that you can't fully enjoy the sweet without a bit of salt- such a great metaphor for life. I enjoy baking but am much more of an improvisational cook myself. I find a lot of joy in taking random ingredients and turning them into something delicious.

  11. So happy to see you here, Kristen - and especially talking about cookies! You know I have a similar love for baking, for the order and precision of a great recipe, the wonder of how simple ingredients come together to create little pieces of art. And of course, for the finished product you can eat.

    Lovely analogy about the salty and sweet in life. Yes, variety and spice is necessary for happiness.

    Now I think I'm craving some peanut butter and chocolate, the ultimate salty sweet combination!

  12. I never add the salt. I think I was trained that way by my uber healthy mom but I am now promising myself to add that salt in the next batch of cookies I bake!

    I am a huge fan of chocolate covered pretzels- sweet + salty! And if you've never tried a chocolate covered potato chip... Go find one!!

    I'm glad salty and sweet go together so well because THAT'S ME! Today probably a bit too salty but still... a good combo!

  13. PS - I love that NY Times recipe too. Simply brilliant. Like the tip about leaving the dough in the fridge overnight before you bake the cookies. It isn't easy to do (I usually bake one pan right away to satiate my craving) but it really does make a difference.

  14. I remember in college that it wasn't about the chocolate chip cookie, it was about the dough. Yes, there was a cookie shop on campus that would sell a scoop of dough at the same price they would sell the cookie. I usually ate my cookie in the raw version in a little cup with a spoon. Ah, those were the days.

  15. Yum! I know you are going to think it heresy - as my children told me the day I did this experiment - but try a little orange zest and the juice of a fresh orange in chocolate chip cookies.

    I love to bake but I am not the follow directions person. I am the give me the recipe and let me tweak it. I tweak everything. Nothing is usually the way the cookbook tells me to bake it.

  16. Very insightful. Sweet and salty is my favorite combination, particularly white chocolate covered pretzels. ;)

  17. Thanks so much for hosting my post today, TKW.

    So glad to find so many other salty-sweet aficionados here. For the record, chocolate-covered pretzels are my absolute favorite snack. (Becca, your mention of chocolate-covered potato chips has me salivating on my keyboard. I've never had them, but must find them!)

    And my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe is from the Dorie Greenspan cookbook that I mention in the post. The recipe produces a cookie with crispy edges and a chewy inside, sweet with just the right hint of salt. I love it!

    Thanks for all of these great comments, old and new friends!

  18. I love this post. The salty (tears?) even in the bitter, and of course, the more to appreciate the sweet.

    And THANK GOD IT"S FRIDAY. And about to be spring break. (May the parents of teens disappear to a beach??)

  19. Hi there, Kristen! Let me just say:

    1) Passion for following directions? Amen, sister.

    2) Salt as an essential to add dimension to the sweetness in baked goods? I am vindicated! My college friends always gave me such a hard time for sprinkling salt on the nothing-but-sweet cobblers that our dining hall served for dessert. It was a baking lesson my mother taught me with my first taste of her peach pie. Delighted that you've brought this front and center here :)

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  22. I love love love the way you phrased the question: Who puts the salty in your sweet?
    That is what I need, a little salty in my sweet...
    Thanks Kristen!!

  23. Hey Kitchen Witch, thanks for hosting Kristen today. As for baking, that's my wife's expertise, but as for salt, I love salt. I've grown particularly partial to Maldon's sea salt, especially the smoked sea salt.

    Interesting that Jung made much of salt in relationship to alchemy, as it symbolizes the opposites of bitterness and wisdom, apt themes for Easter weekend, promising that through our tears we gain wisdom, which ameliorates all bitterness.

  24. As always, I just love how you put together a post. Eloquent, clever and intuitive all at once. I wish I could have just an ounce of that myself.

    I am not a great baker, I do it, enjoy it, particularly with my son, but I'm just not great at it. I do, however, love to cook, and let me tell you, a dash of salt here and there really does a cook well. So I'm with you on this front.

    My daily indulgence though is caffeine. Copious amounts. It is not a healthy thing.

    Now I ask you, why didn't you share your recipe?!

  25. I've been eating chocolate bars with sea salt and almonds. So delectable!

  26. I think we could be best friends. I like to bake vs. cook for the EXACT same reason you do. I NEED the order and perfection that baking brings.

  27. Hey, would it surprise you that I avoid baking but love to cook?? : ) Give me the stove top or crock pot any day and I can whip up something delicious. Put me to baking and you will sorely regret your decision.

    But, this analogy is just beautiful. Sweet and salty is an excellent life lesson!

  28. How do you go from baking to salt to a philosophical musing on life and humanity? And it all makes sense? Amazing. :-) TKW does the same thing too here on this blog. Amazing.

  29. We took the boys to How to Train Your Dragon yesterday and I alternated between cadbury mini eggs and popcorn the whole time, for this very reason. :)

    And seriously, yes. Look at us, finding balance, even in what we put in our mouths!

  30. Great post! I am so like this with the sweet/salty thing! Now, I'm craving Kettle Corn for some reason! :D

    Happy Easter!