Table salt (Recipe: sweet potato pie)
It's not Hawaiian, French or Portuguese. Not grey, not pink, not black.
It's not sea, and not Kosher with a capital K.
In fact, it's so ordinary that the label just says "plain salt".
I call it table salt, because that's what my grandmother called it. When she said "put salt and pepper on the table," this is the salt she meant.
This particular jar of table salt has been in my pantry for years; I transferred the salt from the cylindrical container to a glass jar to minimize the amount of moisture that gets into it. I use table salt only for baking, and I don't bake very often. This salt, the house brand from my local supermarket, is not iodized, so it does not add a chemical flavor to baked goods. It does contain an anti-caking agent.
Let's talk about iodized salt for a minute, because when I was growing up, iodized salt was the norm. Created in 1924 by the Morton Salt Company, iodized salt was touted as a way to help prevent thyroid disease and promote good health.
Iodine, part of a hormone, thyroxin, which is responsible for maintaining a person's metabolic rate, comes from the sea and from soil that has previously been under the sea. Saltwater seafood, sea vegetables (such as kelp, hijiki, arame, nori, and laver), vegetables grown in iodine-containing soil (found on any land that was previously under the sea), and animals grazing on plants growing in iodine rich soil all are good sources. Iodine deficiency remains a serious public health issue in many parts of the world, especially where the soil does not contain iodine; though it seems like those areas would be far from home, the Great Lakes region of the US is one area where the soil is not iodine-rich.
Why is table salt preferred when baking cupcakes, brownies, pie crusts, cookies and breads (yes, even the now-famous no-knead bread)? Because the larger the salt crystal, the more time it takes to dissolve. Table salt has the smallest crystals, and dissolves most reliably.
The folks at Morton Salt have some great trivia questions on their site, about Columbus and Napoleon and Caesar and George Washington, but here's the trickiest:
Question: Which of these can't you live without?
Answer: (a) Money; (b) Love; (c) Salt; (d) Chocolate.
You know which answer the Morton folks chose. Which would you choose?
Sweet potato pie, crust and all
A classic dessert for the holiday table, this recipe makes enough filling for two pies, and you’ll want to make two! To make crust for two pies, don’t double the amounts; make two individual batches of dough, or substitute ready-made pie crusts.
For the crust (enough for one 9-inch pie):
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup very cold unsalted butter or margarine
1/4 cup very cold vegetable shortening
1/3 cup ice water
For the filling (enough for 2 pies):
6 large sweet potatoes
3 large eggs
1/3 lb margarine or butter
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 can condensed milk
To make the crust: In a large bowl combine flour and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter and vegetable shortening. Add ice water and stir just until the mixture comes together. Work the dough as little as possible. The larger the pieces of shortening and butter that remain, the flakier the crust will be. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until firm. (Chilling not only lets the dough relax; it also firms up the fat.)
To make the filling: Place sweet potatoes in a pot with water to cover, and boil until soft. Drain, and remove skin from potatoes. In a large bowl, mash potatoes well with a potato masher. Add baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, honey and condensed milk, and whip together until smooth.
Partially bake the pie crust: Press the crust into a 9-inch pie plate, and decorate or crimp the edges. There are several ways to keep the crust from shrinking or rising up while it bakes (called "blind baking"): either line the crust with aluminum foil, and fill with rice or dry beans; or line with foil, and invert the pie crust over another pie plate of the same size (the crust bakes as a “sandwich” between the two pie plates). Bake in a 425°F preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until the crust is a light golden color.
Raise oven heat to 450°F. Pour sweet potato mixture into the pie shells, and bake for 45 minutes or until pies are firm (because some ovens are “hotter” than others, check the pies after 45 minutes -- it could take a total of an hour for the pies to cook).