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I was always taught to add a pinch of salt to flour when baking (mainly cakes / muffins and puddings).

I have recipes that specifically mention adding salt and others that don't.

Is there a scientific reason to add salt?

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baking what? bread? pastry? There are important reasons to add salt, both chemical and taste, but they depend on what you're cooking! Please rephrase to be more specific. –  Harlan Jul 22 '10 at 19:51
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I don't think it needs more specificity. The roles salt plays in baking anything are rather well defined. –  hobodave Jul 22 '10 at 19:57

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

Salt serves two primary purposes in baking:

  1. To regulate yeast
    • Salt kills yeast. The addition of salt to a yeast leavened dough prevents the little beasties from growing completely out of control.
  2. To enhance and mask specific flavors
    • Salt is almost a universal flavor enhancer. Virtually anything that tastes good, will taste better with salt. What typically comes as a surprise to people is that this holds true with sweet things too, particularly chocolate. The addition of even a tiny bit of salt can make a sweet dish significantly sweeter. It also serves to mask the taste of raw flour.

Update

Also according to Progressive Baker salt affects the strength and shelf life of baked goods.

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Yup - masking the taste of raw flour was what I understood to be the main reason. Which begs the question of why it's not standard in all recipes? –  nzpcmad Jul 22 '10 at 20:01
    
Dunno. Off the top of my head I can't think of a single instance of not using salt when baking. –  hobodave Jul 22 '10 at 20:05
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Salt should usually be included. Self-rising flour contains a small amount of salt in addition to baking powder so recipes that use self-rising flour may not specifically include additional salt. However if it's a savory item using self-rising flour I most typically would add more. –  Darin Sehnert Jul 22 '10 at 20:10
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@Darin: Under what circumstances does a chef use self-rising flour? I've always dismissed it as something unnecessary. –  hobodave Jul 22 '10 at 20:13
    
@Darin: I answered it myself by stumbling across your blog! chefdarin.com/2009/08/flour-power –  hobodave Jul 22 '10 at 21:08

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