I make bread on a regular basis – even if I don’t always blog about it. I often find a happy groove while I bake, and kneading bread feels therapeutic. But sometimes I’m in such a Zen state while working the dough that I forget how many cups of flour I measured. On more than one occasion, I forgot the salt.
Most of my bread recipes require salt. So what happens to bread, exactly, when salt doesn’t get mixed in? Here’s a closer look at this key ingredient.
Salt’s Important Role
Salt plays an important role in baking. No matter if you’re making pizza dough, bread boules, or sourdough discard rolls, salt takes your bread to the next level in the following ways.
It Adds Flavor
In the right concentrations, salt makes everything taste better. When used in small amounts, salt reduces bitter flavors and enhances sweet, making your dessert bread divine. In larger amounts, it reduces the sweet and enhances umami, so your savory recipes stand out.
If you forget the salt, your bread will likely taste bland unless you have other ingredients to compensate.
It Stabilizes the Structure
At a molecular level, salt dissolves in and binds with water molecules in your bread. It restricts water activity, which in turn, tightens and stabilizes your bread’s gluten structure.
As your yeast ferments in your bread, it releases carbon dioxide gas. Stable gluten effectively captures and holds carbon dioxide. The more carbon dioxide in the dough, the more volume and the bigger the rise.
If you forgot the salt, your dough may stay slack and sticky. You will have a much harder time working your dough and your bread will stay flat.
It Slows Fermentation
To put things simply, yeast makes your bread rise. Yeast has special enzymes that break down large starch molecules into small simple sugars. Then the yeast metabolizes these sugars and releases ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide into the dough. As mentioned above, the gluten in your bread then captures the carbon dioxide and the resulting bubbles lift your dough.
Yeast relies heavily on water to perform these duties. As salt attracts water, yeast releases some of its water whenever salt is nearby. With less water, the yeast slows its fermentation processes.
Long, slow fermentation allows the dough to reach its maximum flavor potential. If you forgot the salt, your dough will rise too quickly, and your bread will taste bland.
It Contributes to Color
As mentioned earlier, yeast breaks down starch molecules in the flour to create simple sugars. From there, the yeast consumes the simple sugars and releases carbon dioxide into the dough.
When you have enough salt in the dough, you slow the yeast’s consumption of simple sugars. When you bake your dough, the leftover simple sugars bake into the crust and give your bread its warm, creamy coloration.
However, if you forgot the salt in your dough, the yeast ferments quickly and metabolizes most of the simple sugars in your bread. Your bread will look pale and white as a result.
How to Save Your Bread
Depending on the bread baking stage, you might be able to salvage your bread.
If Your Bread Hasn’t Risen Yet
Did you mix your flour, water, butter, and seasonings together, only to discover you had forgotten your salt? You don’t have to start over from scratch.
In this stage of the bread baking process, dissolve your salt in a little water then pour the water over the dough. Knead the saltwater into the dough, and sprinkle some extra flour to take away any stickiness. Reshape your dough as needed.
If You Haven’t Baked Your Bread Yet
If your bread is on its first rise and you realized that you forgot the salt, you can still work this key ingredient into your dough.
When you’re ready to punch down your dough for the first time, dissolve your salt in a little water and pour evenly over the dough. Knead the saltwater into the dough, sprinkling extra flour as needed.
Reshape your dough and let it rise for a second time.
If Your Bread Is in the Oven
At this stage in the baking process, you can’t do much for the texture and rise of your bread. However, you can still enjoy the results of your hard work.
Once your bread has cooled, feel free to lightly coat the crust with salted butter. The butter will melt into the crust and add a little flavor to your bread.
Or, dip your bread into stew, chili, or soup. The bread will soak in the flavor of your meal. Similarly, you could use your bread in fondues or smear it in flavorful cheeses and dips to enjoy as a side.
Did It Help?
I’ve used these methods to salvage bread gone wrong multiple times. But I’d love to know if these tips helped you. Feel free to share your experience in the comments or add your own tips for salvaging unsalted bread.