“You are the salt of the earth.” Matthew 5:13

Making bread, and thinking about salt.

Bread is all about the yeast. The yeast makes the bread to rise. Warmth, in this recipe warmed milk, wakes the yeast so it can make the bread to rise. Sugar (or honey, or molasses, according to your preference and the recipe) gives the yeast something to eat, so it can make the bread to rise more quickly. Flour gives the yeast some structure, building materials if you will, to make the bread that rises.

Salt checks the action of the yeast; keeps it from rising too quickly.

I’ve been making breads lately that have not risen well, and have been dense and doughy in the center as a result. Too much salt? I wonder.

This dough, made from my recipe for egg bread, has milk, butter, sugar, yeast, eggs, and flour. It has no salt. Even the butter I used is unsalted.

This dough is about to climb out of the bowl, it has risen so much. Are you impressed? Are you thinking about the large quantities of bread I can make with this dough?

Don’t be fooled.

It cannot stand up to pressure, even a light touch.

Heavy pressure causes a complete collapse.

and we start the process over.

Dough risen without salt may look impressive at first, but it is full of air and holes and nothingness. It must be beaten down and let to rise again if it has any hope of becoming bread. A second, or even a third rising may give it an even enough texture, and enough internal structure, that it can be baked without collapsing in the heat of the oven, but the first quick rise is certainly not enough.

I’m also concerned about its taste. Bread should not taste salty, but a bit of salt brings out the natural flavor of the grain so that the bread tastes the way bread is supposed to taste. Without salt, the bread might taste flat. Bland. Lifeless.

What then does it mean to be the salt of the earth?

Updated: I made a second batch. Same recipe, same process; added one teaspoon of salt. One teaspoon of salt, in six cups of flour.

This time, the dough rose smoothly, evenly, without all the foamy airiness of the first batch. When I punched it down, there was resistance.

Even punched down, it still had substance.

and can you tell the difference in the finished bread?

The salt moderates the otherwise uncontrolled exuberance of the yeast. It steadies the growth. It allows for a fuller, steadier structure. Without it, the dough rises too high and too quickly, falls, and cannot sustain its own weight. Without it, too, the bread has little taste. With salt, the dough can reach its full height, and maintain it; with salt, the dough can resist pressure; with salt, the bread rises and expands without stretching apart and losing its shape. With salt, the bread tastes sweeter, even though the other ingredients haven’t changed.

What, then, does it mean to be the salt of the earth?