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Dark Chocolate and Cognac Ganache Bars with Fleur de Sel (gluten-free)

Makes 16

An amazing-looking recipe for Dark Chocolate Cherry Ganache Bars appeared with the article “Plain-Jane Cookie Dresses up for Valentine’s Day” in the February 3, 2012 New York Times Dining & Wine section. I determined to make a gluten-free version using whole cane sugar (in place of powdered sugar), coconut cream (for cream), and cognac (my sweetheart’s favorite). The bars were so perfectly decadent that I had to share the recipe – happy Valentine’s day!

1 ½ cups Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour

¾ cup whole cane sugar

¼ cup non-alkalized cocoa powder

1 tablespoon chia seeds

½ teaspoon finely ground, unrefined sea salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

12 ounces dark chocolate (at least 62% cacao)

2/3 cup coconut cream (skimmed from the top of whole coconut milk see (cooks note))

3 tablespoons cognac or brandy

3 tablespoons cherry jam or your favorite fruit jam

½ teaspoon fleur de sel or flake salt, for finishing

To make the shortbread:

Adjust the rack to the center of the oven. Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Lightly butter a 9-inch square baking dish. Assemble the bowl of a food processor and fit it with the metal blade. Add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, chia seeds, and unrefined sea salt. Pulse until the mixture becomes uniform, about one minute. Cut the butter into one-inch squares. Add it to the flour mixture. Add the vanilla extract. Pulse until a sticky dough forms, about two minutes. Press the dough into an even layer in the bottom of the buttered pan. Bake until browned at the edges and bubbling throughout, about 35-40 minutes. Allow the shortbread to cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Move to the refrigerator until cool throughout, about one hour.

To make the ganache:

Use a chef’s knife or the food processor fitted with the metal blade to chop the chocolate until it is mostly fine crumbles. Place it in a medium mixing bowl. In a small saucepan bring the coconut cream to boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Wait until the chocolate begins to soften, about 30 seconds. Whisk until the mixture becomes smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the cognac. Whisk until the liquor is fully incorporated, less than one minute.(If the ganache separates, whisk in one additional tablespoon of coconut cream.)

To assemble the bars:

Use a rubber spatula to spread a thin layer of jam over the top of the cold shortbread. Then spread with the ganache. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Chill until set, about one hour. Slice into sixteen equal portions. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Cooks note:

To separate coconut cream from coconut milk let the milk sit undisturbed for several hours. Skim the thick liquid that collects in the top of the can of coconut milk.

This was shared on Fat TuesdaySlightly Indulgent Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, and at the Favorite Desserts Blog Hop.


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Part Two: Whole, Unrefined Cooking Salts

Himalayan pink salt and sel gris

Of the hundreds of different, unrefined salts produced around the world – some bearing intriguing names like Persian Blue, Kala Namak, and Jewel of the Ocean – the commonly available choices for everyday use are limited. Jurassic salt, Himalayan pink salt, and sel gris all have loyal followers in the whole-foods community and are available in most natural-foods stores. The range of flavors, colors, and textures among these salts hint at the vast variety of salt made throughout the world.

Perhaps the most common type of all-purpose cooking salt found in natural-foods stores is Jurassic salt, sold under the brand name Real Salt. Jurassic salt is translucent to opaque with veins of pink minerals throughout. It is mined from Southern Utah’s ancient salt beds. The deposits pre-date modern environmental contaminants and have been sealed within the earth under a protective layer of volcanic ash for millennia.

Because Jurassic salt is mined and industrially ground, it’s available in different crystal sizes. I prefer to purchase it finely ground, as it has a gritty, rocky quality that is emphasized with larger crystals. Mark Bitterman, in his James Beard Award winning book, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes, describes the taste of Jurassic salt as “balanced,” and “generally flat and heavy on the palate”[1].  Jurassic salt is not made through traditional methods, nor is it sophisticated or gourmet, but it is whole and unrefined. It’s far superior in taste and nutrition to industrially produced salts like common table salt, sea salt, kosher salt.

Himalayan pink salt, finely ground and rocks

Himalayan pink salt (like Jurassic salt) is mined. It’s deposited deep within the earth and protected from any modern contaminants. As the name suggests, the crystals are pink, although the color can vary from light peach to nearly ruby. When finely ground, a light pink color dominates and flecks of darker pink are distributed throughout. Himalayan pink salt has been traditionally harvested (cut by hand) from the mountains of Pakistan for over two-thousand years. It’s available finely ground, coarsely ground, in various sized rocks, and even in slabs to be used as cooking or serving surfaces.

 

Bitterman describes the taste of Himalayan pink salt as “spicy-hot pungency”[2]. In simple dishes seasoned only with salt and pepper, Himalayan salt actually enhances the flavor of the pepper. As an all-around cooking salt it brightens flavors and lacks the flat, heavy, grittiness that describe Jurassic salt. Himalayan pink awakens the palate and enlivens all of the senses. I favor this esoteric salt when making curries and other dishes that center on spices.

Sel gris with an Empire apple

The French culinary tradition relies heavily upon two types of traditionally produced salts. These salts, fleur de sel (literally salt flower in English) and sel gris (grey salt in English), are made traditionally, by hand, using ocean water and the sun. Fleur de sel is aptly named, as it is harvested from the top of the salt brine. It’s delicate crystals are nearly opaque and silvery white. Fleur de sel is reserved for finishing dishes. It’s beautiful crystals should be spared from dissolving in the soup pot.

Sel gris is more abundant than fleur de sel. The coarse crystals are translucent light-grey and naturally retain some moisture, telling of its origins in the sea.  Sel gris is truly an ideal cooking salt. It tastes sweet and pleasant on the palate. With only 85% sodium chloride, much of the briny flavor is derived from other minerals abundant in the seawater.[3] It has a mildness that is in marked contrast to both Jurassic and Himalayan pink salt.

Sel gris is commonly sold under the brand name Celtic Sea Salt. It is available in large natural crystals or finely ground. I prefer to purchase the large crystals. They can be ground in a mortar and pestle if needed or left whole to use a finishing salt on breads, salads, or meats. Finely ground sel gris, Jurassic salt, and Himalayan salt can be substituted directly for table salt, kosher salt, or sea salt in most everyday recipes.  To use coarsely crystaled sel gris for preservation (canning, fermentation, etc.) use 20% more than the recipe calls for to ensure adequate sodium chloride in the finished product.

Local, West coast salts from The Meadow

These unique salts look and taste vastly different from common industrial salt. Salts like Jurassic, Himalayan pink, and sel gris, are the salts of our ancestors. These irregular, colorful, aptly named crystals have nourished and delighted people for ages, made preserved foods possible, and supported traditional economies around the world.

In ancient and recent history the control of salt has been a political stronghold. This legacy continues today. Among scientists, doctors, and health professionals public health policies that focus on reducing salt intake are controversial. Remember that these modern-day battles concern industrially produced salt in industrially produced food. When we rely on real, whole foods, prepared at home, we can include real, whole, unrefined salt. We can partake in a global artisan food-making culture and we can support environmental responsibility – all through seasoning our food with the most satisfying, life-giving salts that the world has to offer.

Click here to read Part One: Industrial Food, Health Policy, and Home Cooking

This was shared on Fat Tuesday Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, and Real Food Wednesday.


[1] Mark Bitterman, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes, (New York: Ten Speed, 2010), 164.

[2] Bitterman, Salted, 163.

[3] Bitterman, Salted, 165.

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Part One: Industrial Food, Health Policy, and Home Cooking

Today’s plain, ubiquitous table salt is the center of power-struggles and politicized battles within the health-care community. Ancient empires, like those of Rome and China, valued salt and the social power that controlling it offered[1]. Because the potassium to sodium ratio in vegetables and grains isn’t ideal for people,  all agricultural peoples require supplemental Sodium in the form of salt[2]. For an example of the symbolic and economic importance of salt we only need to look as far back in history as 1930 and to the political statement conferred by the Salt March (a peaceful resistance movement, organized by Ghandi, in response to British monopoly of salt in India; and by extension a peaceful resistance to British colonial control of the country).

Sodium and chloride (the chemical building blocks of salt) are needed for some of the most basic functions of the body. Sodium maintains fluid balance and ph of the blood[3]. Chloride is essential for digestion, maintaining ph, and for potassium absorption[4].

Still, contention surrounds this utterly unique and essential food. Some health authorities, argue that consuming more salt than recommended increases the likelihood of high-blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, while other highly-qualified authorities question the salt/ high-blood pressure connection.

In 2010 the United States Food and Drug Administration announced that it was beginning a 10-year program to implement legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in foods[5]. While, the administration relies upon studies that link cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure with high salt intake, other studies, like the frequently cited Intersalt Study find no link between salt intake and high-blood pressure[6]. To complicate matters even further, one recent study has found that low-salt diets actually increase mortality rates[7].

This same study, published in the May 2010 edition of the JAMA, found that worldwide salt intake is within a relatively small range (around 3700 mg. per day) [8]. This suggests that humans consume relatively equal amounts of salt across cultures. Thus,  recommendations to reduce salt intake might be unwarranted and perhaps even harmful to public welfare in the long-run. This fact was featured in the July 8, 2011 Scientific American article “It’s Time to End the War on Salt” [9].

The average American consumes 75% of their salt from processed convenience food and restaurant food. These industrial foods rely on salt as the main flavor enhancer. As proof, “low-sodium” versions of these foods don’t sell well[10]. Furthermore, the salt within industrial food is itself an industrial product, as highly refined as white sugar or white flour[11]. Industrially produced sea salt is about 99.5% sodium chloride. The remaining .5% is made up of industrial anti-caking agents like calcium silicate, sodium ferocyanide, and magnesium carbonate[12].

Natural unrefined sea salt is about 85% sodium chloride, and it contains no anti-caking agents[13]. The other 15% is made up of trace minerals from the ocean. Thus, it is naturally lower in sodium than industrially produced salt and has no chemical additives. The exact mineral composition of the salt varies depending on the source sea-water and the process used to extract the salt[14]. The abundant minerals offer layers of flavor and added nutrition.

When foods are made from scratch, whole, unrefined salts can be included to enhance the  natural flavors and enhance health. Bitterman suggests five rules of strategic salting. I find them to be rational guideposts in the fleeting power-struggles and controversies surrounding salt.

The Meadow on North Mississippi Avenue in Portland, Oregon

Bitterman’s Five Rules of Strategic Salting[15]:

  1.  Eat all the salt you want, as long as you are the one doing the salting
  2. Skew the use of salt towards the end of food preparation
  3. Use only natural, unrefined salts
  4. Make salting a deliberate act
  5. Use the right salt at the right time

For an in-depth exploration of the fascinating subject of whole, unrefined, artisanally produced salts I highly recommend Mr. Bitterman’s book, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes. Those of you in Portland, Oregon and New York city can visit the internationally renown shop The Meadow, at 3731 N. Mississippi Avenue in Portland, and at 523 Hudson Street in New York. Visit the store online, and Mark and Jennifer Bitterman’s blog Salt News.

Next Week, More Than Salt Part Two: Whole, Unrefined Cooking Salts

This was shared at Fat TuesdaySlightly Indulgent Tuesday, and Real Food Wednesday.


[1] Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 31.

[2] Kurlansky, Salt, 9.

[3] James F. Balch and Phyllis A. Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, (Garden City Park: Avery, 1997), 29.

[4] Sally Fallon-Morell, “The Salt of the Earth: Why Salt is Essential to Health and Happiness,” Wise Traditions 12-2 (2011): 29-38, http://www.westonaprice.org/vitamins-and-minerals/the-salt-of-the-earth.

[5] Lyndsey Layton, “FDA plans to limit amount of salt allowed in processed foods for health reasons” The Washington Post, 20 April, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/19/AR2010041905049.html.

[6][iv] Melinda Wenner Moyer, “It’s Time to End the War on Salt: The Zealous Drive by Politicians to Limit Our Salt Intake Has Little Basis in Science,” Scientific American, 8 July 2011, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=its-time-to-end-the-war-on-salt.

[7] Fallon-Morell, “The Salt”.

[8] Michael H Alderman, “Reducing Dietary Soduium: The Case For Caution” JAMA 303 (2010): 448-449, http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/303/5/448.short?rss=1

[9]  Wenner Moyer, “It’s Time”.

[10] Layton, “FDA Plans”.

[11] Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, (Berkley: North Atlantic, 2002), 196.

[12] Mark Bitterman, Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes, (New York: Ten Speed, 2010), 191.

[13] Bitterman, Salted, 165.

[14] Bitterman, Salted, 81.

[15] Bitterman, Salted, 196.

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