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Salty, Sweet and Delicious

I'll admit it: I'm a savory kind of girl, the person who would choose a second helping of lasagna over a slice of chocolate cake. But Christie Matheson's new cookbook Salty Sweets: Delectable Desserts and Tempting Treats with a Sublime Kiss of Salt has rocked my savory world. Matheson has created 75 dessert recipes that incorporate salt, from little bites and cookies to puddings, cakes, and ice cream. And there are plenty of options for a savory girl like me (Lavender Fleur de Sel Shortbread, Fig and Ricotta Pizza, and Chocolate Covered Pretzels anyone?) I had a little chat with Matheson to get the lowdown on the world of salty desserts, and got her to part with a recipe (chocolate truffles - the perfect holiday gift).

What is your favorite salty/sweet combo?

It's tough to pick just one...just about anything sweet is enhanced by a touch of salt. I especially love salted caramels--a little salt is the perfect contrast to the sweetness and ever so slightly burnt flavor of classically prepared caramel. And good chocolate is brilliant with a bit of salt--salt brings out the chocolate's complex flavors.

What type of salt works best in dessert?

I really like sea salt. I think the flavor is best. Specifically, I like fleur de sel and Maldon sea salts as finishing salts, and fine sea salt baked into desserts. Kosher salt also works. But stay away from iodized table salt! The flavor just isn't as good.

Is there any type of dessert that doesn't work with salt?

Perhaps a savory cheese plate, in that it doesn't really need added salt. But the saltiness of cheese matched with a sweet accompaniment or two (such as truffle honey or fig compote) is what makes a cheese plate so delicious!

What is the most unusual salty/sweet combo you've ever encountered?

At this point I've tried so many salty sweets that nothing strikes me as unusual! But I'd say light fruit desserts are surprisingly good with a touch of salt. It's more expected with things like caramel, butterscotch, peanut butter...but it's also fantastic with a melon sorbet (I have a recipe for watermelon sorbet in the book) and lemon sugar cookies (I have a recipe for lemon sugar cookies with zesty lime salt).


Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles

Makes about 30 truffles

8 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted

About 30 crystals coarse sea salt

1. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream almost to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, then pour it immediately over the chocolate. Let stand for 4 to 5 minutes to melt the chocolate.

2. When the chocolate is melted, add the fine sea salt and whisk gently until smooth. Add the vanilla and whisk gently to incorporate completely. Cover loosely and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

3. Using a teaspoon or melon baller, scoop about 1 teaspoon of the chocolate mixture and roll into a 3/4-inch round truffle. Roll the truffle in cocoa powder and gently press 1 crystal of coarse salt into the top of the truffle to secure it. Place on a plate or in a container, and continue until all the truffle mixture has been used.

4. Return the truffles to the refrigerator to chill until firm, at least 20 minutes. The truffles will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Serve chilled or at room temperature.