TASTE

Salt

11/02/2011 05:19 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012

Gail Simmons shows you how to use foods you already have in your pantry to make easy, delicious recipes. In this episode of the Pantry Project, Gail shows viewers how important salt is in a number of recipes, including appetizers, main dishes and desserts. Gail says she can't think of a single savory recipe that doesn't require salt, and notes that it's important in baking, too, since it enhances the natural flavor of your ingredients. In addition to table salt, there are many varieties of more exotic salts -- including rock salts, Sel Gris (gray salt from France), Hawaiian sea salt, Mediterranean black salt with volcanic ash and Maldon Sea Salt (this salt from the UK has pyramid-shaped crystals that have a crunchy texture prized by many chefs and home cooks).

In this video, Gail demonstrates how to make her Salted Caramel Pecan Pie -- a dish that starts with dough that has the perfect ratio of ingredients. Gail combines all purpose flour, sugar and salt in a food processor, and once they're well mixed, adds cold cubes of butter. Once the pulsed ingredients start to look like loose breadcrumbs, Gail adds the egg, which helps the dough form into a ball. (If your dough doesn't look moist enough, Gail recommends adding in some ice water.) She then rolls the dough out on a floured work surface into a disc, wraps it in plastic, and places it in the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes.

Once the dough is chilled, Gail rolls it out on a floured work surface until it's about 1/4-inch thick and even on all sides. She then places the dough in a pie dish, making sure to push the dough into all corners and creases, and then trims any excess hanging off the side. Using the thumb of one hand, and her other thumb and forefinger, Gail crimps the dough's edges, creating a beautifully shaped crust.

Next, Gail "blind bakes" the crust by weighing it down with a bowl of dried beans poured over parchment paper, and then baking it for 15 minutes with the beans, and an additional 5 minutes without them. Pre-baking keeps the crust from becoming soggy when the filling is added and the weight of the beans prevents the dough from puffing up. (Pie weights designed specifically for blind baking can also be used, but beans work very well, are cheaper and can be reused for blind-baking -- but not for eating.)

While the crust pre-bakes, Gail makes the pie filling by mixing light corn syrup, butter and brown sugar in a heated pot; she then removes the pot from the heat and folds in beaten eggs, vanilla extract and flaky sea salt (Maldon is a good choice here). Lastly, she folds in the chopped pecans and pours the mixture into the cooled pie crust. The completed pie goes back into the oven for 45 minutes, and then after cooling, is ready to be served (preferably with whipped cream or ice cream).

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