One of the reasons too little salt can be an issue in yeast-raised baked goods is that salt assists the structure of the dough attempting to capture those gas bubbles. “Salt also strengthens gluten, allowing it to hold more water and carbon dioxide so dough expands without tearing,” said Sal Pascuito, technical sales manager, bakery, ICL Food Specialties. “Stronger dough is easier to handle, has better volume and a finer crumb.”
If that structure hasn’t had the opportunity to form and strengthen with the help of salt, then carbon dioxide will burst right through creating the holes described by Dr. Johnson. The presence of salt, however, during the fermentation process strengthens the gluten, making it less sticky and giving it the ability to support good volume, said Adam Fisher, partner and COO, Oceans Flavor Foods.
Just as salt can slow down proofing time, the strength it lends the gluten also can lengthen mixing time on a commercial scale. “Because it makes gluten stronger, salt also has a protective effect on the gluten to keep bakers from over-mixing,” explained Julie Schuette, senior food technologist, Cargill. Yes, this will make the dough harder to mix. To address this, bakers will sometimes delay the addition of salt. The dough comes together faster, and then the salt is added to strengthen the gluten strands being formed and keep the yeast in check.
“The unsalted dough mixes faster and cooler because of less resistance and frictional heat generated during mixing,” Mr. Pascuito said. This has the added benefit of being easier on mixer.
In the case of high-fat cracker doughs, however, it’s beneficial to add the salt right away. The fat in the cracker dough will hinder the gluten from forming. The immediate addition of salt helps the gluten and, therefore, the dough form more quickly.