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Yours truly has posted nothing recently. Not in February, and March is starting slow too. Why, you might wonder, does it appear that Baking Family has turned off the oven and left the kitchen?

Well, because for a while at least I did. My beloved-beloved and I went on the first “real” vacation we’ve had in a couple of years. “Real” meaning we were not with family or in a family house, and we were someplace that is not on our normal collection of beaten paths. And most importantly, “real” meaning well and truly unplugged.

And was our target a known foodie destination, a Paris or Barcelona or Florence?

No, we went to the Bahamas. We went for light in chilly, dark February and for play, for a bit of reminiscing at the remote island resort where we got engaged. What we found — in addition to sun and fun — was food. First-class, stunning seafood prepared by a Bahamian chef. Night after night (and lunch after lunch) of the freshest dishes, sauced with peppers and herbs rather than cream and butter. Coconut-based soups served in coconut shells that we watched being whacked off the tree that very afternoon. Lobster salads consisting of spiny beasts speared on our morning snorkel.

Mango daiquiris at Tiamo Resorts

In most cases, desserts paled in light of the divine first and second courses. There was one dessert that seemed true and pure, a mix of colonial influence and island ingredients: Guava duff, a roll of cakey dough around a fruity filling, topped with a rich custard. Plum pudding meets tropical fruit. The duff came towards the end of our time on the island. By then, we were fine with less on the dessert front: We had replaced sweets at the end of the meal with sugar in the cocktail hour, weaving our way through the variety of rums offered at our well-stocked resort. Maxine mixed a mean mango daiquiri.

The effect of a well-catered week on a sunny but agriculturally poor island, where all that you eat must come by boat or from the waters in front of you, was to reset our eating habits. When we touched down on the mainland again, I did not leap back into testing and updating my grandmother’s dessert recipes; my beloved-beloved did not take up his nearly nightly taste of white chocolate (I know, I know, I’ve told him it’s not chocolate).

It was refreshing to be somewhere so different, and to take a new look at food. One of the great advantages of this world is that we can see so much from our chairs. One of the disadvantages is that we don’t always get out of those chairs and experience other places firsthand. I’m still carrying a little bit of the Bahamas with me, though I’m not trying to recreate the daily five o’clock rum drink. I’ll jump back into desserts soon.

The dessert hotline rang today — well, actually it was the Christmas-cookie baking hotline. “I got sea salt in my community-supported agriculture share — is it okay to use in making cookies?”

The short answer — if the cookie dough is already made and in the fridge — is “sure!” To some extent, salt is salt. That is particularly true if you have two small children, a more-than-fulltime job, it’s December 19 and you have cookies ready to bake. Onward and upward, Lynn!

The longer answer — for the next batch of cookies — is “I’d save the sea salt for cooking protein or veggies, and for using at the table.”

A couple of years ago Cook’s Illustrated, God love ’em, did an extensive review of the saltiness of salts, and how salts function in cooking. They discovered that not only is the salinity by volume different between table salt (like Morton’s in the round blue box) and kosher salt, but that kosher salt brands differ from each other, mostly because they have larger or smaller crystals that take up more or less space.

CI did not spend any time on sea salt, however, as an ingredient; they pointed out that the nuances of sea-salt flavor get lost in cooking. I’d add that given the explosion of the sea-salt market just in the past couple of years, it’s a WAG as to the salinity — or crystal size — of the sea salt that YOU happen to have. Use it for roasting fish or fowl, or at the table as a finishing sprinkle.

I happen to like to use a fine-grained kosher salt for all my cooking — baking as well as roasting or souping or sauteing. I’ve got a little container by the stove, it’s easy to grab a pinch, and the salt has no additives that will give an off flavor to anything. I use a fine-grained salt so that it will disperse and dissolve easily no matter how dry a batter I’m making. (For example, a cookie dough is drier than a cake batter; gotta give the salt a fighting chance to spread its goodness.) Given that I use Morton’s kosher salt, that probably means I am undersalting a bit when I follow a recipe to the letter. Whatever. I have not noticed any ill-effects in the baking, moussing and souffleing that’s been going on here this past year.

Gram’s recipes were no doubt written for table salt. So please note: I use kosher salt in the recipes on this blog. And if there’s a recipe that calls for a ton of salt, or uses salt differently — like fleur de sel caramels — I’ll be really clear what kind of salt I’m using.

As for the Christmas cookie hotline, it’s still open…

Okay, loyal fans, I need your help. The holiday card is going into production (read: I am ordering from my favorite Modern Postcard’s “SimpleCard” site, where they can make it all look good). This will be your basic postcard. I’m wrestling with which picture would be most appealing as the card pops through one’s mail-slot in December. Is it the Best Basic Yellow Cake, Titusville Cream Custard, Oatie Orange Cookies or Chocolate Cake?

Or do you have a different favorite pic from Baking Family?

Tell me what you think! Then I can produce this card, and get back into the kitchen — where I have not spent meaningful time for FOUR WEEKS. Oy.
Best basic yellow cake from Baking Family

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