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Photo: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

It’s no secret that adding a dash of salt can actually accent sweet flavors. I like a good salt-flaked caramel as much as the next person, but fleur de sel had a good run, so can we make way for a more complex dessert seasoning? Add depth of flavor to your fall baking with a dose of soy sauce.

Soy sauce is made from fermented soy beans in a salt brine, and is often added to savory dishes because it provides plenty of umami. Soy sauce is a powerful flavor booster thanks to naturally occurring sodium and glutamic acid, the building blocks of MSG (monosodium glutamate). MSG activates the glutamate receptors in our mouths, which can give us a heightened awareness of these flavors in our food. That goes for sweet and savory dishes alike. Adding a bit of soy sauce to our desserts can effectively open the flavor door, and allow us to taste the richness of other flavors on our palate.

If you’re hesitant because soy sauce makes you think of vegetables or meat, and not chocolate brownies, I understand. You can put your fears to rest. Soy sauce added to chocolate desserts is, first and foremost, subtle. It doesn’t taste like a terrible mistake was made. In fact, it tastes like you must have done a lot more work than you actually did. Soy sauce adds the requisite touch of saltiness to baked goods, along with noticeably rich caramel notes, and a light maltiness. Since the glutamate receptors in your mouth will be firing away, the earthy, bitter notes of the chocolate used will be magnified in the best way possible, so use good quality chocolate.

For those who enjoy experimenting, adding soy sauce to baked goods is as easy as adding vanilla extract, simply measure out a teaspoon or two, and stir it in with the other wet ingredients. For others who don’t want to do any guesswork, there are plenty of recipes that already include soy sauce as an ingredient, like my chocolate brownie recipe below, or these soy sauce cookies.

I find that soy sauce magnifies darker, warmer flavors well. Pair it with desserts that include chocolate, vanilla, caramel, spices, or nuts. In order to draw out more warm caramel flavors, the brownie recipe below uses a higher ratio of brown sugar, which plays well with the soy sauce.

Dark Chocolate Soy Sauce Brownies

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate (chopped)
  • 7 tablespoons butter (cut into ½-inch pieces)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Toppings like Reese’s Pieces, or nuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and parchment line an 8-inch by 4-inch loaf pan, or an 8-inch cake pan (for thinner brownies).

In a microwave-safe bowl, add the chocolate and butter. Microwave for a minute or two, stopping to stir every 20-30 seconds, until melted. Stir in the soy sauce and vanilla extract.

In a medium bowl, put both sugars and the cocoa powder. Mix and press with the back of a spoon to break up any clumps of cocoa powder, and distribute amongst the sugars. Add the chocolate mixture to the sugar mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the eggs, one at a time. Add half of the flour, and stir until just barely combined. Add the other half and stir until just combined.

Pour the brownie batter into the prepared pan, smooth it out and top with candy pieces or nuts. (Go light on the toppings, they’ll sink if they get too heavy.)

Bake in a 350°F oven for 25-30 min, or until the edges are puffed and the center is just set. This recipe can be doubled for a larger and thicker batch of brownies. Keep them at room temperature, in an airtight container, for five to seven days (as if they won’t be devoured in hours).



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