Several of you have sent me questions, so today’s column is dedicated to answering those. I encourage you to e-mail me if you have questions about recipes, ingredients or general cooking. All are good questions, so don’t be shy. I enjoy your questions and comments.
Q: I bought cake flour to make a special birthday cake and have some left over. What else can I do with cake flour?
A: Cake flour is a very light flour with lower protein than all-purpose flour. Of course, you could always use it to make other kinds of cakes. Angel food cake and chiffon cakes generally use cake flour. But cake flour would work well in muffins and even pancakes.
Baking recipes are developed by ratio of weight of ingredients. One cup plus two tablespoons cake flour will weigh the same as one cup all-purpose flour. So if I am substituting cake flour for one cup all-purpose flour, I would use one cup plus two tablespoons cake flour. The weight would be the same and the recipe technically would work, but you may have a lighter product because of the protein content.
I would not use cake flour for any yeast bread recipe, as it may not have enough gluten for sufficient rising of the dough.
Q: When a recipe calls for the juice of one lemon, how much juice is that?
A: When a precise measure is not given, lemon juice usually does not need to be measured exactly. Perhaps it is to add a little extra flavor boost.
But to answer your question, the amount of lemon juice in a lemon will depend on the lemon. Some small lemons will yield more juice than a large lemon. In my cooking classes, I often tell my students to pick up the lemon and feel it. If it seems heavy for its size, it will be a juicy lemon. A light-weight lemon may only have two tablespoons juice, but a heavier one may have up to one-fourth cup.
There is a technique in extracting the most juice. With the lemon in the palm of your hand, roll and press it firmly on the countertop a few times. This breaks down the membranes, releasing the juice. You will notice the lemon has become very soft and pliable. Now you will be able to get every drop of juice from the lemon.
Q: Are lemon zest and lemon peel the same thing? Are those terms used interchangeably?
A: Yes, they are the same thing. Older recipes tend to use the term “lemon peel,” while newer recipes use the term “lemon zest.” These terms apply to other citrus fruit, as well. Zest or peel will refer to the thin outer coating of the fruit. Do not use the white part: It is called pith and is very bitter. The peel or zest contains the flavor oils of the fruit and add lots of flavor to a recipe.
There are gadgets designed to remove the zest of the citrus fruit that do a great job. One small tool is called a zester, but I also like to use a microplane.
Q: Is a candy thermometer necessary for making candy? I have an instant-read thermometer that I use for checking meat. Can I use it? If not, what is the difference?
A: You will need a candy thermometer for making candy. Meat thermometers are not designed to register temperatures as high as needed for candy-making. When shopping for a candy thermometer, look for one that will clip to the side of the pan that keeps it from touching the bottom of the pan so you get an accurate reading.