Looking at the stack of questions that have come to me, I can tell many of you are cooking more now that fall is here. Today I am devoting the column to answering those questions. If you have any culinary questions, please feel free to send me an e-mail. I welcome your questions and comments.
Q. I want to make the Carrabba’s Limoncello Bread Pudding that recently appeared in your column, but cannot find brioche bread in Wichita. Where do you find it?
A. Many of you have called or e-mailed with this question. Brioche is a rich egg bread. Unfortunately, it is not available in many of our stores, but you may use any rich egg bread. If all else fails, you can make the recipe using good white bread. It will not be as rich but will still be very tasty.
Q. How do you warm tortillas? I have trouble with corn tortillas cracking when I try to roll them. What is the secret?
A. Basically, tortillas may be warmed with dry or moist heat. The dry heat method works best if the tortillas are very fresh. Heat them directly over the flame of a gas range or on a griddle, flipping them until toasty and pliable.
The moist heat method is easier if you are heating larger quantities of tortillas and if you need them to stay warm for a while. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of water on a clean kitchen towel and wring the towel to distribute the moisture. Line a microwave-safe casserole dish (8 or 9 inches in diameter is best) with the towel. Place a dozen tortillas, cover with the towel and the lid. Microwave at 50 percent power for 4 minutes. Allow to stand for 2 to 3 minutes. The tortillas will stay warm for 15 minutes.
There are tortilla warmers that work quite well that are available at cookware stores.
Q. Vanilla bean paste is an ingredient in several recipes. What makes it different than vanilla extract? Where can it be purchased?
A. Vanilla bean paste is a mixture of vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds. Natural thickeners form a paste. Vanilla bean paste gives baked goods a wonderful vanilla flavor but also the lovely flecks of vanilla seeds. It is less expensive and easier to use than purchasing vanilla beans. You may use it instead of vanilla extract or vanilla beans. The vanilla bean paste keeps indefinitely at room temperature just like regular vanilla. You can purchase it locally at culinary stores.
Q. A recipe calls for espresso powder. I don’t like coffee; can I leave it out?
A. Yes, you can omit espresso powder. Coffee enriches the flavor of chocolate. That is why it often is used in some brownie and chocolate cake recipes. Just omit it if you do not wish to use it.
Q. Can I use the microwave when a recipe calls for melting chocolate in a double boiler?
A. Yes, the microwave is a great way to melt chocolate. There are a few things you need to remember: Solid chocolate should be chopped finely so it will melt evenly. Chocolate chips will need no chopping. Be sure your container is dry. One drop of water will cause the chocolate to seize and not melt properly. Microwave on 50 percent power for 1 minute and then stir. Repeat in 30-second increments until the chocolate is completely melted, stirring each time. Chocolate will retain its shape even when melted, so stirring is necessary so you can tell whether or not it has melted.