Chef Sara Moulton Answers Your Cooking Questions

PHOTO: Sara Moulton explains when to use cake flour or all-purpose flour in a recipe.

Celebrated author and TV chef Sara Moulton is the food editor at "Good Morning America."

You've written to her with questions about what you'd like to learn in the kitchen, and she has responded.

Sara Moulton Answers Your Questions

Alicia Martin: I don't like the taste of wine or alcohol in food. When a recipe calls for white wine or cooking wine, is there something I can substitute?

Sara's Answer:


Wine provides three things in a recipe: flavor, acidity and flavor conductivity.

That last one may seem odd. Alcohol is a conductor of flavor - any time you add it to a recipe, the recipe will taste better even if you don't taste the alcohol (a perfect example is penne a la vodka). When you add vodka to that pasta dish, the dish just tastes better.

So you can remove the wine from a dish, but it will remove its flavor. You can substitute another acidic ingredient, such as vinegar or tomatoes, or even a squeeze of lemon to provide the acid that wine brings to a recipe. But you won't be able to replace the flavor conductivity unless you add some other kind of alcohol. However, if your recipe is well seasoned and full of tasty ingredients, it will taste good even if you leave the wine out.

Chrys Gross: OK, so I get this bread-making machine from my brother for Christmas (like I needed another appliance ... not). He is all excited about giving it to me and tells me that he is "expecting good things" from me when we do our annual pilgrimage up to the lake house when I will have to serve numerous meals. My first several attempts have been disasters. I could have dressed these rock hard babies up with hot glued dried fruit pieces and passed them off as fruit cake bombs as a joke. What are some tips for success with these machines?

Sara's Answer:


I am a little out of my league here, since I don't own one of those machines. I think it is a matter of going back and reading the instructions over again very carefully. Maybe the water you added was too hot? If it was, that would kill the yeast. Maybe it needed to rise longer? If for some reason you have lost the instructions I am sure you can call the manufacturer and talk to a costumer service representative. Or you can reach out to the King Arthur Flour Baker hotline.

Actually, I would like one of those machines. Fresh bread every day sounds delightful to me.

Janice Kronnick: Can you tell me what I am doing wrong when cooking dried beans, sometimes I could cook for 12 hours and they still would not be tender. I soak over night, am really baffled, hope you can help.

Sara's Answer:


Two things pop to mind: 1. Perhaps the beans were really old, meaning they had been in the cupboard for more than a year? or 2. Maybe you add some form of acid to the beans - tomatoes, vinegar, molasses?

Old beans are more dried and take forever to cook. Acid inhibits the cooking and the beans will not become tender. You can add acid to a pot of beans but not until the end.

Jeanette Ginevan: What is the difference between plain flour and cake flour? Also please explain the uses of each.

Sara's Answer:


Cake flour has less protein (gluten) in it, which means that it produces a more tender product. With bread you want good gluten, which will provide structure. With cakes you don't want a lot of gluten, because a cake should have a delicate tender crumb.

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