Chef Sara Moulton Answers Your Cooking Questions

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

In a pinch, you can make this substitution: 1 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons flour equals 1 cup cake flour.

Tricia Seeman: My church dinner club host is serving Coq au Vin this Saturday. I've been racking my brain as to what to bring for our appetizer and bread. Help! I need suggestions.

Sara's Answer:


So sorry I did not get back to you sooner. Coq au Vin can be kind of rich given that it has bacon and a rich sauce in the mix. So I would recommend serving something light, like a salad as the first course, maybe with some beets and oranges in it as well as a mix of greens.

Regarding the bread - you want a good sturdy bread that can soak up the sauce from the dish, like a good quality French baguette or Italian loaf or just some good rustic bread.

Kathleen Peters: Years ago, I used to make quiche all the time without baking the pie shell before. Now that I am a more mature chef (he he), I thought I would try to do it properly. When I baked the Pillsbury pastries in my ceramic pie dishes, according to directions, they both shrunk down to the bottom, leaving nothing on the sides to hold the egg mixture. What did I do wrong? (By the way, I layered some sliced ham up the sides and filled the shells anyway, and the quiche turned out pretty good!)

Sara's Answer:


There are several reasons that might have happened. 1.The dough might have gotten too warm so that the fat in the butter melted out before the pastry had time to puff up. 2. You might have overworked (overrolled) the dough, which toughens the gluten in the flour and makes the dough shrink back. 3. You might have stretched the dough when you put it in the pie plate instead of easing it in. Dough is elastic and will shrink back.

The next time roll out the dough quickly and ease it into the pie plate without stretching it. Then put it pack in the fridge for 30 minutes or so to let the gluten relax before you fill it and bake it.