A recent column on cream cheese snail cookies elicited a number of letters from readers who had some problems with the dough.
The principal complaint was that the dough seemed too soft to roll, or was troublesome, although readers who succeeded in making the cookies praised their flavor.
Doughs made with a high proportion of cream cheese are especially soft since, unlike butter, the cheese does not become completely hard after refrigeration.
However, after retesting several times and having the recipe work perfectly in my kitchen, I can only conclude that the problem is the flour, which varies considerably around the United States and Canada.
The strength, or absorptive power, of flour is largely dependent on the wheat from which it is milled. The harder the wheat, the higher the protein content and the stronger the flour.
Checking the Flour
Consumers can best verify the approximate protein content (or strength) of flour by checking information on the side panel of the flour bag. "Regular" or all-purpose flour averages 11 to 12 grams of protein per cup (four ounces), whereas bread flour averages 14 grams of protein per cup and cake flour averages eight to nine grams. While the amounts may seem minuscule, the variations can make a difference in the way recipes turn out.
After checking in my flour bin, I discovered that the brand of "regular" unbleached all-purpose flour I normally use and call for in my recipes is stronger than most others. So, in the future, I'm switching brands.
When working with any pastry or dough recipe, however, a general rule of thumb is that if a dough is too soft, flour should be added in two tablespoon amounts and pulsed in quickly with half-second pulses (take care not to over-process).
The two new flavored pasta doughs below are a case in point. Both call for bread (strong) flour, which is available in supermarkets and health food stores. (Look for 14 grams of protein per cup on the side panel of bread flour bags.)
Testing the Dough
For pasta doughs, flour is quickly pulsed into the flavored egg mixture with half-second pulses until small beads form. The test to determine whether the dough requires flour beyond the measurement specified in the recipes is to first check dough consistency for the "small bead" texture.
Unlike pastry dough, pasta dough should bead and not clump. Clumped pasta dough is generally too wet and requires slightly more flour to roll. Take care not to add too much flour, however. The little beads of dough must hold together easily when pinched.
After processing, pasta dough should be wrapped in plastic and left to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before rolling. If the dough sticks to the plastic wrap, it should be coated with generous amounts of flour as it is passed through the pasta machine so that it is strong enough to withstand the final stretching.
Meanwhile, should questions or problems about cooking with a food processor arise, you can write to me at the following address: P.O. Box 286, Gracie Station, New York, N.Y. 10028.
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon salt
Several drops hot pepper sauce
Insert metal blade in dry processor container. Process eggs, egg yolk, tomato paste, salt and hot pepper sauce until thoroughly mixed and slightly foamy, about 30 seconds.
Add 1 3/4 cups bread flour and process with 1-second pulses until dough forms small beads. Press together to form dough, wrap in plastic and set aside 20 to 30 minutes before rolling.
Check consistency of dough. If it adheres to plastic wrap, generous quantity of additional flour should be worked in during rolling. Otherwise, dust work surface lightly with bread flour while rolling out dough. Follow manufacturer's instructions for using pasta machine and roll out dough to second or third thinnest setting for noodles. Makes about 1 pound dough.
GREEN ONION-BASIL PASTA DOUGH
2 medium green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths
1/4 cup packed basil leaves, stemmed
1 egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon salt
Place green onions and basil in dry food processor container fitted with metal blade. Process with 1-second pulses to coarsely chop. Add eggs, egg yolk and salt. Process until green onions and basil are completely pureed and mixture is foamy, about 1 minute.
Add 1 3/4 cups bread flour and process with 1-second pulses until small beads form. Press beads together to form dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside 20 to 30 minutes before rolling.
Check consistency of dough. If it glues itself to plastic wrap, a generous quantity of additional flour should be worked in during rolling. Otherwise, dust work surface lightly with bread flour while rolling out dough. Follow manufacturer's instructions for using pasta machine and roll out dough to second or third thinnest setting for noodles. Makes about 1 pound dough.
Note: Spinach can be substituted for basil, if desired.