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Cheese From Italy Has Many Uses

February 06, 1986|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

Question: Do you have some information on mascarpone cheese? I had a tiny bite of it with fresh fruit and actually enjoyed its creamy taste.

Answer: Mascarpone or Mascherpone is a fresh (uncooked and unripened) type of cheese that originated in Lombardy, Italy, and is now made throughout Italy, usually during the winter months. A double cream cheese with 60% fat, it is often likened to clotted cream or English Devonshire. The flavor is rich and buttery with a pleasantly sourish tang, resembling a combination of our domestic cream cheese and sour cream, which can be used as a substitute.

The soft, pale ivory cheese has a smooth texture, sometimes as light as whipped cream and other times like creamed unsalted butter, which may also serve as a substitute when mixing with spices and other ingredients. A wonderful dessert cheese, serve Mascarpone with berries and other fresh fruit. It is also good mixed with brandy or liqueur, or with candied fruit. As an antipasto, the cheese may be mixed with mustard, anchovies or other cheeses like Gorgonzola and Provolone.

Sold in plastic tubs and containers, Mascarpone is available in fine cheese shops or specialty food shops. Like most fresh cheeses, it is extremely perishable and should be purchased as fresh as possible and used immediately. Store in the refrigerator up to a few days, securely wrapped or in tightly sealed containers.

Q: When I make a gelatin mold the ingredients sometimes sink to the bottom, but at other times they float. How can I prevent foods from sinking to the bottom?

A: Avoid using too many solids in the mold. For each cup of gelatin, use no more than 1 1/4 cups well drained and chilled solids .

The gelatin should be very softly set before adding any solid ingredient. When doing fancy layered molds, choose ingredients of different weights and porosity. Some foods are natural floaters and others that are heavier fall to the bottom.

According to the "Joy of Cooking" cookbook, the floaters are apple cubes, banana slices, fresh grapefruit sections or pear slices, fresh strawberry halves, broken nut meats and marshmallows. The sinkers are fresh orange slices, fresh grapes, cooked prunes and the following canned fruits: apricots, Royal Anne cherries, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums and raspberries.

Instead of mixing solids with the gelatin and then turning into the mold, the process may be done step by step as follows: a portion (maybe a third or half) of the the gelatin mixture may be allowed to set slightly in the mold by chilling for a short time then the solids implanted. Pieces of food may be impaled on a skewer or wood pick then dipped one at a time into the gelatin. This is then chilled to set and then more gelatin added to soft-set before inserting more solid pieces. Proceed with remaining gelatin and solids and chill completely to set.

Q: A candy recipe I want to try calls for maple sugar, which I heard costs more than ordinary sugar. Can I substitute white or brown sugar?

A: White sugar seems to work better as a substitute but you may need a touch of maple flavoring. However, maple sugar is twice as sweet as granulated sugar so allow about 1 1/2 to 2 cups granulated sugar for each cup of maple sugar called for in a recipe. Maple sugar is made by the evaporation of maple sap or syrup that gives it a concentrated sweetness.

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