Question: I was given some bread flour. What is the difference between it and all-purpose flour?
Answer: The type of wheat used in milling--hard or soft--determines whether flour will be bread, cake or all-purpose. Hard wheat is high in protein (gluten), whereas soft wheat is low.
Bread flour is milled from only hard wheat. Its high gluten content is what enables breads to rise and have good texture.
Cake flour is milled from soft wheat. The low protein makes it too delicate for general use, but excellent for cakes.
Hard and soft wheats are blended for all-purpose flour. The result is a product that can be used for baking, thickening sauces and gravies and dredging foods to be fried.
Q: I have two fig trees. One bears green figs, the other purple. I would like to dry them, but my experiments have not been successful. What do you suggest?
A: Sun drying requires many consecutive days with temperatures ranging in the 90s, relatively low humidity and low air pollution levels, according to Deanna DeLong, author of "How to Dry Foods" (HP Books, 1979). Since it's doubtful such conditions exist in Los Angeles, another alternative is to oven dry the fruit. The California Dried Fig Advisory Board provided the following instructions:
Allow figs to wilt on tree and drop to ground. Gather immediately and spread on wire racks that are placed on top of baking sheets. Dry in oven, with door ajar, at 135 degrees five to six hours or until figs have lost 3/4 of their fresh weight, turning fruit occasionally during drying process. Store in airtight jars or package in plastic bags or containers and freeze.
Q: Can you please print the recipe for Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese you mentioned recently in the You Asked About . . . column?
A: The recipe was developed in The Times' Test Kitchen a number of years ago and has remained popular with readers. If cream of onion soup is not available, substitute cream of mushroom or cream of celery soup and saute a chopped medium onion along with the broccoli. VEGETABLE MACARONI AND CHEESE CASSEROLE
1 1/2 cups shredded process cheese food
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup milk
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of onion soup
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 cups diced broccoli
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 pound elbow macaroni, cooked in unsalted water and drained
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Combine cheese food, mayonnaise, milk and cream of onion soup, mixing well. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet and saute broccoli about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in tomatoes and cheese mixture. Add macaroni.
Turn mixture into 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter and stir in bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over casserole. Bake at 350 degrees 35 to 45 minutes or until crumbs are lightly browned and casserole is heated through. Makes 8 servings.
In response to the July 31 You Asked About . . . column on sourdough starter, we received the following note from J. Waner of Big Bear Lake:
"Age of sourdough starter dough does not necessarily determine sourness of (the) finished product."
According to this reader, sourness is determined by how long you let the starter sit after adding the flour, warm water, salt and sugar. If the mixture stands 12 to 18 hours before continuing with the bread-making process, it results in a sour, chewy bread. Any less time and the bread will be delicious, but less sour.