Question: In some recipes for baked custard, the procedure includes scalding the milk. Is this necessary when using either fresh milk or canned evaporated milk? What is the purpose of scalding the milk?
Answer: In "How Cooking Works" (Macmillan: 1981), authors Sylvia Rosenthal and Fran Shenagel explain that formerly, "milk was scalded to kill bacteria, but this is no longer necessary. Now we scald milk only to speed up the preparation and cooking time of breads and custards.
"Scalding hastens the dissolving of sugar and the melting of fat. Heating may be done over direct heat or in the top of a double boiler over hot water. It is helpful to rinse the pan with cold water before heating milk in it. The water reacts with the metal of the saucepan to form a film, making it easier to scald the milk without burning the pan. It is also helpful to stir the milk gently while it is heating to create a froth. The froth will minimize the formation of a skin."
According to the authors, "The formation of the skin is due to the evaporation of water from the surface and the effect of the heat on the milk fat and calcium salts. The brownish color and objectionable flavor that develop in scorched milk come from the caramelization or burning of lactose, the sugar contained in milk."
The key to scalding is never to boil the milk. Instead, heat it just until bubbles form around the sides of the pan and the steam escapes.
Q: Can you suggest a place where I can buy bottles for homemade liqueurs and herb vinegars?
A: Try Williams-Sonoma, Cost Plus and Pier 1 stores around the Southland, or Montana Mercantile in Santa Monica. Another source is beer and wine-making supply stores--check the telephone directory for sources in your area.
Q: The passion fruit in my yard will be ripe next month. My problem is that I do not know how to use it. Could you please give me some ideas?
A: In "Fresh Produce A to Z" (Lane Publishing: 1987), the editors of Sunset Books and Sunset magazine suggest, "For an unusual appetizer, spoon teaspoonfuls of passion fruit pulp on toasted French bread or crackers spread with cream cheese or Brie. Add dollops of passion fruit pulp to fruit, poultry, or gelatin salads. Serve over ice cream or sherbet for dessert."
For those unfamiliar with passion fruit, it's shaped like an egg, about two inches long, and has a thick, hard shell that can be either purple or yellow in color. Both varieties have yellow-orange pulp laced with soft edible seeds.
When the purple shells are shriveled, wrinkled or even a little moldy, the fruit is ripe and ready to eat. If still smooth-skinned, ripen the fruit at room temperature, uncovered, out of direct sun. Once ripe, refrigerate the fruit in a plastic or paper bag up to a week.
Passion fruit pulp and seeds are very aromatic and have a sweet-tart, exotic flavor. Although the fruit is usually eaten fresh, the pulp may be scooped out, placed in freezer containers and frozen for up to three months. Ten to 12 passion fruits yield about 1 cup of pulp. Passion fruit may also be cooked and used in pastry fillings.