Answering your vexing culinary questions

Morning fresh: If you can smell the barista's perfume or aftershave on your cup or glass, then they haven't washed their ...
Morning fresh: If you can smell the barista's perfume or aftershave on your cup or glass, then they haven't washed their hands properly. Photo: Eddie Jim

I don't like it when my morning coffee smells of the barista's aftershave. Should I tell him? R. Hodgins

Here is a game to consider playing on road trips. One person orders takeaway from a cafe while the other person waits in the car without looking inside. When the coffees arrive it is the job of the person in the car to guess what the barista looks like judging by the smell of perfume or aftershave lingering on the coffee cup. We have given the game several names. Calvin Cup. Lynx Latte. Eternity Espresso. Councils across the nation insist that there is a hand-washing facility in every commercial food preparation area for good reason. If there is still enough of someone else's perfume, aftershave, cologne or fungal cream for you to smell it on the edge of your latte cup or glass, then they haven't washed their hands properly before work and there isn't just a problem of personal taste, but also of personal hygiene. It's worth a word to the manager of the cafe. If the manager or owner is making the coffee then try saying, ''By the way, are you wearing cologne? I can smell it on my coffee cup.'' This tends to work.

Why would a cake recipe ask to add honey to baking soda? D. Evans

Sweet science: Honey helps baking soda produce light and airy cakes.
Sweet science: Honey helps baking soda produce light and airy cakes. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. It is alkaline. Add acid to it and the molecules rearrange themselves, releasing carbon dioxide gas. This gas is trapped by the batter as bubbles, giving the cake its lift and lightness. Honey is quite acidic, around 4.5 to 3.2 pH, making it more acidic than yoghurt and sour cream. When cooking with baking soda, don't leave the batter, once made, lying around. The chemical reaction happens immediately so put the cake, or whatever you're making, into the preheated oven straight away. Honey will brown more than sugar, giving darker-coloured cakes, and absorb more water. This means there will be less water available for yeast to live on, so baked goods will last a little longer before going mouldy. This will also mean that the outside of the cake is slightly sticky to touch.

Why is chicory so bitter? J. Humphries

Back in the olden days, when everything was in black and white, and plants didn't have farmers with pesticides to defend them from bugs, their only form of protection was to produce compounds that would taste bitter to marauding bugs. Chicory produces bitter-tasting turpenes called lactucin and lactucopicrin. It also produces mouth-puckering tannins. Modern hybrids tend not to be as bitter but do contain inulin, the polysaccharide found in large quantities in Jerusalem artichokes, which helps lower your cholesterol but gives you wind.

When I make ballotines and suchlike, the instructions invariably say to wrap the item tightly in cling wrap before immersing in simmering poaching liquid. However, the cling wrap available from supermarkets shrivels as soon as it hits the hot liquid. A. Maley

There is a great satisfaction from boning out bits of a chicken or an entire bird and stuffing it back with bits of itself and other tasty bits and pieces to make ballotines and galantines. By rolling them up tightly you create an attractive shape to serve when cold. By poaching them gently they retain their moistness, the cooking juices staying in the meat and setting to delicious jelly when cold. The internal temperature of the flesh needs to reach about 76 degrees so you don't need to have the stock too hot, certainly less than a simmer and definitely not boiling. If you have a meat probe, this is the perfect time to get it out. Now, as far as the plastic film goes, just for you I did a straw poll of all the chefs I know called Matt for whom I have a mobile phone number. There are a lot of chefs called Matt. They all came back with different brand names for catering-grade plastic film, such as Capri and OSO. Matt Germanchis from Pei Modern in Melbourne suggests the real secret is to wrap your ballotine in plastic film and then in aluminium foil.

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