To sift or not to sift? That is the question

Shake and bake: Some TV chefs no longer bother with sifting flour.
Shake and bake: Some TV chefs no longer bother with sifting flour. Photo: Karl Schwerdtfeger

I've noticed some chefs on TV don't sift their flour when baking. I thought you always should. G. Williams

I am going to let you into a little secret. I used to make TV programs and there are a lot of things people do on camera that never make the final edit. Washing hands, sharpening knives and retelling outrageous and slanderous stories about other chefs are seldom put to air. The flour we buy in supermarkets these days has been sifted so shouldn't need more sifting. That said, I bought a box of pizza flour recently that was infested with moth larvae, which I discovered only when sifting. I have also found wheat husks and stems during sifting. When spices, cocoa and baking powders are added to flour, you can mix them with a whisk. Icing sugar can clump so should be sifted, but icing mixture, with added flour to stop clumping, shouldn't need sifting. Sponge cake aficionados maintain sifting is essential for a light sponge. To sift or not to sift? I leave it up to you. But remember, television is a bit like life with the dull and real bits edited out.

We went out to dinner at an expensive restaurant recently, where there were a few young nieces and nephews. I was aghast to watch them cut open the dinner rolls with a knife. R. Johnson

Two words. Look away. Times change, so do customs and etiquette. I still remember taking out a young lady in the late 1980s. She waited until halfway through her soup until she smoked her first cigarette of the evening. The waiters were obliging, changing ashtrays between her refreshing and tangy B&Hs. Once gentlemen stood at chairs until the lady folk were seated. Once port had to be passed to the left. In Tudor times, before the fork came along, eating with hands was a necessity. By the Edwardian era, there was a fork for every course. By the late 1970s, eating at Indian restaurants with your right hand meant you had smoked hash and been on the hippie trail. By 2013, eating with your hands in restaurants was obligatory because no one eats a slider with a knife and fork. However, you could take it upon yourself to whisper in your young relatives' ears that breaking a dinner roll with the hands is preferred in some circles, and their butter should be placed on their bread plate with the butter knife. Just in case they are invited to Government House.

Does (working the ingredients together) also work for vegetable patties? Mum's used to bind beautifully but mine don't. P. Sheahan

A few weeks ago in Brain Food (August 13), we talked about working the meat in rissoles before cooking to make the proteins come out of the minced meat so they would set during cooking, holding the rissole together. Readers also suggested adding egg, which will hold the mixture together as well. You could consider adding egg to your vegie patties. If you want to go vegan, try gently sauteeing a few cups of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery in olive oil until soft and, while still warm, adding a cup of breadcrumbs and a cup of chickpeas crushed in a mortar and pestle, some seasoning, and working through with your hands until the mixture is sticky. If it's dry, add a little liquid such as water and perhaps some chutney. Form into patties and gently fry with the merest bit of oil on medium heat.

Can I substitute soft goat's cheese for gruyere? I am making a savoury cake. J. Goh

In baking you need to substitute like for like. If you're baking a carrot cake, you can substitute pumpkin - both are about 85 per cent water. Add grated zucchini and it will be a bit sloppy unless you squeeze a little water out as zucchini is 95 per cent water. When considering cheese, you need to assess the fat and moisture content. Soft goat's cheese such as chevre contains less fat (about 25 per cent) but more moisture than gruyere (about 35 per cent fat). If you used grated gruyere instead of chevre the cake would be drier but with melted cheesy highlights. You could try feta, but this is much saltier than chevre. There is a moist white cow's milk cheese sold in delis under the name Neufchatel (not to be confused with the French washed-rind cheese of the same name) you could use. Let us know how you go.

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