Q. Please explain how fruit can be ripened to get the best flavor without developing rotten patches or wrinkled skin. Most fresh fruits, like peaches, apricots, plums and nectarines, are sold hard and green. I cannot get them to ripen satisfactorily. Does the plastic fruit ripener sold for $15 work?
A. Supermarket and even many fruit-stand fruits (which all too often are simply California or Florida produce sold in mangy baskets) are picked green. We all know that. We also all know that no matter how well it's ripened, green fruit never tastes as succulent or sweet as tree-ripened fruit. It can still be good, however, if stored and ripened carefully.
Unfortunately, fruit is often stored too cold, resulting in brown, mushy apples, watery papayas, squishy plums and cherries. If the stores or shippers have not bruised or overchilled the fruit, however, you can ripen it without offering campgrounds for fruit flies.
Rotten spots are usually not apparent when green fruit is purchased because they only develop at room temperature, when the cells' enzymatic processes resume. In other words, if the fruit was bruised during picking, shipping or storage, you will begin swearing one to two days after purchase.
Wrinkling, however, can be controlled by ripening at 90 percent relative humidity. Fruit is a living being: it breathes just as you or I, much slower in the refrigerator, however. When, after storage, the fruit reaches room temperature, it begins to respire faster and loses water.
Choose a well-vented container for ripening fruit. The vents or holes allow excess humidity and heat to escape. On the other hand, the walls of the container cut drying air movements and retain enough humidity to prevent wrinkling. As the fruits ripen, they must be kept separate because, as they breathe, they emit heat that can cause tissue damage and stimulate fungal growth. If the plastic ripener allows ventilation and keeps the fruit apart, buy it.
Q. I would like to bake some of my standard two-layer cake recipes in a bundt pan. Do I need to adjust baking time and temperature?
A. It wouldn't hurt to reduce the temperature 25 degrees, that is, from 350 degrees (the normal cake-baking temperature) to 325 degrees. It takes much longer for heat to penetrate a bundt pan -- at least 45 minutes. Leave it undisturbed that long before you begin poking it with toothpicks and pushing the pan around. Otherwise it will collapse in the center.