Q. I have been making "sun tea" by adding 1 teaspoon of Earl Grey tea to a quart glass jar and leaving it in the sun for 2 to 4 hours. The tea is delicious, but I have been wondering about caffeine content. How much caffeine am I getting compared to that obtained with the hot water method?
A. At either temperature, all of the caffeine present in the tea leaves dissolves into the tea, about 60 milligrams to 75 milligrams per 5-ounce cup.
Q. I am in the pizza business and have been searching for a good pizza dough recipe. I have been experimenting for the past six months with little success. Do you have a good recipe?
A. It's less the recipe and more how you treat the dough and what kind of oven you bake it in that is important. Here's a good recipe: 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 package dry yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup lukewarm water with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Mix and knead as you would any bread dough. This recipe can be multiplied by any factor. If you multiply it more than 10 times, reduce the yeast by 1/3 to slow down fermentation.
The most important ingredient in pizza dough is the flour. Use an unbleached bread flour. Bleaching removes the wheat's flavor, leaving it tasting like chalk. Look for an unbleached flour with malted barley in it, the enzymes of which help the yeast grow and the crust brown.
The way you ferment pizza dough also affects its flavor. Keep the dough at 75 degrees to prevent valuable flavors from evaporating and to keep the gluten strong. Allow the dough to double in bulk, then punch down and use. While it is rising, cover the dough to keep it from "crusting over" -- forming a skin which inhibits rising and browns poorly.
If, after mixing, the dough is soft, add flour. It's better to have a dough on the stiff side which rises slowly than a loose, sticky dough, which colors poorly and stays soggy.
The type of oven also affects pizza dough's taste and texture. Pizzas should be baked in hearth ovens, which have thick stone, brick or metal floors. The best pizzas are baked in wood-fired ovens, where the dough acquires a smokey flavor.
If anyone tries to sell you his secret recipe, tell him to solicit elsewhere. Like so much else that is baked or cooked, the recipe is less important than good technique, tools and ingredients.
Q. I've found that putting apricot preserves through a sieve for pastry glaze is very time-consuming. And besides, my grocery store does not carry apricot jam. Any suggestions?
A. Buy a can or bottle of apricot nectar, measure out 2 cups and pour into a 2-quart saucepan. Add 3 1/2 cups sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Bring to a boil and stir in 3 ounces liquid pectin. Remove immediately from the heat. This apricot jam makes a very good glaze.
Q. I use the delicious "Joy of Cooking" brownie recipe. But the brownies form a thin, brittle crust that is tasty but makes them messy to cut. Would adjusting the oven temperature and baking time eliminate this? I hate to ice them, because they taste better plain.
A. Temperature and time are not responsible for the crust, which arises from whipping the eggs in a large bowl where the beaters are not completely submerged. The function of the beaters is to denature egg protein while at the same time incorporating air bubbles and strengthening the foam with sugar. If the beaters are not half-submerged in the beginning and fully submerged at the end of whipping, some egg protein is denatured before the foam forms. When baking, this protein floats to the top of the batter and forms the light crust.
Next time you make brownies, whip the eggs and sugar in the smallest possible bowl. Add the sugar from the beginning. And, finally, transfer to a larger bowl before folding in the flour and melted chocolate.
Q. My husband, who is on a low-sodium diet, loves buttermilk. Unfortunately, low-sodium buttermilk does not seem to be available in this area. How can I make buttermilk at home? I made butter once, but the remaining liquid tasted like diluted cream.
A. Years ago, buttermilk was the liquid left from churning butter. But in those days, cream was raw. Lactic acid bacteria fermented it and produced a buttery, sour flavor. When the butter was churned, the remining liquid tasted sour and buttery.
But today, you cannot expect to duplicate that buttermilk by churning pasteurized cream since the lactic acid bacteria have been killed. If you do have access to fresh cream, collect seven days' supply in the same refrigerated container and churn it. The oldest cream will have soured and the youngest will have stayed sweet.
Commercial buttermilk is made from skim milk to which bacterial culture, nonfat dry milk, salt and butter chips are added. The culture produces buttery flavor and lactic acid, the salt cuts the perception of acidity so that older buttermilk will not be rejected as too acid, and the nonfat dry milk gives body and shelf stability.
To make your own buttermilk, scald a quart of skim milk, let cool to 70 degrees and add 1 tablespoon store-bought buttermilk. Let ferment 12 to 16 hours. It will have the sodium content of skim milk (50 milligrams per 100 grams, which is about one-half cup).
Send questions of general interest to Answers, Food Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.