Q: What is your opinion about the safety of consuming raw fish or mollusks in seviche?
A: Seviche (also spelled ceviche) is a raw-fish salad made by mixing pieces of raw fish with lime juice, chopped fresh coriander, minced onion and various other ingredients such as chopped tomato or avocado.
Provided the fish is fresh (that is, it smells sweet), there is little danger of microbial spoilage as the lime juice's low pH (2.5) makes it one of the most acidic of all foods. Provided you add sufficient lime juice to alter the raw fish's slimy, moist texture to a dry, firm, "cooked" texture (this change occurs at a pH between 5 and 5.5), bacterial growth will be strongly discouraged.
Eventually, however, seviche does spoil. Once mixed, it should be kept refrigerated or on ice. A poorly stored seviche changes radically in texture, however, before microbial spoilage occurs. The fish would be surrounded by water and the fish pieces would be dry, cottony and shrunken before bacteria gain a foothold.
Scallops behave in much the same manner as fish. They lose water quickly once mixed with the lime juice. Clams shouldn't spoil any faster than fish or scallops.
Q: European recipes never seem to call for salt in sweet dough. I never add salt either. Does it serve a purpose?
A: It depends on what you define as sweet dough. Some people call bun dough or coffeecake dough sweet dough. These being yeast-leavened, salt acts as a governor, slowing fermentation enough that it doesn't get out of hand and cause rapid aging of the dough's gluten (its protein-and-water framework).
If, on the other hand, you mean a cookie dough or some form of pie dough (such as the sweet dough used for tarts and tartlettes), salt has no other function than as a seasoning.
Q: When a cake recipe calls for all-purpose flour, I use half unbleached flour and half whole-wheat flour. Is this ratio all right? I also sweeten pastries and breads with all or some honey. Should I bake them at a lower temperature? They seem to brown too much. Should I add extra baking powder when substituting whole-wheat flour for white flour?
A: Whether a flour is unbleached or bleached has no bearing at all on its baking abilities. Bleached flour has been chemically treated to destroy yellow pigments in the flour and to improve the baking behavior of wheat proteins. Unbleached flour has actually been bleached, except the chemical changes are done by oxygen at a slower pace rather than by an oxidizing agent, which acts instantly. You can buy all-purpose flours bleached or unbleached.
I cannot tell you whether the ratio is all right, as no two flours are the same. You may be using a glutinous whole-wheat bread flour that turns your cakes into doormats. Or you may be using a whole-wheat pastry flour that makes much lighter, softer cakes. If your products are satisfactory, then there's no need to change. If they're rubbery and dense, then I'd use an unbleached pastry flour (rarely found in supermarkets -- look in health-food stores).
You cannot substitute whole-wheat flour, which contains about 30 percent bran and which has a relatively high wheat-germ oil content, and expect cakes nearly as light as those made with white flour. The same is true of substituting honey for sugar. Sugar has baking properties that no other sweetener can duplicate. When you alter sugar-based recipes by substituting some or all honey, expect extensive browning and a gooier, denser texture. Reducing the oven temperature is one way to compensate for honey's propensity to brown.
The normal ratio of baking powder to flour is 1 teaspoon per cup. If your recipes already contain that ratio, you can increase the baking powder by up to 50 percent (1 1/2 teaspoons per cup) before the baking powder flavor begins to predominate. Too much baking powder also leads to a cake's collapse as the batter overinflates and the starch granules cannot gelatinize (absorb water) in time to set the batter.