Q: I have been trying to develop a bran muffin mix containing fruits and nuts that can be kept refrigerated for six to eight weeks. I want a recipe that makes moist, yet crumbly muffins containing little fat, salt or sugar. That way, the home baker can have a fresh and very healthful muffin every morning. Are there any particular ingredients that don't refrigerate well?
A: Your premise is flawed. You are recreating the thought patterns of so many food processors. There are certain facts that cannot be ignored. If you want fresh food, you have to make it fresh. If you want to make convenience food, you have to add additives. It doesn't matter if the recipe contains bran or fresh fruit. It still has to be preserved.
Sure, it's possible to make a bran muffin batter that can refrigerate. One of the major milling companies has proven that. Its products -- tubes of cookie doughs, biscuits and croissants -- are sold in most stores. Buy a tube some time and try it.
If you go the convenience route, you have to foresee changes the batter will undergo. These are changes that food scientists have to prevent. They don't add "chemicals" randomly. There's a purpose behind each one. Some of the changes a dough might undergo are that the dough might bake off tougher than if the batter had been fresh; that the fats might turn rancid; that fresh fruits might make the batter ferment; that molds might grow at the surface and around the nuts.
To prevent all this, you have to start adding sodium benzoate to prevent yeast fermentation and calcium propionate to control molds. You have to add antioxidants such as BHA and BHT to prevent rancidity. You have to add vegetable gums to keep the batter from separating. These are just a few of the additives one needs if one goes the convenience route.
If you want a fresh muffin in the morning, bake off batches and freeze them. Wrap each muffin in plastic film and place in the freezer. Reheat in the oven or microwave. That's about the most convenience you're going to get and still maintain the integrity of your recipe.
Q: I made a two-quart batch of ice cream for my daughter's birthday party. I followed directions, and the ice cream melted.
I don't know why. Following the instructions to the letter, I removed the beater from the ice cream, I pushed the ice cream down into the churn, I covered it, and I submerged it in the ice and salt used to freeze it in the first place. I kept the ice cream in that ice-salt bath for five hours and replaced ice as it melted. I did not, however, add more salt. Could that have been the cause?
A: The idea behind storing just-made ice cream in ice and salt is this: The temperature of a freshly made ice-salt bath is about 12 degrees below zero. That is much colder than most home freezers. You are supposed to harden the ice cream in the bath for about half an hour, then remove the container to the home freezer.
When you harden ice cream, you are freezing much of the remaining water. Just-frozen ice cream has a temperature of about 25 degrees. Most of the mix's water is still liquid, which explains why fresh ice cream is quite soft.
An ice-salt bath stays cold only so long. Adding more ice does not make it colder. Ice is only 32 degrees and, when you keep adding it and diluting the salt, you actually warm the bath and the ice cream in it.
Next time, leave the churn in the ice-salt bath for 30 minutes. As it sits in the bath, place a clean empty container in your freezer. When 30 minutes are up, transfer the ice cream to the pre-chilled container and store it in your freezer for two or three hours before serving.