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Chat Leftovers:

At last — Beer Madness is upon us! And this year we’ve rounded up 32 brews from around the region — as close in as the District, as far out as Dover, Del., and Williamsburg — for our annual competition to pick the best in brews. Beer columnist Greg Kitsock explains all: Read the story, study the bracket and cast a vote for your favorite. The drama starts today.

Passover begins Monday, and we are READY. Bonnie S. Benwick has talked to the pros and collected a wealth of tips to help even the novice host a stress-free Seder. Vered Guttman gives us ways to use up the matzoh that seems to linger long past the holiday. And along those lines, there’s a What Can You Do With a Box of Matzoh contest, for you creative types out there.

Also today in Food, David Hagedorn writes about okonomiyaki, the savory pancake that’s madly popular in Japan, and tells you how to make it at home.

Which brings me to today’s Free Range chat. All of those topics, and more, will be in play today for our weekly live discussion. Be there at noon; if you like, you can submit your question early and join us later. There’s a place at the table for you.

Meanwhile, just to whet your appetite, here’s a leftover question we didn’t have time to answer in last week’s chat:

My great grandmother had a recipe for a fantastic sour cream pound cake, but whenever I make it, the top crust always separates from the rest of the cake, with a half-inch gap between the two. I bake it in a Bundt pan and start it off in a cold oven. The recipe includes 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder, baking soda, and salt (equal parts). Any idea what's going wrong? The oven door stays closed, so I don’t think the cake is falling.

Okay, I’ll give this a shot. But to be honest, I might not be able to be totally helpful, because although you’ve mentioned a handful of the ingredients in your cake, and I can probably guess the rest, technique is pretty important with a pound cake — I guess with most any cake, really. Factors such as how long you’re instructed to beat the butter and sugar, whether you’re supposed to separate the eggs, the order of the ingredient additions, etc. etc. etc., are critical. Not having seen your recipe, I lack clues. But onward!

As you probably know, many pound cakes develop a characteristic crack on top — no surprise there — but I’ve never baked one that completely shed its top crust. So I did a little Internet research, which you may have done, too. And it turns out that the phenomenon you reported is pretty common! There’s a lot of weeping and wailing about it online. And there are dozens of theories about why it happens and suggestions for solving it, but from the sound of things, most don’t work.

I did find a common thread. Knowledgeable folks stressed the importance of adding the eggs (and they are at room temp, not chilled) one at a time, at slow speed, and of not overbeating the batter. That last tip rang a bell with me and I turned to my copy of “BakeWise,” where I remembered having read something along those lines. Sure enough, author Shirley O. Corriher had this to say: “The more you beat, the more crust you get. . . . Depending on how much you beat, this crust can be barely noticeable or a crisp, shiny crust that is totally puffed and separated above the cake. . . .” Sounds like the latter is what might be happening to you.

So my recommendation is just what the experts say: Beat in your eggs thoroughly, but one at a time and on slow speed. Then don’t overmix the rest of your ingredients. See if that solves your problem.

I also found one blogger who reported a triumph after weeks of failed experimentation. Finally she came upon a technique of Paula Deen’s and decided to try it. First she creamed the butter and sugar, then added the sour cream, then alternated adding the eggs and the dry ingredients. It was a success! No guarantees, but if all else fails, it’s something else you can try.



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