Q: As I was consuming large amounts of a French baguette the other day, I began to wonder whether flour contains any fat.
A: The flour in a French baguette is generally all-purpose white flour, which is very low in fat, only 1 gram per 4 ounces. Since French baguettes are traditionally made without added shortening, butter or oil, your meal of bread was very low-fat. Something made with corn flour or brown rice flour, on the other hand, would have a higher fat content.
Q: Why do my meringues sometimes shrink after being baked? And why is cream of tartar called for in some meringue recipes?
A: A soft meringue, like that on a lemon meringue pie, always shrinks a little because the soft bubble walls of the egg white, which have been stabilized by whipping and then baking, begin to collapse after a certain amount of time. Cream of tartar is an acid that, when used in minute amounts, helps to stabilize the foam of whipped egg whites. It makes the foam less prone to drainage and collapse.
Now that the humid days of summer are gone, you may find your meringues shrink less. Humid weather is not good for baking either bread or meringues.
Q: Most baking recipes call for a preheated oven. How long should I allow for this?
A: In most home ovens, allow 15 to 20 minutes to preheat.
Send your questions to: What's Cooking, c/o Food & Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Although personal replies are not possible, questions of general interest will be answered in this column.