Allow some food industry experts (as well as our Test Kitchen) to lend a virtual hand in the kitchen.

Since the pandemic hit, new and experienced home cooks are spending more time in the kitchen than ever. Less frequent grocery store trips or low inventory on certain ingredients, however, meant getting creative or trying to accomplish recipes with whatever's on hand. In case you didn't know, several brands (think King Arthur Flour and Food52) and even a James Beard Award-winning chef are answering home cook's questions through hotlines and customer service forums. Here are the questions you've asked the most the past few months along with some tips from the experts and the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen.

1. Can I use _____ flour instead of all-purpose flour?

According to Food52 editorial lead Brinda Ayer, this is by far one of the most common questions received by bakers via text or hotline. This is also a recurring question to popular grains brand Bob's Red Mill for customers buying alternative flours for the first time due to the unavailability of traditional flours. Unfortunately, swapping whole wheat flour for all-purpose in that banana bread recipe might not just look different, but also have less volume and a coarser texture. For first-time gluten-free bakers, you'll want to use a gluten-free flour mix or specific recipe rather than just swapping any alternative nut flour or starch (i.e. almond or cassava flour), to yield the best results. Check out our Test Kitchen's guide for an outline of all-purpose flour substitutes and how they're best used.

2. Did I kill my sourdough starter?

Before the #quarantinebaking movement, you might not have known there were multiple steps involved in making sourdough bread from scratch. Yes, it is actually a living culture that needs proper care in order to produce that beautiful loaf. As a frequently asked question to all the platforms, King Arthur Flour has a great troubleshooting guide complete with pictures to know whether or not your starter is in trouble. There's a lot of science involved here, but as long as it still has a clean, sour smell and you don't see any strange colors, mold, or bugs, it should be safe.

Master Your Own Sourdough Bread in 4 Easy Steps

3. Can I use less yeast in my bread recipe?

According to King Arthur Flour's customer experience supervisor Tara Mitchell, you can use less yeast in your recipe, as long as the bread you’re making isn’t one with lots of eggs, butter, and sugar. "You can successfully decrease yeast by 50% to 80% as long as you are ready to let it rise for a longer period of time and/or let it rise in a warmer than usual environment," she says.

4. Will nutritional yeast make my bread rise?

Cultivated for use as a vitamin B-12 and protein-rich supplement, nutritional yeast brings a cheesy flavor to dishes and is commonly used in vegan and vegetarian diets. According to Bob's Red Mill, the product is dried at higher temperatures than baking yeast, which totally inactivates the yeast's leavening ability. You'll need to use an active yeast as a leavener to make sure your bread recipe will rise.

5. How do I cook (or grill) chicken breast without burning it?

Chicago's Prarie Grass Café chef and co-owner Sarah Stenger offered up a courtesy kitchen line as a service to home cooks. When she's not getting asked what to do with produce items such as radishes (likely received from a local CSA), she said she gets simple questions like how to cook chicken breast. Talking to a home cook literally standing over a grill ready to cook, she said she guided them to mark the chicken on the direct heat before letting it finish cooking on the shelf. This way you'll still get that delicious sear without drying out the meat due to sitting right on the hot flame too long. You can also use our Test Kitchen tips for how long to cook every part of the chicken on the grill.

Stenger noted more than anything, a lot of the callers "need someone to encourage them." Whether cooking a comforting meal for your family or baking as a form of self-care, here's to hoping these expert hotlines and our Test Kitchen can provide some guidance along the journey.


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