Confessions of a pastry-phobe – or ‘science made me do it’

I have had an inordinate fear of three things in my life: spiders, math and pastry.  I don’t think that my fear of spiders is ever going to mend itself. I have come to terms with that. But I have faced my other two phobias in one way or another.

My fear of math was effectively conquered through hours and hours of lectures, readings, numerous calculations and essay-writing on economics and statistics during my time in grad school (admittedly, though, my legs still weaken a little when I come across anything related to calculus formulas or theorems). As for pastry, that’s a different story. There was never a fear in the eating of it. But there was most certainly fear in the making of it. And I tackled that over the holidays.

The back story: I come from a line of what I refer to as kitchen and culinary “masters.” My late maternal grandmother was a legend. Rumour has it that she fed 40 B.C. loggers three square meals a day for a week in the 1930’s with only a few pounds of potatoes and a couple of onions. Her buns and bread were famous in the small Saskatchewan community she eventually settled in. I’m pretty certain that if they were both still alive, my grandma and mom could single-handedly bake, preserve, cook and crochet their way out of any given situation. If wars were won on the palate and world peace could be gained by merely passing the plate, these women would be United Nations ambassadors.

When it comes to kitchen aptitude, I never seemed to measure up. The excuse that I often use is that I just didn’t inherit those skill-bearing genes. ;o)  The reality is that I just didn’t pay enough attention when these great ladies were around to teach me. My bad.

During the holidays, a Washington Post article popped up on my Facebook feed. The title really piqued my interest: The scientific season you should put booze into your pies.  It had a link to the University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) Food and Science blog where the good scientists there explain the science behind dough:

“Gluten develops when two wheat proteins in flour, glutenin and gliadin, are mixed with water. Because parts of these proteins do not like to interact with water, the proteins begin to stick to each other much in the same way oil droplets come together when suspended in water. As a flour-water dough is mixed, the glutenin and gliadin molecules interact to form an extensive elastic network.” – UCLA Food and Science Blog

Why ‘booze’? Adding alcohol to your dough restricts gluten formation so that the wheat proteins can’t stick to each other and form those springy networks mentioned above. According to science, this makes for a more tender and flaky pie crust.

So, I guess you could say that the science made me do it. Armed with grandma’s decades-old wooden rolling pin and the UCLA recipe for an alcohol-based pie crust, I dove in! I was a kitchen warrior prepared to take on my fears and the peculiarities of pastry!

IMG_1265The making of the pastry was pretty straightforward. The rolling of it, less so.

According to The Joy of Cooking‘s guidelines Let them eat pie: rolling pastry dough, “You must approach the pastry dough with confidence… pie dough can sense fear.”

Oh, great. I hadn’t perspired this much since I defended my doctoral thesis. Nevertheless, I ‘owned’ the fear and kept going. (It’s a good thing that I wore my Batman t-shirt. I like to think that it helped.)

“You must move the dough rather than letting the dough move you.” I’m not really sure what that meant but it sounded perfectly quotable while ever-so-slightly philosophical. I embraced its abstractness, and tried to be inspired rather than intimidated. How hard could it be? After all, I was the one with the rolling pin (and an experienced rolling pin at that, even if I wasn’t).


And voilà … a pretty decent looking pie crust.

I really felt as if I had tackled the most difficult part of the project at this point.  The rest, as they say, is just ‘icing.”

Or filling, actually.

Mom’s rhubarb pies were always a family favorite. So, the hubby was a bit miffed when I chose to make pecan pie instead. I recall mom making a bourbon pecan pie years ago and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, that recipe was tucked away between the pages of grandma’s first edition of The Joy of Cooking cookbook. That, along with with hundreds of other family recipes and cookbooks, was shut up tight in storage.  Sigh. I had to find another recipe. Enter Google. I came across this one:

Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie

Ingredients: sugar, butter, eggs, dark corn syrup, maple syrup, bourbon (or dark rum), vanilla extract, pecan halves, cream.

Recipe and directions can be found here.


Success! I conquered a fear and treated my family to a tasty dessert! I’m pretty sure that my mom and grandma would be proud.

As a young, working single mom (before I was in graduate school) I would spend my spare time crocheting, crafting, cross-stitching or drawing, painting and writing poetry. Over the years since, I have dedicated more time towards work and scholarly writing. That’s creative too, but in a different way. But I want to change things up. I want to explore those old creative outlets and maybe experiment with some new ones. I have dubbed 2015 as my Year of Living Creatively. I plan to do lots of creative things this year; maybe some things that scare me just a little. And 2015 started out with pastry and pie!


“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”
― David Mamet

4 thoughts on “Confessions of a pastry-phobe – or ‘science made me do it’

  1. I blame the….”the scientific reason you should put booze in your pies” bit. When I say blame….I mean it in a good way. The presentation was creative and the pie looked delicious. Bake on my friend, bake on.

  2. Pingback: 2016 – The Year of Gratitude and Grit #CDNMovesToMO #renovation #thankful #family #friends #adventure | Cami Ryan

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