Facing the Fear (of Baking)

Cranberry and orange scone

Lots of people have odd, irrational fears. I’ve seen good, strong people transform into a buzzing bundle of nerves once something like a cockroach, rat, spider, bee, or other insect came close to their person. I’ve witnessed friends go ghost white around certain kinds of people–like clowns, midgets, IRS representatives, nuns, and cops.

For me, it’s not the little bugs or people in costumes that make me nervous. What really sets my teeth on edge are electric mixers and ice cream makers. Whenever I see a recipe for a cake, cookie, bread, ice cream, or pastry I am held frozen in a moment of panic—because deep down I fear that the process of making the dessert will overload my brain and kill me.

Yes, that’s right. I have an irrational fear of baking*.

cranberry orange scone

Pull any one of my cookbooks off my shelf, and you’d see the tell-tale signs of this fear. Whole sections of my cookbook collection remain pristine because I can’t get my fingertips past recipes with elaborate terms like leaven, pate de choux, fondant, and proof the bread fast enough. When faced with the choice of making dessert or an entree, I will always and unflinchingly make the entree. No matter how difficult the savory dish could be. Though I love ice cream, I have an ice cream maker which hasn’t been touched since it was placed on a shelf over a year ago. Just looking at the silver machine makes my skin crawl.

The art of pastry making is a precise science that requires careful measurements and a strong adherence to rules and ratios. I’ve worked in restaurants long enough to know that if I were asked to pick up chef’s whites and take a station in the kitchen, I would beg to be placed far away from the pastry department. I am of the hardworking, let’s-grab-a-handful-of-this-stuff-and-start-cooking variety. I’m the very opposite to the precise artistry of the pastry department. In my experience, the meticulous men and women of pastry enjoy carefully measure ingredients, thinking recipes through (before they begin cooking!), and doing complex math.

how to make a scone

Patience, planning, and basic math? Nothing about that seems fun. In the crazy mind of this writer, the patient work of a pastry chef makes me want to pull my hair out and run around like a three year old with a sugar high. Give me a knife and a hot pan any day.

Yes, I am aware my fear of baking is irrational. I’ve spend more than enough time with perfectly healthy and happy bakers and pastry chefs to know that baking doesn’t actually threaten their lives. And yet, get me near my Kitchenaid and icy thoughts of pain, suffering and self-doubt overtake me. Maybe if I try to bake a loaf of bread it will take me all day to make and then I’ll have to throw it out because it’s terrible. What if I try to make a cake and it has a big saggy, sink-hole in the middle? This zucchini bread recipe looks easy but only you could be dumb enough to screw it up. What if I make a really bad tasting cookie for my husband? Will he regret marrying me? I better not even try to make brownies because if I fail to do something as easy as that people will wonder why I even bother to call myself a food writer.

So, yeah. I’ve got issues. Clearly, my fear of baking is just a dough-covered example of a bigger problem. I’m afraid of being vulnerable. And not just in the kitchen.

So in hopes of making a difference in the quality of my life and surrendering over to the idea that being vulnerable in life is the key to true happiness and fulfillment, I’ve decided to start doing more baking. And in order to make sure I don’t back down from my desire to bake, I have gone and done something totally unlike myself, I’ve signed up to bake for a group of people.

So now every Wednesday morning, regardless of my fears and desire to avoid discomfort, I am forced to bake something–anything really–for a weekly meeting I attend. And just to keep things open and honest (and doubly vulnerable) I told all the business people and friends who go the meeting about my plan to overcome my fear of baking with my weekly commitment. That way I can’t cut corners and show up with a box of donuts. (I actually tried that once and got called out by a very disappointed older accountant.) Because of that last step, I’m finding support from friends and strangers who want me to succeed. If I do well, they’ll eat well.

easy scone recipe

It’s been two weeks now since I started baking for the weekly meeting. And though I’m not quite over my fear, I do have to say I am starting to look forward to the challenge of getting over my fear of failing and, ultimately, being vulnerable. So just as long as I keep my weekly commitment to bake, I’ll have the pleasure of being alive and present for the extraordinary moment when sleepy-eyed men and women lift a scone, a slice of a tea cake, or a muffin I baked just a few hours before, up to their mouth and take their first bite.

What happens next? The good news is, I don’t know. It isn’t up to me.

*Truth be told, I’m afraid of making anything sweet.

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Orange-Cranberry Scones

This recipe has been adapted from New Basics Cookbook, one of my first cookbooks as a young-adult. This might have been the first and only thing I have ever baked, had it not been for this weekly baking commitment. Makes 8-10 scones

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

half a stick of butter, unsalted and chilled

2 eggs

1/3 cup heavy or whipping cream

2 tablespoons grated orange zest

¼ cup cranberries

*Optional: 4-6 tablespoons of turbinado sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 425˚. If you’re afraid of baking, this is the time to say a little prayer for guidance.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl or Kitchenaid. Using the machine (or two knives if you’re going old-school), mix in the butter until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Mix in the eggs one at a time. Then add the cream, the dried cranberries, and the zest.

3. Remove the dough from the bowl and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Kneed until smooth (approximately two minutes).

4. Roll out the dough to ¾ inch thickness. Cut out the scones as if you were cutting up a pie—into triangular slices. For a little sugary topping, sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

5. Space out the scone pieces on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake in the center of the oven until they are lightly golden and slightly crusty (approx. 15-20 minutes). Remove the scones from the oven and let them cool on racks.

Scones can be prepared 1-2 days ahead. Keep wrapped in plastic.

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

24 Comments

  1. You are so funny! With this, it’s irrational to be so irrational! I’ll take a couple of these. =) Beautiful.

  2. It’s funny, because I think there’s a mythology of baking — the ingredients must be precisely measured, at a precise temperature, and variations are not ALLOWED. Well, you’ve met me — I’m hardly precise. And yet I love to bake. I’m a slapdash baker — I don’t always measure by weight, sometimes I use a teaspoon from the drawer if I can’t find my measuring spoons, I throw in salt by the pinch, splash in vanilla, don’t measure the chocolate. And, with the exceptions of French Macarons, which are finicky, most things turn out pretty well, if a little “rustic” at times. If you let go of perfection, you can embrace baking too.

    • Food Woolf
      April 8
      Reply

      Kate,
      I’m happy to hear there actually is room for some slap-dashery in baking. Haven’t gotten there yet (obviously) but I look forward to that day. Suppose I’ll just have to start relying on Ruhlman and his ratios and I’ll be fine…Now to work up some confidence to tackle ratios….:)

  3. April 6
    Reply

    The scones look wonderful! Nice work! And cranberry orange is my favorite:)

  4. April 6
    Reply

    cheers to you, Brooke, for overcoming your fears. From someone who bakes to relax, your scones are beautiful (and your photography-mwah!) and I am confident that they taste as good as they look!

  5. Such a fabulous journey you are on Brooke. Breaking through the baking barrier is huge as a cook. Before you know it the techniques, ratios, baking times & everything will become as comfortable as all those entrées. I bet that group of folks will fall in love with your treats and encourage you with each & every bite :) xo Lovely scones!

  6. Brooke,

    I so enjoy reading your posts and I can so relate to this one. I too hate to be vulnerable and truth be told, I would rather make savory dishes than sweet! As I get older though, I find I am more willing to step out of my comfort zone and you are right – being vulnerable or “facing your fears and doing it anyway” is one of the keys to happiness. If those scones are any indication, you are doing an amazing job – both with your fear and your baking – I am envious of the members of your group getting to share in your success! But since I can’t be there in person, know that I am there with you in spirit, cheering – “you go girl!!!”

    • Food Woolf
      April 8
      Reply

      Nancy,
      You are so sweet. Thank you for your cheerleading. It is SO appreciated. Truly.
      Brooke

  7. I’d say you’re doing a fantastic job of overcoming that fear. One of the main reasons I started my blog was to help me master my own fears in the kitchen. I can’t say I’ve “mastered” any, but I feel much more comfortable and confident in my ability to tackle a challenge.
    Congrats again!

    • Food Woolf
      April 8
      Reply

      Merry,
      thanks for the support. It’s good to know there are other people out there using their work in the kitchen and on their blog to get over their fear. Keep on cooking! We’re in this together!

  8. April 7
    Reply

    Funny. I don’t have an irrational fear of baking. I figure if it flops, then so be it. I learn more from failure than from success. That being said, I too have irrational fears. For example. I’m afraid of cooking a turkey. Not rocket science, and yet, after one brutal experience, culminating in much laughter, I always feel that the bird is mocking me.

  9. Brooke, thanks for sharing this. I think so many of us can relate, as we’re all “not perfect” at something, (or in my case, many things). Yet we feel we must somehow be perfect. I love the idea of living in beta… instead of waiting to be perfect, just start. So glad to have met you and many of the other bloggers who’ve commented here. You’ve made my life richer! And, here’s something you might also like, a post from Seth Godin about perfect vs. interesting: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/04/perfect-vs-interesting.html

    • Food Woolf
      April 8
      Reply

      Stephanie,
      Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment and the link to Seth Godin. I really appreciate his succinct and insightful words!
      Best, Brooke

  10. April 7
    Reply

    Pasta making is mine. I’m going to tackle it eventually, though.

    • Food Woolf
      April 8
      Reply

      Dana,
      Thanks for letting me know what’s your fear…Maybe I can take on trying pasta. I’m a little nervous about that one too.

  11. Brava! Those scones look like a giant success. I know you’ll have a blast with this whole adventure.

    • Food Woolf
      April 8
      Reply

      Thanks Cathy! (and thanks for the Birthday wishes!) I’m excited to have to push myself to do new things. It’s turning out to be a pretty great thing!

  12. April 9
    Reply

    I recently wrote a post about overcoming perfection and tackling the fear of failure, so I can absolutely relate. I’d pick savory over sweet any day, but I love to eat savory pies, pastries, quiches, and strudels. I am still a novice baker, learning step by step, but the voyage has been exhilarating so far.
    I am certain that you will become a confident baker one day soon:) Cannot wait to read about it:)
    BTW, I am harboring a phobia of wasps, even though I have not been stung once in my life. I am so horrified by them that I would leave my kids and run. So embarrassing:(

  13. I’m glad you’re facing your fear head-on. The scones look great! I can’t wait to see what you bake next. P.S. I have a fear of cooking anything alive – like lobster. I’m afraid it will leap out of the pot and grab me.

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