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*.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.