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Foodie Rant - Who's Afraid of Flour?

By Anthony Todd in Food on Dec 7, 2010 8:00PM

FearofBaking.jpg Joanne Chang, the owner of Boston's Flour Bakery and Cafe, has been writing an excellent series for the Atlantic on baking and pastry. Her message? Don't be afraid of pastry! I need to read these articles because (gulp) I am a little bit scared of pastry. When I'm around other home cooking geniuses, I often feel like I am at an AA meeting; "Hello, my name is Anthony, and I'm terrified of baking." I can whip up some great Toll House cookies, and I actually make a pretty amazing shortbread. But ask me to bake anything beyond cookies and i start to break out in fear-induced hives. Despite my many articles on pastry cooks and my general proficiency at savory cooking, put a bag of flour in my hand and I start quaking in my boots.

Why is this? Well, I consulted with a couple fellow non-bakers to clarify the answers. Baking is filled with unfamiliar ingredients and specialized equipment . Flour is strange stuff to the uninitiated, and I don't own a brioche mold! Heck, I might not recognize a brioche mold if someone hit me with one! Baking is messy, especially if you don't know what you are doing - sugar everywhere, plastic bags tied around the sink handles and cake batter all over the floor.

Chang tells us all to man up, in a very nice way. She lays out several basic instructions to try to get us over our fears. First, read the recipe! Baking is precise in a way that savory cooking is not - everything is measured out for a reason. If you follow the recipe, success, while not assured, is much more likely. Even better, read the recipe in advance, several times. As Chang reminds us, "The GPS lady plaintively informs you she is "recalculating" if you make a wrong turn, in baking it's not possible to un-whisk the sugar into the eggs if you put in too much or un-bake the cake if it stays in the oven too long." Remember that mistakes and disasters are often edible, even in another format - I remember one embarrassing evening when home-made ice cream became home-made malted milk on the spur of the moment. Lastly, pay attention. Baking, pastry chefs tell us, is soothing and wonderful because it requires your full attention - don't watch TV or gossip on the phone. Just measure, mix and bake.

Photo by Drew Baker.