Tag Archives: baking

Overcoming My Fear of Pie Crust

For years, I avoided it.

The few times I experienced it were beyond stressful.

When I was forced to switch to a gluten-free diet, it became the impossible dream.

I am referring to pie crust… specifically, making pie crust.

Pie crust was one of those life skills that I just never seemed to pick up.

Back in the pre-gluten-free days, I did give it my best shot on a few occasions trying to make normal pie crust. I would get all the ingredients ready and clear off plenty of counter space for the rolling process. But somewhere along the way, I never really got the feel for it.

To me, it seemed that there was such a narrow window of opportunity to bring pie dough across the finish line. The dough couldn’t be too wet. The dough couldn’t be too dry. And you couldn’t roll it for too long or else risk overworking the dough, resulting in a crust the texture of cardboard.

These three factors, combined with my uninspiring results, were enough to keep me away for months at a time.

Rolling the dough was the part that challenged every ounce of patience within me.

The dough would stick to the rolling pin, the counter, my utensils and my hands… everything except the pie plate to which it was supposedly destined.

I would try a light sprinkling of flour on the counter and on the rolling pin to prevent the dough from sticking, but by the time I had something resembling a fully rolled out pie shell (if I got to that point at all), it seemed like the entire kitchen was covered in a light dusting of flour.

My pies would not be complete without a side order of anger, anxiety and high blood pressure.

Needless to say, because it was an exercise in frustration that left me feeling defeated, I didn’t practice often.

I never really needed to pursue thrill-seeking sports over the years. For me, just the thought of making pie crust would get the adrenaline pumping for me in the same way that skydiving might for someone else.

One could argue that “practice makes perfect”. As my career got busier over the years, even though “practice pie crust” was a recurring item on my to-do lists, it didn’t get scratched off the list very often. If I was stressed from work, why would I stress myself further at the prospect of perpetuating my failure at making pie crust?

Also, from week to week, when time (or energy) was in short supply, I didn’t have the luxury of being able to experiment in the kitchen. My recipes needed to be a sure thing, to keep the fridge or freezer well-stocked for the week ahead.

That being the case, I just avoided making anything involving a pie crust and just stuck to cookies and squares. The bright side is that I got pretty good at those.

Fast forward to my diagnosis of a wheat intolerance (about 15 years ago). When perusing the shelves of local health food stores, I did try some of the pre-made gluten-free fruit pies and meat pies. I recall some of those early ones were OK, while others had a sandy, gritty texture that had me excusing myself from the table to get some dental floss.

I did try making a gluten-free pie crust in those early years, but the result was even more disastrous than my experience with regular pie crust. A plastic Frisbee would have been more tender and flaky.

In more recent years, the health food store gluten-free pies definitely evolved and advanced. The really good ones were a little pricey, but I indulged from time to time.

It was the convergence of retirement and having an overabundant apple tree that pushed me to give gluten-free pie crust a try again.

By that time, I had already discovered the consistently positive results I experienced with recipes that I tried from America’s Test Kitchen. I already felt hopeful that their recipe for gluten-free pie crust (with its very precise instructions) might be my ticket to pie success.

I admit that the adrenaline was indeed pumping hard as I began, but I set aside plenty of time to go through it, slowly and methodically, following every instruction to the letter. On more than one occasion, I had to remind myself to breathe as I found myself in shallow breathing mode, as the stress of the graveyard of past pies kept surfacing.

But to my great delight, the apple pie turned out perfectly.

I chalked it up to beginner’s luck, but with a positive result comes the confidence to try again!

A couple of weeks later, I decided to try a tourtière, a French-Canadian meat pie, often served at festivities around Christmas and New Year’s. I called my Mom for a refresher on the family recipe for the filling which I would incorporate into a gluten-free crust.

When I set my mind to making it, the adrenaline was pumping even harder as there was not only the pie dough itself to get right, but I could feel the weight of generations of ancestral grandmothers and great grandmothers on my shoulders, making sure I don’t screw up this traditional dish, a symbol of French-Canadian culture for a couple of centuries.

No pressure here!

Again, I followed the instructions to the letter, taking my time to remember to breathe and to re-read each word meticulously. The preparation went well. The assembly went well… In the oven it went.

As the familiar scent of Christmas permeated the kitchen, I already had a pretty good feeling about the result. When the top crust started turning a golden brown (like the apple pie did), I was already mentally high-fiving myself.

As luck would have it, it turned out beautifully. My partner and I both enjoyed it, as we did the leftovers.

With two home runs under my belt, I kept going. With the leftover pie dough I made apple turnovers which turned out deliciously. I made another half recipe of pie dough to make a couple of single serving tourtière pot pies (using the meat that was left over from the big tourtière) which turned out great.

Not only can I say I conquered my fear of making pie crust, but I have awoken a curiosity to expand the repertoire into other types of pies, pot pies and pastries.

Fortunately, with retirement, I now have the free time to explore the possibilities and to play in the kitchen.

I plan on practicing more, but I will be staying in my lane, keeping up with the gluten-free pie crust recipe that has worked so well for me.

Will I ever go back to trying to make a conventional (non-gluten-free) one? With the experience and confidence that came with making gluten-free ones, perhaps someday the inspiration, curiosity and courage will be in sufficient supply to want to try normal pie crust again. Time will tell.

Either way, I think I have overcome my fear!

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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50 Reasons Why I Love Baking

1. Baking can be an “in the moment” experience. It is difficult to ruminate over an issue, when one is busy measuring and following directions, while keeping an eye on the clock and the oven.
2. To me, baking can be a relaxing experience.
3. Baking is an opportunity to develop new skills or to work on existing ones.
4. I love that baking can be broken down into many individual disciplines and learning opportunities.
5. I love that I have succeeded in folding egg whites without completely deflating batter.
6. I love that baking is something for which I am passionate enough to make the time to keep trying.
7. Baking is an opportunity to develop intuition for what will work and what won’t.
8. Baking is an opportunity to experiment with different ingredients.
9. Baking is an opportunity to take a favourite recipe and to try to “embellish” it with different flavours.
10. Baking is the closest I will ever get to becoming a scientist, meticulously combining different ingredients and relying on their chemical properties to achieve grand results.
11. I love baking because I know exactly what goes into a recipe.
12. I love baking because I don’t use ingredients that I cannot pronounce. Continue reading

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How I Organized My Kitchen on a Budget

“A place for everything and everything in its place” was the advice I was given as a child when I misplaced something, which I have to admit was often enough.

But whenever I had a chance to put things in order and to give things a designated spot (and I made sure to return the objects to their designated spot after use), it seemed that losing, misplacing and hunting for things became a rare occurrence. Mom and Dad’s advice was proven right, again and again.

I was working in the kitchen a few days ago when I realized that my kitchen was not following that mantra. I had teas scattered in three different cupboards. I had bags of bulk store products piled on top of one another and sliding off each other. Even my cat’s cupboard was becoming an avalanche-waiting-to-happen.

My spring cleaning instinct went into overdrive. It was time to tame these cupboards and get the kitchen organized once and for all!

It’s not like I’ve never done this before. A few years ago, I containerized the different kinds of gluten-free flour I needed, just to keep them clearly identified and organized. Gluten-free recipes were a breeze when I could tell my tapioca starch from the potato starch, and the white rice flour from the sweet rice flour. Every time I baked or brought back more flour from the store, I was so thankful that I had this section so neatly organized.

It was time to apply the same makeover technique to the rest of the kitchen. Continue reading

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The Hunt for Gluten-Free Fruit Cake – 2017 Edition

Regular readers probably know that I have my moments where I might be considered a bit of an oddball, especially when it comes to my borderline-obsessive love of fruit cake. It hasn’t always been that way though.

When I was younger I would have a couple of pieces from the overflowing tray of treats passed around the table at Christmas, and I’d be set for the year.

But it was in my body’s rejection of gluten a decade ago, that I had to stop all foods involving wheat flour including fruit cake.

For something that I only ate once per year, it wasn’t a catastrophic loss, but with each passing Christmas after that, I grew to miss the tradition that much more. I also grew to appreciate it as one of life’s simple pleasures at the most wonderful, most festive time of the year.

A few years ago, I even wrote a poem about my hunt for the perfect gluten-free fruit cake. It wasn’t easy. The hunt, not the poem.

Around here, not a lot of stores sell gluten-free fruit cake and for the ones that do, I found the experience to be a very pricey one and sometimes a disappointing one. I remember one in particular that lived up to all of the hype and negative connotations about heavy and dry fruit cakes, and added a few more.

Then inspiration hit. How hard can it be to make gluten-free fruit cake for myself? Continue reading

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Top 10 Remedies for “I’m Cold”

cold-weather-gear

It’s November and we all know what that means… I’m cold! And if history repeats itself, that also means I will stay that way until mid-March.

I sometimes think it is Mother Nature’s way of telling me that it goes against nature to be out and about over these frosty months. But then reality kicks in, along with the realization that I still need to work for a living, which then sends me outside, grudgingly braving another winter.

Over the years, friends and family members who may have had an accidental run-in with my permafrost hands or glacial feet suggested that I bring the condition to the attention of a doctor, before they contact a mortician to confirm that I am in fact alive.

I have to agree though. My hands can get so cold sometimes, even the cat won’t play with me.

To the disbelief of my inner circle, the medical community has concluded that everything is actually normal with me.

With that verdict in, I have had to adjust and to find ways to get warm and to stay warm, even if it means a commitment to a life of layered looks and thermal wear, outdoors and indoors.

Here they are, the top 10 remedies for when “I’m cold” Continue reading

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A Christmas Story

Back in 1995, one of our local newspapers, The Ottawa Sun, held a contest in which they asked readers to send in their best “Holiday Horror Stories”. Despite the title, they were just looking for lighthearted stories recounting when holiday festivities didn’t go as planned. I knew exactly which story to tell, and that was the holiday of 1992 when Murphy’s Law was alive and well at my apartment! I decided to put my true story to prose to give it a little more of a comedic lilt. Sure enough, I made it to the winner’s circle and the Sun published a few excerps from the poem. My prize was tickets to a fabulously swanky New Year’s Eve bash. Unfortunately, Murphy wasn’t finished with me yet, and I came down with an ear infection and couldn’t go.

I still get a chuckle when I read this one, and I hope you enjoy it too!

A Christmas Story (written in December 1995)

T’was the morning of Christmas in 1992,
When I woke in the morning with a lousy flu,
“What rotten timing, oh please go away”,
I thought to myself as I started the day. Continue reading

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Determined to make it to Christmas on time!

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I was punctual in every sense of the word. It didn’t matter if it was for an appointment, for assignments that were due, getting renewals done on time, paying bills and taxes… I was always, always, always on time!

The fact is that I am not the kind of person who works well under the pressure of a short deadline. I like advance notice. Frankly, the more the merrier. I like the time to organize, plan, think it through, give it time to “ferment”, execute, review and to try to make it my best work possible.

I have always been like that even as far back as high school and university and it still applies in my day-to-day work life too. Unfortunately in today’s reality, you don’t always have the luxury of time to provide your absolute best work when you have 50 other things to do before 5 pm. I never feel that the last minute stuff is my best work, but I am often told that my “good enough” is pretty good! So compromise can be good, at least I am not spending days working on something that can be “good enough” after a couple of hours’ effort.

Anyway, this applies across the board, including Christmas. You would think that with a set date every year, it should be easy for me to pull out a templated project plan, reset a few dates and voilà, I should be ready for Christmas long before the date… Unfortunately, that USED to be the case. Continue reading

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