December 24, 2014

How to offend with Christmas baking

I'm not talking about trying to foist glutenous baking products on those going gluten-free, whether for faddish or actual medical reasons. That's one thing, in and of itself.

Rather, I'm talking about pouring booze into Christmas baked goods, then foisting them off on others unannounced. Whether for recovering alcoholics or people who abstain for religious or other reasons, this is a no-no ... and an insult, especially if you have some vague idea you shouldn't do this, and yet you do it anyway.

(That said, the problem can go beyond Christmas, and beyond baked goods; see below.)

What's prompted this outrage is the Washington Post posting a recipe for a vodka-laced pie crust. I originally just shared this on Facebook, but decided I wanted to do more.

I want this specific recipe first, then go to the larger issue.

Other non-water substances, like lemon juice, will do the same trick, based on the acid in the lemon juice. Plus, it will taste better. I believe this is the same type of physical chemistry as that used in curdling milk for cooking, and I know that lemon juice is the normal "tool" for that.

And, because of that fact, I have further issue with a professional science writer passing this around on Facebook (her FB page is set to "public" on normal comments, therefore not violating any confidences, per my social media ethics) without noting that, too. (I've Tweeted her, and the WaPost writer, who writes the Post's science blog, on what follows in this blog post; we'll see if either one responds.)

It's so "sciency," but, it's not good science if there are better alternatives.

Meanwhile, to the recovering alcoholics and religious, and holiday baking in general.

Baking, unlike sauteeing, does not cook out all the alcohol in a recipe. Not even close.

Estimates vary, and there's also variation based on the type of baked good, cooking time, etc. But, generally, around one-quarter to one-half of the alcohol will remain in rum balls, a vodka-laced pie crust, etc. I mean, the article itself mentions that, according to, only to then dismiss it as a trivial concern.
Don't worry about serving your boozy pie to young or abstaining holiday guests: The heat of the oven will burn off most of the alcohol.

Picture saying, instead:
I'm putting some gluten in what's otherwise gluten-free. Don't worry, the baking process will spread most of it around.
Or this:
Or, I know that you're down to a no-nicotine vapor juice for your e-cigarettes, but I put some nicotine in this one flavor just to "enhance" it. Don't worry, it's really not that much.
Can you now see what an insult this is? 

So, depending on the amount of booze used, and how much of the baked good a person eats, this could be a serious issue. From here on, I'm focusing on recovering alcoholics, not religious abstainers.

And, in that "most of the alcohol" will burn off issue, we've just addressed ethyl alcohol, not the flavor of alcoholic beverages.

While vodka is more neutral, most spirits — as in the rum of those rum balls — have some sort of flavor. Flavors can themselves be a trigger for people early in sobriety recovery. (I have spit out [politely] or otherwise refused to eat, alcohol-laced foods, that I didn't know in advance were "laced.") And, on flavors, sauteeing doesn't cook out all the rum flavor, or all the wine flavor. And, simple sub-boiling parboiling certainly doesn't do that. Wine-infused spaghetti sauces are a big issue, and, per that link, retain a fair amount of alcohol as well as flavor.

Simple suggestion?

1. Don't do this in cases where it's unnecessary, like the pie crust.
2. Where it is necessary, like rum balls, which have their name for a reason, carefully identify them as such to guests, office co-workers, friends, etc.
3. Don't think recovering alcoholic friends are being "picky" if they ask about unlabeled foods; if you're a real friend, that thought shouldn't cross your mind in the first place.
4. If these recipes, like the myth of the value of resveratrol, are "excuses" for you to do a lot of alcohol-based holiday cooking ... maybe you should take a closer self-examination. I would include under this rubric claiming some alcohol-related baking is more "sciency" than it actually is.

And, if you can't do this, I can write a second post called "How to offend with insisting you're right with Christmas baking ideas."

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