Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pastry Proposal

Dear NinjaBaker,

I have a proposal for you:

Hypothesis: I can tell the difference between pastry made with butter vs. shortening, specifically butter-flavored, but you cannot.

Background: Pastry has several attributes, among them taste and texture. It seems intuitive that taste is a function primarily of ingredients, whereas texture is a function both of ingredients and technique. Technique, while not difficult, is directly related to experience making pastry. Therefore to explore the above hypothesis, I propose that we perform an experiment while you are home for the Thanksgiving holiday (either during your weekend "hang-out" time allotted here, or elsewhen.)

Experimental design: Each of us will prepare two batches of pastry (utilizing the same recipe, of course), one using butter (unsalted; pre-softened at room temperature) and one using butter-flavored commercially available shortening. Each pastry batch will then be rolled into an oblong, spread with melted butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, rolled up and sliced into slabs of a pre-determined, agreed-upon thickness, and baked in an appropriately pre-heated oven for an adequate period of time.

This 2 x 2 matrix design allows us to control for both the variables of ingredient and technique. Comparative, paired taste tests both of dough aliquots and finished cinnamon swirls will seek outcome measures not of "which is better" but "are they different," yielding binary yes-no results, as opposed to having to devise a quantitative scale of how good they are.

Blinding: Each batch will be labeled with a letter (me/butter: A, you/butter: B, me/Crisco: C, you/Crisco: D.) We will then generate a numbered list of paired samples to be provided for us blindly and in a random order by either Darling Spouse or one of your siblings. I recommend using milk (white) as a palate cleanser between samples, although further preliminary research could be conducted comparing chocolate milk, hot chocolate, water and orange juice for this purpose.

IRB review: This study has not been presented to this institution's ethics committee regarding research involving humans, because this institution ("Home") does not have one. However, I did ask the cats, and they couldn't care less.

Analysis of Data: to be determined

If nothing else, we'll wind up with a shitload of cinnamon swirls.

What say you?


At Fri Nov 21, 06:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can offer several test subjects who can help scientifically analyze the data.

As long as there is milk.

At Fri Nov 21, 07:05:00 AM, Blogger Elaine said...

Me too, me too!

At Fri Nov 21, 08:10:00 AM, Blogger Dustin said...

Now that's my kind of experiment! Sounds tasty!

At Fri Nov 21, 08:21:00 AM, Blogger Cheryll said...

So, okay, it appears that this clinical trial will have no trouble recruiting volunteers!

Thanks for the holiday smile, Dino.

At Fri Nov 21, 08:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be in your neck of the woods for Thanksgiving. My son, husband, and myself can add 3 to your sample size.

At Fri Nov 21, 09:18:00 AM, Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

3rd year vet stud: email me (sidebar under "contact")

At Fri Nov 21, 10:02:00 AM, Blogger Alpine, R.N. said...

Make sure you have a thermometer to test "room temperature" as optimal baking is achieved with butter about 65 degrees, according to Reputable Scientific Sources.

At Fri Nov 21, 10:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your experiment has been approved. You will have access to such resources as the pantry and a grant of up to $50 from your bank account to purchase any extra materials required at the supermarket of your choosing.'s a good thing your kids like this type of experimentation rather than this type

At Fri Nov 21, 10:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose I couldn't talk the two of you in to participating in the Family Holiday 2008 Bakeathon...?

(Basically, we get together at someone's house, bake up a storm and drink/gossip/snack all damn day.)

We have sausage rolls, chocolate-covered pretzels, booze balls and oatmeal fudge cookies on the menu this far.

At Fri Nov 21, 11:04:00 AM, Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

CLP: Count me/us in. We can offer blintzes, mushroom strudel (a la TBTAM), cinnamon swirls, linzer torte, or something else.

At Fri Nov 21, 01:04:00 PM, Blogger Eric, AKA The Pragmatic Caregiver said...


As I told DrSmak, cheat! Use freezer-cold vodka to replace 1/2 of your cold water volume while making the pastry. Ethanol wets the ingredients, but doesn't contribute to gluten formation like water does. Your pastry will be magically tender, yet wet enough to roll out like you would *not* believe. You could also mess with the results by using a low-pH cultured butter like Celles sur Belle or Plugra - the pH reduction contributes to tenderness and the higher fat content leads to flakier pastry. I'll stoop to any level to make hydrogenated fats look bad. ;0)

I had a marathon bake the other day - two half-sheets each of brownies, oatmeal bars, peach-almond squares, seven-layer bars and pumpkin spice bars with cream cheese frosting, then three lemon Bundt cakes. *whew*

I wish my friends did fun things like cranky's shindig. I'm the only person I know who scratch bakes. =0(

At Fri Nov 21, 04:09:00 PM, Blogger Stefan said...


At Fri Nov 21, 05:04:00 PM, Blogger ccinnkeeper said...

Oh dear. I could completely mess up your judging with one simple sentence, something a baking instructor said to me years ago that I've never forgotten.

I won't do it, but feel free to ask me about it after the weekend. What I will suggest is that you sample all batches both warm and at room temperature and record the results.

Just F.Y.I., I don't even keep solid shortening in my kitchen. I won't use it, not even for pie crust. And this has been true since before hydrogenization was shown to create potentially harmful compounds. It all goes back to what that baking instructor said.

At Sat Nov 22, 03:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Food! l am on my where... err where am l heading to by the way?

At Sat Nov 22, 10:22:00 AM, Blogger Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

As an IRB member, I am disturbed that your research protocol does not include a written informed consent.

Subjects will need to be informed of the risks associated with intake of high fat pastry as well as the risks that come with hydrogenated oils, the caloric surplus they will experience, and the risk of future addiction to cinnamon rolls.

You will also need to include the boilerplate statement that while they themselves may not experience a benefit, this study will benefit society as a whole and future cinnamon roll eaters.

Of course, the protocol will need to be submitted to my IRB, along with samples of said cinnamon rolls, prior to commencement of the study, so I suggest you get baking.

At Sat Nov 22, 12:13:00 PM, Blogger Lynn Price said...

I'm so showing up at Cranky's house.

At Sat Nov 22, 01:31:00 PM, Blogger Eric, AKA The Pragmatic Caregiver said...

TBTAM - shouldn't there also be a section as to the remedies available to those who are injured by the consumption of waxy, pale, wan Crisco-infused pastry?

At Sat Nov 22, 10:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seeing is believing: my mom (now 90) and her 12 sisters and brothers who all lived into their 90's (oldest 94) ALWAYS baked and fried (ham, pork chops, steaks, fish, etc.)with Crisco. NO diabetes, no heart disease, all ran low blood pressure and more importantly no cancer deaths!!

At Mon Dec 01, 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Bookhorde said...

Darn, you should have posted this when we were looking for a science fair project! :)
Afaiac, there's no real reason to ever use shortening for baking. Either use butter or lard. They don't have trans-fats and they're not as "manufactured". Fake food never satisfies.


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