Everybody is pandemic baking. Twitter tags, articles and YouTube videos have popped up since March with the sole purpose of teaching you how to make the best loaf in lock-down. You may have heard there is a widespread flour shortage, and some home bakers are worried the world is running out of yeast. (Don’t worry, that’s not possible.)
The unusual conditions created by the coronavirus pandemic — global lock-downs, massive job losses, widespread panic and social turbulence — have left many of us with too much time and too few emotional resources on our hands. Stuck at home, the days blending into each other, some have turned to baking as a way of managing stress.
Indeed, mixing, kneading, whisking and measuring ingredients to create the perfect loaf can have positive effects on our mood and equip us with the resources we need to make it through the pandemic.
A sense of purpose
A complicated overnight project, like making French pastry from scratch, can give one a sense of purpose and a pleasant anticipation for the next day. People report that watching their newest creation rise and brown in the oven helps them feel productive and useful.
If you’re into sourdough baking, you know that the starter is a living thing. You need to feed it regularly and keep it warm. It doesn’t like a too-hot or too-cold environment and, if not given enough attention, it won’t rise properly. Especially if you live alone and have been self-isolating for months, taking care of your starter can be a welcome source of purpose in your daily life.
Baking is often a lengthy process. Sourdough fermentation can take up to 72 hours, depending on how developed you want the flavours to be. Over mixing your batter will give you chewy, bready muffins. Rising dough takes a long time, too, and you can’t rush these things.
The pandemic has turned the fast pace of our old lives into a distant memory. For many of us, it has also revealed our own impatience to ourselves. Getting through this will require cultivating resilience and patience, and baking is a very rewarding way to do that.
Give the anxious mind a break
According to chef Nigella Lawson, “one of the ways to interrupt anxiety is to let other senses take over.” Baking is a highly sensory experience. This is especially wonderful when your mind has too much going on, but your body is going nowhere.
Your hands must knead and stretch the dough, or whisk the merengue into oblivion (or stiff peaks, if you’re following the recipe). Your eyes enjoy the colour patterns created by mixing different ingredients, and your mouth waters as you take the final result out of the oven.
The building blocks of everyday life have moved almost entirely online. Work, school, meeting friends and family, dating and shopping are now 100% digital experiences that leave us both overstimulated and deprived.
Human beings have a hard time thriving in this kind of world. We need to be able to touch, smell, taste, hear. We like it when the fruits of our labour are palpable and concrete, and baking gives us just that. It brings a different, deeper sense of satisfaction to our largely-online lives.
Where to start
If I’ve convinced you to pick up baking for its therapeutic effects, here are some recipes you can start with. These are engaging enough to feel like a fun challenge, but fool-proof, ensuring that you feel proud of your tasty creations, right from the start.
Try a citrusy banana bread, for a twist on an old classic, or an in-season rhubarb pie. I also recommend this super-easy make-in-the-pan chocolate cake. In my experience, it’s more of a single-bowl recipe, but still very beginner-friendly.
If you have some sourdough starter on hand, you’ve likely already planned what to do with it this week. Let me give you a couple of ideas for later. This is my favourite chocolate cake recipe and it uses starter instead of baking soda for the rise. Also, this sourdough focaccia is perfectly delicious and a great starting point for bread-making.
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