Why are we all baking?
I was speaking to one of my psychotherapy clients a couple of weeks ago, and he wryly wondered why everyone he knows is making sourdough. I haven’t succumbed to sourdough yet, but to be honest it’s probably only a matter of time given that I’ve run out of dry yeast and it can’t be got for love nor money. Like many others, I have jumped on the isolation baking bandwagon. I’m not new to baking, but much like a good dough my baking output has probably risen to twice or three times the normal level in recent weeks.
In my work I’m always looking for meaning. My client’s droll question drove me to think about why so many of us are baking right now, so I did a deep dive into some of the whys behind my own baking that might make sense for others too.
We are not in control of a lot right now. Uncertainty abounds. Baking is something of an antithesis to this. It might feel like the world is in the middle of an uncontrollable disaster, but your kitchen can be the orderly opposite of that. Gather together your ingredients, put them together in the way the recipe says and, by and large, you control a process that results in the outcome you expected. Actually, you could argue that baking makes the baker feel like something of a magician who takes a collection of random ingredients and magically turns them into a successful - not to mention delicious - end product.
I find myself using recipes from my childhood regularly. I suspect the reason for this is not just because they taste great, but also because on some level I am connecting with another, safer, less worrying time.
Mindfulness, or paying attention to the present moment, is easier said than done. Our minds have a way of dragging us elsewhere, usually to nagging worries, what ifs, or similar. Baking is, at its core, a practice in mindfulness. It’s a reassuring ritual and almost without knowing it, you focus on the task at hand. You concentrate on weighing out flour instead of worrying. You focus on how many eggs you’ve added instead of addling your mind with anxieties.
The bread I bake is used for lunchtime sandwiches to nourish my loved ones and myself. The scones I make are a comforting treat with a cup of tea after a challenging day. In a simple way, I am caring for myself and my family in one of the small ways I can. I am covering us with a warm blanket of culinary love.
Baking is also a language of love and a connection with the outside world. A couple of weeks ago I was lamenting on the phone to a friend that I didn’t have much flour left but didn’t want to trek around multiple shops to find more on my next grocery shopping expedition as it seemed pretty elusive. A couple of days later I opened my door to see two massive bags of flour, which my friend had picked up for me after happening upon them in a shop I would not usually be in.
An old housemate who lives in Sydney shared her favourite easy bread recipe last week after I posted a picture of a less-than-amazing bread that took a lot of effort. I have passed on recipes that have worked out for me to others I know will appreciate it.
Baking and love are intertwined.
It can be easy to take on an all-or-nothing mentality and colour everything in life right now in a shade inspired by coronavirus. But baking lets me focus on little things and be thankful for them - like having ingredients, having an internet connection to look for new recipes, having delicious food to eat while safe in my own home, having friends to share recipes with etc.
Patience and acceptance
While baking, you have to cultivate patience and let things unfold at their own pace, particularly if you’re planning on making sourdough! It’s also a lesson in acceptance. Sometimes, things don’t work out. Your result looks nothing like the Instagram picture. You forgot an ingredient and the whole thing is fit for nothing but the bin. Frustrating as it is, these failures are manageable because, at the end of the day, it’s only a cake/buns/bread/biscuits.
In contrast to the patience I’ve just spoken about, baking is still relatively quick and offers a resolution - whether successful or not - way faster than the open-ended coronavirus conundrum we don’t know when we’ll see resolved.
What's the why behind your baking?