Recipes · wellness

Who Knew that Baking is Therapeutic?

Since the pandemic began I’ve noticed an upsurge in baking. Friends of mine who have never enjoyed time spent in the kitchen are now posting photos of their perfect sourdough bread on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Although I created my own sourdough starter last Christmas, I’ve failed to use it. It takes such a long time to bake with natural leaven, and I haven’t had the patience. The mixture was supposed to be refrigerated, but has been sitting in my hot press ever since. It has gone off, becoming a gooey mess that needs to be dealt with soon. I plan to start over again when I get inspired. In the meantime I’m sticking with quick rise, dry yeast.

For those of you consumed with baking during the lockdown, check out Make It Dough if you haven’t already. I’ve been following this fabulous blog and Instagram account since last autumn and am amazed by Hannah’s creations. She shares tons of recipes and the lessons she’s learned while developing her baking skills. Whether it’s cookies, pasta, or bread you’d like to make at home, she has just the recipe for you. The photos alone will bring joy to food lovers like myself.

An author I follow on twitter recently posted pictures of homemade bagels and shared a link to the King Arthur recipe she used. Fresh bagels can’t be bought where I live in Ireland so that’s definitely something I’d like to try baking soon. Do you have any baking goals during quarantine? If you have any resources to share, feel free to post links to your blog or other sources in the comments section.

If you are in the non-baking camp and would prefer to read instead, pop over to the Paris Review and check out Fuck the Bread. The Bread is Over. Superb writing, reflections on life and motherhood, and fairy tales are the perfect ingredients mixed into this thought provoking essay by Sabrina Orah Mark.

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Is it just me or is anyone else wondering what’s behind the current obsession with baking bread? Whenever I go shopping, there is still bread available on the shelves. Why bother baking it at home, especially when flour seems to be scarce? My theory is that baking is therapeutic, especially bread because you knead it with your hands. There’s something in the process of pounding dough on my table that helps me unwind. During this unsettling crisis, when so much is unknown, it’s reassuring to bring life back to basics. We may not have control over Covid19, but we can determine the outcome of what we create in our kitchens.

I decided to see if there’s anything out there to back up my theory. A quick google search revealed that baking does indeed help combat anxiety and depression! Instinctively, many of us have been practicing a form of self-care to soothe ourselves during this stressful period of global calamity.

Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a clinical psychologist with a disaster stress management background and a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, San Antonio, says some of it’s just allowing yourself to be creative—adding flavor, changing color, forming shapes. Then you’ve got the sensory triggers. “The smell of spices and vanilla are comforting, and [they] often remind us of happy times. Olfactory scents are particularly linked to areas of the brain that involve emotions and memory,” she suggests. There’s also the magic of it all: “Mixing inert substances together, and watching them rise can bring out the mystic, or the chemist, in all of us.”

Humans naturally crave routine, though, and that’s what’s at the root of baking. “There is a rhythm or pattern to baking,” says Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill. “It feels familiar and can even lead to a mindful state.”

Excerpt from Baking is the Best Way to Alleviate Stress- Yes, Really by Sarah Weinberg

Read the whole awesome article on the Delish website. It explains why many psychologists believe mindfulness is key to improving mental health, and how baking can help. Best of all, I finished the article feeling encouraged to bake more cookies- it’s good for us after all!

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Some days at home are harder than others. Trying to keep everyone’s spirits up and occupy the kids can be draining. On one such day, I decided to bake muffins. Truth be told, I was down in the dumps. I would have preferred to go back to bed with a book, but that’s not an option when caring for a small child. I didn’t have the energy to play. Making a mess in the kitchen together seemed a preferable option.

Like sourdough, banana bread seems to be all the rage right now. In fact, it’s the most searched for recipe on the BBC Good Food’s website at present. Since we had a pile of overripe, black bananas attracting fruit flies, I decided to use them. They’re sweeter and more nutritious when they’re ripe. Also, I hate food waste and often sneak overripe fruit into pancakes. On this occasion I opted for muffins because they’re more of a novelty at our house.

I created my own recipe based on ingredients I had accessible. They are not particularly healthy, but they’re a comforting treat when you need a little pick me up. The fussy eaters in my family agreed that the banana muffins were delicious. If you bake them, be sure to let me know how they turn out!

Banana Muffins

Ingredients:
  • 7 oz plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 3.5 oz wholemeal flour
  • 4 oz softened butter at room temperature
  • 6 oz castor sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 overripe bananas mashed
  • 3 fl oz buttermilk (Note: I generally use yogurt in muffins, but I didn’t have any to hand. You can substitute buttermilk with whole milk by squeezing lemon juice in it and letting it sit 5 minutes).
  • 6 oz walnuts chopped
Method

Heat the oven to 180° C (350° F). Line a muffin tray with paper cases. Makes 12

Sift the white flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add the wholemeal flour.

In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Next add the vanilla, buttermilk, and mashed banana. Fold in the flour mixture and walnuts.

Divide evenly into the paper cases. Bake for 25 minutes or until they are golden and springy to touch in the center. Once removed from the oven, allow to cool on a wire rack.

Put the kettle on and enjoy with your favorite cup of tea. I can honestly say my mood improved immensely when I sat down with my children to eat these tasty treats. I hope they’ll work their magic on you too!

4 thoughts on “Who Knew that Baking is Therapeutic?

    1. That’s a good point. Yet there are so many ways we can choose to use the extra time spent at home. I thought I’d write more but I haven’t been motivated. I find I’m crafting less and baking more than expected. Yes, searching for the positives in this situation…

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  1. Since my husband and I are in our mid-eighties we do not find that the pandamic gives us extra time. We have slowed down a real lot. This is why we always are running out of time since everything takes so long to do! Maybe we see our loved ones a bit less than usual.The awful thing is, that no hugging is allowed. This is very stressful! But I can still hug my husband, which is good! 🙂

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    1. Here in Ireland everyone over 70 has had to stay inside since the lockdown began. Loss of mobility (and slowing down as you said) is the result for many. This week restrictions were lifted a bit so elderly people can go for a drive or take brief exercise outdoors as long as they avoid contact with people. I imagine it’s so isolating and the lack of hugs is really sad. I’m glad you have Peter and are managing to stay healthy!

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