The Coronavirus pandemic and the associated lockdown seems to be resulting in a lot of baking.
As someone who bakes regularly, I subscribe to a number of sites and groups on the subject, and the recent surge in numbers and the types of questions popping up show that there are a great number of newbies jumping on the baking bandwagon.
Well, why wouldn’t you? The potential for expanding waistlines aside, baking can be a wonderful pastime. Bread making without a dedicated bread making machine can be a long, therapeutic process with a lovely reward at the end. Baking your own sweets and desserts can mean that when you choose to have a sweet treat, you have control of what is going into your body. You can forgo the artificial preservatives, additives and sweeteners, select better quality ingredients and control the amount of refined sugar (if you choose to use it at all). There are also many savoury recipes out there for bakers to enjoy, where again, you can choose to control fat, sugar and salt content and ensure that good ingredients are the order of the day.
Another benefit for baking as a pastime is that it does not have to be expensive. Many great recipes consist of a collection of relatively low cost, long lasting ingredients that are easy to come by and require a minimum of equipment. That said, panic buying and then the “fashion” of baking has meant that in some areas, stocks of the basic baking ingredients have come to be low.
Baking is also relatively simple. Whilst there are many complicated recipes out there, beginners have a wealth of choice when it comes to very basic recipes that will give you great results. As such, it’s also a great activity to share with children. There are many easy aspects of baking that even very little people can share in. My son has been “helping” with baking since he was very young. It might just start with having an extra wooden spoon with me in the bowl at age two, but at eleven he can pretty much run the show with many different kinds of recipes such as muffins, biscuits, cookies and more.
Baking can also create a lovely sense of human connection. As we’re often baking “treat” and “comfort” foods they’re always a little extra special. It is wonderful to be able to share them with family, friends, colleagues and community (although that’s a a little trickier right now). The sharing of recipes can be just as lovely too, and there’s along history of recipes creating connections between generations, between community members, and even uniting whole countries through recipe loyalty and patriotism. Food can create great stories and memories of sharing, both food and time.
I think the turn to baking in this unusual time of global pandemic might come down to a few things. One is time. With out-of-the-home commitments at an all time low, people have more time on their hands. Some people are using the opportunity to spend time doing something that don’t normally have time for, whilst others are simply bored and need a hobby with a happy ending. Also, the initial surge of “panic buying” seemed to see many households well stocked up with the basics required for baking, even if they weren’t normally inclined to do it. With time available and the products at hand, it’s a logical progression. I also believe stressful situations can lead people to turn back to concepts and ideas of simple living - a “return to the roots”, so to speak - and with it concepts and ideas of cooking from scratch and the home-comfort recipes we remember from older relatives coming easily to mind.
I’m really enthusiastic about people learning new things and think that baking is a great talent to have. However, as with most fads and fashions, I am concerned that many people are making it more complicated than it needs to be and we should all be mindful (as hopefully we try to be in all aspects of our lives) about wastefulness and responsible use of resources. Whilst we might now be attracted to the simple, “from scratch” lifestyle, we need to realise that to get that feeling requires a mindset, not a big bunch of purchases. Just let it be a good, wholesome full-body experience rather than a fashionable Insta opportunity. It should just be easy, fun…. and delicious.
Just remember a few things to keep your new hobby simple - a lot of advertisers are working hard to keep us buying even when we are not physically going to the shops under these unusual circumstances and it can be more attractive than ever to purchase unnecessary items.
Tips to enjoying baking as a (simple) new hobby:
Don’t eat yourself sick.
The old Personal Trainer is going to pop out from me at this point. If you eat a whole lot of calories and don’t burn them off, you are going to put on body fat, however healthy your food choices are. Excess body fat can lead to increased health risks and a huge number of illnesses. We want our bodies to be in the ultimate fighting condition with the genuine threat of a physical illness like Coronavirus in on our doorstep.
Baking does not require too many fancy items.
Unless you’re going to take it up as a long term venture, you don’t need to make any big investments in fancy equipment to do most basic baking. There are many appliances that can help you along the way, but for a short term hobby don’t clutter your bank statement or cupboard. Get into it and do it the simplest way, even if it’s a slightly longer way. Even if it turns out that the hobby stands the test of time, having had the experience of making recipes in the most basic way gives you a better understanding of the process. Having foundational knowledge means that you can make more informed equipment purchases for the future. You don’t need a big stand mixer, great piles of trays, a library of recipe books or elaborate decorating accessories to get started. You may even want to consider borrowing items to get a taste of a new hobby. Most baking utensils are very easy to safely clean and sanitise to borrow or pickup as a second hand purchase. If the internet is available to you, there are thousands of recipes at your fingertips. Or maybe you can call a friend, your Mum or your Grandma - make a human connection and ask for those old family recipes.
Don’t run before you can walk.
You don’t have to try and be a Masterchef overnight. Early failures can really dampen your enthusiasm. Most of the best recipes are the easiest. Start with 3 ingredient scones, choc-chip cookies or muffins and leave the croquembouche or soufflé for a little further down the track.
Measure your ingredients carefully.
Beginner’s baking is not the time for free-styling. Weigh the ingredients when you can. Remember that the actual size of volume measurements like cups and spoons can vary in different countries (eg An American “cup” is not the same as an Australian “cup”). Grams and millimetres are the most reliable! If you are getting your recipes from an overseas website, just make sure any conversions are done first.
Look up terms that you don’t know.
There is a difference between beating, mixing and folding… If you are not familiar with some of the cooking terms, quickly looking them up might make all the difference to the success of your recipe.
Understand your ingredients
Read Carefully (eg. Baking Soda is NOT the same as Baking Powder). If you are missing some ingredients you can often find a substitute, but don’t guess at it. Sometimes you can omit or change the quantity of an ingredient, but other times it will be disastrous. In baking, little changes can create big issues. Again, recipes from overseas can add some confusion (eg. The US does not use “plain” flour, they use “all purpose” flour). Let Google be your friend and do a little research if anything is unclear.