I met up with a girlfriend for dinner and, like I do, handed her a Ziploc bag filled with something I had just baked.
Chocolate chip cookies, maybe. Or it could have been banana muffins. Either way, she was the happy recipient of something I had recently whipped up in my kitchen the sleepless night before.
She smiled, then cocked her head and looked at me. “Do you bake, like, ALL the time?”
I didn’t actually think so. But if you follow me on Instagram (@catherinetoth) or are friends with me on Facebook, you probably think I run a small commercial bakery on the side.
Turns out, I probably bake more than most people but far less than you think, if that makes sense.
I tend to bake when I’m stressed or I can’t sleep — which, lately, has been often. You don’t have to think much while you’re baking, though measuring ingredients — no, I don’t weigh them! — and following instructions do force you to pay attention. And I know at the end of it, I’ll have something I can share with others. That’s always a plus.
I can remember baking as a child, mixing flour, sugar and butter in a small plastic bowl with matching spatula — a toy set my parents had given me. I was making shortbread cookies in a toaster oven — the extent, at the time, of my patisserie skills. I couldn’t have been older than eight, and already I had a genuine love for the craft.
My mom is a phenomenal baker, as anyone who’s been lucky enough to sample her goods can attest, and I’m sure her passion rubbed off on me. There was nothing more fun than spending the afternoon in the kitchen with my mom, learning how to make the perfect cookie dough or flaky pie crust (something I still haven’t mastered). I loved going through her cookbooks, preferably if they had photos in them, and imagining how these beautiful works of confectionary art tasted, how they smelled. It was my little fantasy world.
Throughout my life, I baked. Along with taking photos — another lifelong passion, this one inherited from my father — baking was something I had always done. Cookies, pies, cheesecakes, cupcakes, cake pops, mochi, banana muffins, pumpkin bread, batches of deadly brownies — whatever I was craving, I baked.
I remember one of my proudest baking accomplishments: I was probably around 12 years old and had wanted to bake something special for my mom, who, despite her talents with the hand-mixer, wasn’t hard to please. She always appreciated any attempts we made to feed her, and I wasn’t worried about letting her down. But I did secretly want to impress her. I had remembered her always saying that making a cake from scratch was tough. In fact, she almost exclusively used cake mixes (as her base) whenever she baked cakes, saying, “Ah, they’re good enough.” So I wanted to try and make something even she found difficult. I found a recipe for a simple white cake — like a traditional wedding cake — and did my best to measure the ingredients accurately and to not overmix the batter — things I had learned from her. It turns out just fine, moist and delicate. I remember my mom seeming so impressed, and that stayed with me to this day.
I’ve never made that simple white cake again, and I doubt it was even that good. (Moms always gush over whatever their daughters bake for them, right?) But I haven’t forgotten that feeling of accomplishing something I had anticipated would be difficult and, even better, making my mom beam with maternal pride.
I love it when people are happy, and people seem to be happiest when eating something delicious. They smile, they gush, they moan (in a good way), and knowing you were part of that joy is completely addictive.
So why do I love to bake? Because people love to eat. And that’s been enough for me.
I love to bake. I’m always baking for my family and friends. I love being able to share my passion with others. I love how food just has a way of bringing people together. It’s a great comforter. I love that you can learn about different cultures through food.
CAT: I don’t think so much that it is baking that you enjoy but the process of creating something from raw materials. Like any endeavor, if it has a creative side, it is enjoyable. Even more so when others enjoy your creation. Be it baking, cooking, writing, art, or even love (you do create another being), when it is done with elan, it is a fascinating process.
A few years ago someone asked me that question. My answer was somewhat along the same line as yours:
Whenever I’m stressed or need to unwind, I bake. Measuring out ingredients for dough, fighting with crusts for cheesecake or whipping up ganache for cupcakes forces me to focus on the task at hand and gives me a break from the abyss that is my mind.
Yes, I weigh out ingredients whenever possible. Not only is it more accurate when dealing with flour, there are less items to wash when I’m done.
Kneading bread dough by hand for the 10-15 minutes required is also relaxing. So much so, that an inherited bread machine has never made it from the garage into my kitchen.
But while baking gives me a respite from reality, my poor roommate is “forced” to deal with the aftermath. She has to be in a wedding in a couple of weeks and apparently I’m killing her discipline.
Baking is a skill, you can’t fix it if you mess up not not cooking, you can fix it to taste guud. If you mess up baking, you have to start over. So you must be really guud!
I suspect baking for you is like playing music for me – it’s moving meditation. It forces you to concentrate on what you’re doing, and keeps your mind off whatever’s stressing you.
Hey Cat … ahhh … the science of baking … are you more analytical than artistic??? … an exacting person??? … haha!!! … my kind of gal …
… we tend to think of baking as a creative outlet … but really it’s more about precision … you can be creative on the adornments … the frosting, the sprinkles, the splash of color …
… you can’t really mess with recipe … the “formula” must be followed … or else …
… but I like to think of cookies and brownies as cake mistakes that were pleasantly good …
… and flatbread must have been a mistake, right??? …
So, are there recipes that you will share, Cat? 😀
definitely a great reason to keep baking!