I was surprised to learn from the comments of the recent post about my go-to cookbooks that not everyone is acquainted with the term “stress baking,” nor the virtues thereof. I’ve employed stress baking as a coping mechanism for so long that I took it for granted knowledge of the art was universal, if not universally applied.
Many people bake out of necessity, or for the joy of discovery, or as a means of artistic expression. I do none of these. When I bake (unless my kids have roped me into one of their “kitchen projects”—a euphemism if ever there was one) I do so as a means of stress relief.
It’s entirely possible that not everyone has the need for an outlet like stress baking, but for those of us to tend to live in our heads (ahem), it’s an excellent way to deal with stress, whether the variety is family drama, workplace issues, or General Overwhelm.
Baking isn’t easy, but that’s the point: it’s a precise, physical discipline that requires concentration on the task at hand, which has the added benefit of crowding out the swirling storm of thoughts in your head. It requires you to slow down and be deliberate with your actions, which yield a predictable and satisfying end.
Yet for the over-thinkers among us, baking is a different kind of hard: it requires very little decision making: a plus for anyone prone to decision fatigue. We’re talking about stress baking, not stress cooking, after all—and for good reason: cooking is improvisational, tolerant, and accommodating. Baking is exacting, formulaic, and unforgiving. Cooking readily accepts the cook’s whims; baking requires formulaic precision.
When it comes to stress relief, I have no doubt which is better suited for my own needs. Cooking may be satisfying at the end of a hard day; baking is satisfying in the midst of a hard month.
I don’t bake as much as I used to (silly gluten) but last night we had a special dinner at home, and Silas (age 4) and I made apple crisp. (We use the crisp recipe from Bread and Wine, even though we rarely make it with blueberries as prescribed) I’d planned on baking it alone while listening to Outlander book 5 (I’ve gotta chip away at those 55 hours whenever I can!), but Silas wanted to help. I don’t put headphones in when my kids are in the room, but Silas wasn’t feeling chatty, so we just stood at the kitchen counter together, largely in silence, while we studiously peeled our dozen apples (because I believe in leftovers) and mixed up our topping.
Making apple crisp is not at quite the same level as baking bread, meditation-wise. But his late-afternoon crankiness soon subsided to calm, and my fear of peeling off my own skin kept my attention on the apples, not on my to-do list. We both needed the break.
(Also worth noting: our house smelled fabulous. And Silas was heartbreakingly proud of his contribution to the family dinner.)
Of course, there are other ways to work off stress that have nothing to do with baking, although they share many of the same characteristics. Last week when I was feeling a little bit exhausted, I decided to paint the kitchen instead of tackling my to-do list. It was a physical task that required my concentration but no decisions. It required me to follow certain steps in a certain order, and yielded a predictable end result.
I felt extremely productive, and after a few hours’ work, I could say, “Look—I did that.”
I suspect stress baking isn’t far removed from angry cleaning, either. It’s missing a few key attributes (no formulas are required for organizational binges) but its shared drive to create external order out of inner (and outer) chaos makes the two cousins, at least.
Talk to use about your experience with stress baking.