Two and a half years deep into the pandemic, most of us are more than used to reading about the therapeutic benefits of baking bread from scratch, the weird cakes of Instagram, and the people who turned their pandemic baking habit into a full-time business.
Even if baking hasn’t solved every issue we’ve experienced during the pandemic, the trend wave did push a lot of people to challenge themselves in the kitchen: from beverages made of sourdough discard to picturesque homemade pretzels, many of us found ourselves attempting to make things we’d never have dreamed we’d have the energy or time to take on. With most of us returning to some semblance of pre-pandemic life, however, how many home bakers will keep up the momentum?
We spoke to four different people to learn how their baking practice changed during the pandemic, and whether they’ve kept up with it in the long term.
For many home bakers, tackling time- and labor-intensive recipes like yeasted or laminated doughs provided a twofold advantage: not only could they recreate treats from their favorite bakeries, many of which were temporarily or permanently shuttered during lockdown, but they could also channel feelings of anxiety and uncertainty into a tangible project.
“I had attempted a babka once in 2020 before the pandemic,” recalled Gracie Freeman Lifschutz, who works in publishing in New York. Watching the events of January 6 unfold, however, she found herself drawn once again to the sweet, yeasty Jewish bread.
“I felt the need to make the most Jewish recipe I could think of to channel my frustration and anger,” she said. “So I took the time to make babka.”
Freeman Lifschutz went on to attempt sourdough bread and sourdough discard recipes, in addition to Chinese scallion buns and clafoutis. “There was just a lot more baking when I didn’t know what else to do,” she explains. “It was a way to gain control. It was predictable.”
Molly Bearman, a FEMA worker based in Chicago, also found herself increasingly drawn to “new or aggressively complex recipes” during the pandemic, she said over email.
“Multiple times I tried my hand at croissants and learned to laminate pastry,” said Bearman. “At one point I tried making pretzels by hand.”
Bearman found herself choosing certain recipes “just to see if I could do it”—the same sort of self-imposed challenge undertaken by pandemic baker Nataly Greunder, who had previously stuck to using mixes for most of her projects.
“I really just started trying out things just to try them,” said Greunder.
For some people, the pandemic was what triggered them to start baking in the first place. Luis Carlos Pombo, who recently moved to New York from Germany, had never baked anything—aside from Pillsbury cookies.
“I’d been kind of intimidated by baking and the sort of all-or-nothing approach to it before,” said Pombo.
What helped him break the ice, he said, was nailing a recipe for the famous Ted Lasso shortbread cookies, which “seemed simple enough to veganize.” (Pombo sticks to a vegan diet.)
While we may (hopefully) never again have a reason to stay inside for as long as we did during lockdown, baking—and preparing our meals in general—has become a permanent fixture in many of our lives in a way it may not have been before.
“My post-pandemic baking habits were definitely permanently influenced by my curiosity during the pandemic,” said Bearman. “I feel more confident in my skills as a home baker.” Baking brownies from scratch has been a “happy, permanent change,” she said.
While Greunder hasn’t had the time, or the equipment, to bake as much recently—due in part to moving out of her parents’ house and losing access to their hand mixer and food processor—she’s also seen a permanent change in her baking. “I’ve also seen that roll over into my regular cooking,” she said.
For Freeman Lifshutz, the return to (relatively) normal life has, for better or worse, curtailed both the frequency and complexity of her baking.
“I’ve definitely cut back on the experimental [or] new recipes, I think, because now things are back to being so busy,” said Freeman Lifschutz. “I don’t always have the mental capacity to attempt them in the same way.”
For some, it’s enough to have come out of quarantine with a grasp of the fundamentals. While Pombo hasn’t quite reached the point of laminating his own croissant dough, his success with Ted Lasso’s shortbread still made an impact on his baking life.
“Now, every few months, I make some cookies,” he said.