Food & Nutrition

As an Experienced Stress Baker, I Have Never Felt Less Like Making Bread

All of this is to say that pre-pandemic Sarah was absolutely living for sourdough and the long, slow challenges it brought. The mixing, resting, proofing, and baking processes are a little different for every loaf, and I thrived on the patient experimentation, problem-solving, and tinkering that sourdough requires. My loaves were never perfect and likely never will be, but they were always delicious and worth the effort. It was a reliable, meditative weekend project that took my mind off my Sunday (and, let’s be honest, Saturday) scaries. Plus, baking bread introduced me to a lovely, unique community on Instagram—including a new concert buddy.

Considering all this, you’d think the #pandemicbread movement would have spoken directly, specifically, loudly to me of all people. But the truth is that I haven’t baked bread of any kind in weeks and Abigail is sitting idly in my fridge. I want to bake—of course I want to bake—but it just isn’t happening. The stress I’m dealing with now is different, obviously, and it’s all-consuming. This is not me being nervous about a final exam or a project at work—this is me looking for a way to cope, somehow, with the foundations of our lives suddenly changing and the fear of people I know being hospitalized or dying. Sourdough just can’t compete with the existential dread of living through an actual, for-real pandemic.

But there are also the superficial blocks: When all I have is time, I can’t stand the thought of spending a full day making bread only for it to be not as good as I want it to be. And the Instagrams, dear God, the Instagrams! I can’t help but compare my loaves to other people’s—some who literally just started baking. The competition, entirely fueled by me and my own lame insecurities, is just inescapable.

What have I baked? I made some half-hearted biscuits, sure. I made some matzah for Passover, which was, well, matzah. But I finally had to admit to myself that what I was really craving wasn’t a ~homemade artisan sourdough boule~ but rather brownies. Extra fudge-y. From a box. Specifically, the ones my mom used to make. I’ve made and devoured two full boxes so far.

Sourdough and stress baking may have started as an independent, self-directed activity, but I realize now how much I’ve come to rely on it as a way to positively and authentically connect with other people. It’s so cheesy I can barely bring myself to type it, but it’s true: Baking for yourself is not half as fun or fulfilling as baking with and for other people. I love that stress baking gives me time to focus some creative energy at something other than work, but I also love seeing the way my bakes fit into other people’s lives because they create space for me there, too.

As nice as it was to spend all day baking bread, it was even nicer to see the joy on my friend’s faces when I brought over a freshly-baked loaf to go with the nice cheeses and wines they’d picked out for a night of gossip, or to get a text from my boyfriend to say that he was enjoying a slice of my bread with his soup for lunch at work. Without the possibility for those interactions, making bread doesn’t give me that sense of accomplishment I crave. It just reminds me of how lonely and hopeless this moment truly feels.

If learning to make bread is a quarantine activity that brings you joy, that is wonderful. Embrace it. Lean into it. Maybe try making a starter of your own! But, for now, I’m leaning in the other direction—toward nostalgia, simplicity, and comfort—and sticking with brownies. The fudgier, the better.

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