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Let us eat cake! Finding peace in a bag of flour

Let us eat cake! Finding peace in a bag of flour
Image by Mae Mu for Unsplash

If you haven’t got your hands deep into a ball of dough yet, or tried your luck at baking banana bread, you might have missed on the latest lockdown-craze.

In early April, The Economist published an article titled “Home baking is on the rise, thanks to coronavirus lockdowns’’, explaining that, “According to Nielsen, a market-research company, sales in France of flour surged by 160% year-over-year in March”.

That wasn’t all. Reuters added that the BBC Good Food video How to Make Bread was up nearly 700% in the last two weeks of March, and Google Trends showed a spike in interest for the word “bread” since the beginning of the month, with “apple fritter bread” was up 190% in the last seven days.

The recent peak in home-baking and cooking isn’t surprising, with both activities said to have some therapeutic properties. According to Cape Town-based clinical psychologist Esona-Sethu Ndwandwa, “Cooking and baking can help elevate a person’s mood. This could be through the actual process of creating the dish, and even through the anticipation of the final product. As mentioned, preparing food whether it’s through cooking or baking can help create a sense of calm, which alleviates stress, helps to lessen anxiety. During the process of cooking or baking a person temporarily disengages from their unhelpful thoughts because of the distraction. This opportunity for free self-expression can be an opportunity for self-esteem to be increased because a person feels productive”.

As shops – and bakeries – closed their doors, many of us turned amateur bakers, emptying the world’s shelves of yeast and flour. In a recent article, Forbes reported that, “During a recent 36-hour window, #bread was used on Instagram 30,000 times, a pace of roughly 833 times every 60 minutes”; and in the US, flour sales increased by 150%, to an estimated $2.4-billion while on 14 April, The Guardian stated that “a 1.5kg bag of plain flour (usually about R35) was going for R444”.

There is a reason for this baking craze and it’s not just a sudden devotion to bread, magwinya, pita, dombolo, muffins and doughnuts; baking-therapy is actually a thing.

Ndwandwa explains that, “preparing food contributes to well-being because it encourages creativity. Preparing food and bringing food to someone is also an act of nurturing, it’s very altruistic in nature. Having food brought to you could be translated as being seen, being taken care of and being appreciated. You’re likely to feel like you have done something good for someone if you prepare food for them. This could contribute to a feeling of being connected to someone else, and add to your sense of meaning in life.

“Baking can be seen as a task that facilitates mindfulness. Mindfulness entails being in the present moment, and using your senses to facilitate a state of being aware of what is happening in your here-and-now. Baking allows for us to focus and concentrate on a specific task … You use your sense of sight … your sense of smell takes in whatever aromas are in the air; your hands could be forming, rolling out or even kneading the dough, crumbing the flour and butter, or holding the whisk or electric beater. You are also aware of the sounds that are made by any apparatus that you use. This can have a therapeutic effect on a person because it connects the part of the brain where creativity and imagination are activated,” she says.

In addition, a 2016 study by Tamlin S Conner, Colin G DeYoung and Paul J Silvia, titled “Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing” explains that people who spend time “on creative goals during a day”, like cooking and baking, reportedly feel happier and more chilled.

Let Daily Maverick TGIF editor and baker-in-chief, Tony Jackman convince you: “Baking is pure therapy. Everything about it soothes the soul. The aromas in the kitchen, the actions of measuring ingredients and mixing them, the sifting of the flour, the cracking of the eggs, using a beloved baking bowl, even the simple use of a wooden spoon, all remind us of the values of home and hearth.”

Out of all the recipes shared on social media, bread-baking has probably been one of the most popular. The lockdown creates the perfect environment for such a surge; Ndwandwa says that, “[people] are having more time to [spend] in the kitchen” but that bread-baking could also be like taking up a new hobby, or simply to look after one self as it alleviates stress and anxiety.

Bread – in different shapes and forms – is also a staple food in many cultures around the world, has been around for centuries and is relatively easy to make.

In a 2018 article, NPR notes that, “When an archaeologist working on an excavation site in Jordan first swept up the tiny black particles scattered around an ancient fireplace, she had no idea they were going to change the history of food and agriculture.”

Those tiny black particles? Charred crumbs of a wild wheat flatbread made by the Natufian, “a hunter-gatherer tribe that lived in the area more than 14,000 years ago during the Epipaleolithic time”. The discovery of bread crumbs more than 14,000 years old turned on its head the idea that humans first farmed and then baked.

“In our opinion, instead of domesticating cereals first, the bread-making culture could have been something that actually fuelled the domestication of cereal,” says Lara Gonzalez Carretero from the University College London Institute of Archaeology in the same article.

Interested in trying your hand at baking bread? Thank God It’s Food editor Tony Jackman, shares his favourite recipe of herbed buttermilk bread.


Herbed buttermilk bread

  • 500g self-raising flour
  • 500g buttermilk
  • Pinch of salt
  • 25ml water

Mix the ingredients and combine with herbs to taste, either dried or fresh from the garden.

Pour 25ml water into the buttermilk carton and shake well. This adds a small amount of liquid to the mixture and “captures” any buttermilk left over in the carton.

Place mixture in a well-greased bread tin, about 22cm x 12cm. Bake for 45 minutes at 180℃. I check the bread after 45 mins and sometimes leave it in for an extra 10 mins to brown.

This is a sticky mixture which can be dropped into the baking tin and smoothened with the back of a wooden spoon. Do not try to flour it or shape into a ball.

I sometimes sprinkle the top of the dough with Parmesan or cheese flour. If you have dried olives, you can add those to the dough for a rich and exotic looking bread.

Jackman’s baking dos and don’ts

In bread and cake baking, things are more precise than in general cooking, where we can have more leeway to do our own thing. There is room to vary some recipes – you can add herbs or spices, or switch an ingredient for something similar as long as it doesn’t change the nature of the mix and prevent it from cooking properly.

Never rush it – a light touch with the hand means a light touch in the finished bread.

Never forget an egg in the cake mix, and stick to the size of egg too.

Don’t cut corners to save time – the given rising times for dough are carefully decided by expert bakers; trust their guidance.

When making a cake batter, make sure the butter is at room temperature so that the butter and sugar will cream easily.

Use a warm bowl in winter – dip it in hot water and towel it dry before using.

When proving bread in cold weather, keep the kitchen as warm as you can by closing windows and doors. You can also preheat the oven a little to take the edge off the cold, then turn it off and put the covered dough in there to rise.


Sculptor and painter Niel Jonker is also offering online bread-making classes – with the first class free for the duration of lockdown. As “a pioneering artisan breadmaker”, Niel has worked with “agriculturists and artisans, while activating and developing countless home bakers in their practice”. Check out the next classes to learn how to create a versatile dough to bake a ‘rustic white bread/ciabatta’ as an introduction to sourdough techniques. DM/ ML

Since the beginning of lockdown, Jackman received many recipes from Maverick Insiders, including “bread pudding (a savoury one), breadsticks, even a fridge bread … and a ‘Chocolate Depression Cake’”. Do you have a favourite recipe to share? Send it along with a landscape photo of your dish to [email protected] for publication in Thank God It’s Food.


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