When I was in graduate school – the first time – I started to bake when I was stressed. Baking as coping mechanism began the day when I couldn’t figure out what to do with, on or about my master’s thesis. This was after many other days of not being sure what to do and how to write and edit it.

I was stuck and beginning to think I couldn’t deliver.

I decided to make an egg custard pie.

My maternal great-grandmother made egg custard pies. And while she has been gone for decades, my family continues to make them and measure our current custards against the memory of her pies.

I believe the egg custard pie I made that day when I should have been writing my thesis was a perfectly good pie. But I wouldn’t have served it at a family gathering; I know that it was a junior-level pie.

Standing in the kitchen and baking it did help me slow down and breathe. I never finished that thesis, but I kept baking when I was stressed. Usually late at night after my family was in bed.

Baking gave me something to do, a path to distraction from the distress of the hour. Thanks to the internet I could search for recipes based on what I had in the house. Or even decide to make a late-night grocery run to get supplies. So much time away from whatever had me out of sorts.

And pulling out ingredients, measuring, checking the recipe again and again, kept me focused. In 30 minutes or an hour, I would have a hot pan of lovely nut bread or cookies or cake. To enjoy, still warm in a quiet house.

It has been a couple of years since I’ve turned to the baking cure. They have been stress-free years exactly. Sometimes I’ve been very stretched and stressed – too much for baking to work. So I let it go.

Last week, on a particularly long and somewhat stressful day, I decided I had to make something. Limiting myself to ingredients on hand, I made a dark chocolate cake (from a Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa). Hershey's Special Dark cocoa

Baking seemed a bit ridiculous, but I wanted the chocolate and the experience of mixing and pouring. I worried about failure – my last few baking efforts were tossed. But I did it anyway. And I even tried the batter (I know we’re not supposed to do that anymore).

The cake was wonderful, just what I needed. And my family enjoyed it. But I really baked it for me.

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