It feels a bit like itching.
It starts in my hands and then moves up and up until it reaches a point where it seems like my body is going to explode.
What I happen to be doing suddenly doesn’t matter anymore and all I want to do is just forget about it all – dissertation, articles, life in general – but spending the whole day in bed sounds both stressful and a waste of time.
So to the kitchen it is, to raid the cabinets in search of some scrumptious ingredients to count and measure until my mind is filled with precise numbers that need to be accounted for in every single step.
For me, stress baking started back in high school, when pressure to do well was so high it made up for my whole family’s low cholesterol rate: I’d start doing homework, or whatever needed doing, and the itching would start.
Slow, slow, slow, until suddenly my mind was filled with worst case scenarios in which I failed. I’d look at the paper and my impending doom would only become more evident, sending me off into a panic that made me uncontrollably restless and moody: the itching became so real I’d scratch my hands bloody.
It took a while for me to realise that this issue needed solving, not only for the sake of my hands, but also my sanity.
Neither my mum nor my “nonna” taught me how to cook, first of all because they didn’t have the time – managing a family is hard. And it’s mostly thanks to my mother that both my sister and I had made it this far in life – and secondly, I’ve always been told that if I want to learn something, the best teacher out there, is myself.
“repetitive behaviour and rituals can be very effective in increasing focus and reducing stress.” Dr. Jill Owen
I was simply asked to “please be careful and don’t burn the house down”, and then given free reign over the kitchen and its secrets. After several bad encounters with the oven – we have an on/off relationship now, depending on how nice I treat it – my self-prescribed therapy began.
Research conducted in early 2015 by Opinion Matters showed there was a rise of up to 60 per cent in baking in the UK over the past year, with 1,170 people saying they’d taken to the kitchen following the rising issues concerning money and health problems.
According to Dr. Jill Owen, baking can be compared to other forms of stress relief, such as knitting or gaming. In a recent interview with Stylist, Dr. Owens explained that “repetitive behaviour and rituals can be very effective in increasing focus and reducing stress.”
When baking, your mind doesn’t have the time to focus on other things. It’s a precise art that requires constant attention as any itty-bitty mistake can jeopardise a whole recipe: one minute you’re thinking about that paragraph on Marxism you have to turn in tomorrow, the next you have to deal with a puffed down chocolate cake.
The stirring movement becomes soothing, and lulls your brain to calmness. Thoughts slow down, and the itching becomes a distant memory. What seemed like an insurmountable issue becomes clearer and possible solutions start popping up until you find the one you need.
When I bake, I no longer feel like the world is crashing down on me. I simply have no time for it to crash, because the timer is going to go off any minute and the cookies are going to burn if I don’t take them out.
The concentration poured into baking not only distracts you from what’s worrying you, but also helps you to find a solution to the problem that first led you to the kitchen: working on a recipe doesn’t just mean mixing stuff together, but also understanding what each ingredient brings to a dish.
Baking gives you the chance to see both the general and the particular of things, and it’s in that double view that you can find peace.
Apart from the stress relief you can achieve with baking, this form of “therapy” also provides you with other outlets to feel better with yourself: not only you have proof of your work, proof that you spent time lovingly bringing elements together to reach a delicious result, but you can share your achievement with others.
Seeing people enjoy what I’ve created boosts my self-confidence to no limits, as I can then say: “I rock at baking. I can do anything!”
Baking is the one thing that is always going to give you a result, no matter how good. There’s a certainty in it that can help you understand that everything, even the worst of problems, can be solved with a little bit of time.
So here’s my recipe to end that bitchy itch: breathe deep, gather the most delicious ingredients you can think of, and batter that mofo to death!
If you’d like to start your new therapy today, check out my recipe for some amazingly easy cookies that are going to take your mind off all your problems. Enjoy!
You will need:
3 cups icing sugar
1 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 egg whites
1 large egg
½ tablespoon salt
100g chocolate chips
100g dark chocolate
Pre-heat oven at 350 degrees.
First of all, that dark chocolate needs melting: put it in a microwave-resistant container and heat up until melted. To keep the chocolate from burning, microwave it for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between to get a silky result.
In a large bowl, stir together the icing sugar, flour and salt until completely blended. Now add the egg whites, the egg, and the vanilla extract. Once the dark chocolate is completely melted, add to the mix alongside the chocolate chips and stir the mixture until well blended.
Drop the dough by the tablespoonful on a baking sheet, making sure to leave around 2 cm between each cookie. Bake in the pre-heated oven until the dough has puffed up and cracked – around 14 minutes.
When the cookies are done, you can also add some grains of sea salt to make them even saltier.
Images by Aurora Bosotti