By Andy Smiley
In the past few months, with everyone stuck at home, a new trend has emerged from the countless hours spent staring out the window and waiting: baking bread.
Bread is one of the oldest recipes that humans have created. According to History’s online article “A Brief History of Bread,” the widespread production of yeast is dated back to at least 300 BC, while other types of bread were made as early as 30,000 years ago. Bread has religious significance in the Abrahamic religions, and throughout history, bread has held ties to class, culture, and tradition. But none of this answers the central question in the casual observer’s mind: why are people suddenly deciding to bake bread?
The first answer is obvious: stress. The phenomenon of stress-baking is well documented. In times of trouble, lots of people like to work their nervous energy into mixing, measuring, and making something delicious. The sugary pastries produced in the process also serve as a comfort food. Fresh bread, with its specific scent and texture, has been known to do the same thing. Alongside the taste, the satisfaction of making something also helps to relieve stress.
The second reason is less readily apparent: perishability. Cooking a standard meal tends to reply on foods that can perish, like vegetables or meat. Even non-perishable foods become perishable once added to something else. But flour alone can sit for years without going bad, as can sugar, salt, and water. The only ingredient that requires maintenance is the yeast. Baked goods also tend to be eaten faster than large pots of leftover soup or other cooked meals, as there are any number of combinations of sugar and flour, and their shelf stability translates to fewer trips to the grocery store with less money spent there. Baking is assisted by both the newfound societal fear of crowded spaces and the drop in income many families are experiencing.
While these reasons explain why people began baking during quarantine, they leave out one of the most crucial ingredients in a well-baked loaf. For that, we turn to one of the most important resources the quarantine has provided for up-and-coming bakers: time.
Beginner bread loaves typically aren’t very complicated, so there isn’t a skill barrier, and the ingredients themselves aren’t difficult to acquire or prepare. But baking bread by hand, when properly done, requires a great deal of free time spent in the home. Even professional bakeries feel the pressure of the clock, coming in hours ahead of opening. In modern society, where one is expected to work for 40 or more hours per week on top of errands, appointments, social activities, and family life, there simply isn’t the time to be sitting at home for hours watching dough rise. Other baking circumvents this by using other ingredients and reactions to make the dough rise, but with leavened bread, it’s simply unavoidable. The only thing that can accommodate yeast is time. And in the absence of jobs, commutes, and other errands, time has made itself readily available to anyone who needs it.
Bread has been a staple of culture through every hardship humans as we know them have faced. Today, as in the past, it promises not to disappoint.
Edited by Ashley Ricks