I met up with a girlfriend for dinner and, like I do, handed her a Ziploc bag filled with something I had just baked.
Chocolate chip cookies, maybe. Or it could have been banana muffins. Either way, she was the happy recipient of something I had recently whipped up in my kitchen the sleepless night before.
She smiled, then cocked her head and looked at me. “Do you bake, like, ALL the time?”
I didn’t actually think so. But if you follow me on Instagram (@catherinetoth) or are friends with me on Facebook, you probably think I run a small commercial bakery on the side.
Turns out, I probably bake more than most people but far less than you think, if that makes sense.
I tend to bake when I’m stressed or I can’t sleep — which, lately, has been often. You don’t have to think much while you’re baking, though measuring ingredients — no, I don’t weigh them! — and following instructions do force you to pay attention. And I know at the end of it, I’ll have something I can share with others. That’s always a plus.
I can remember baking as a child, mixing flour, sugar and butter in a small plastic bowl with matching spatula — a toy set my parents had given me. I was making shortbread cookies in a toaster oven — the extent, at the time, of my patisserie skills. I couldn’t have been older than eight, and already I had a genuine love for the craft.
My mom is a phenomenal baker, as anyone who’s been lucky enough to sample her goods can attest, and I’m sure her passion rubbed off on me. There was nothing more fun than spending the afternoon in the kitchen with my mom, learning how to make the perfect cookie dough or flaky pie crust (something I still haven’t mastered). I loved going through her cookbooks, preferably if they had photos in them, and imagining how these beautiful works of confectionary art tasted, how they smelled. It was my little fantasy world.
Throughout my life, I baked. Along with taking photos — another lifelong passion, this one inherited from my father — baking was something I had always done. Cookies, pies, cheesecakes, cupcakes, cake pops, mochi, banana muffins, pumpkin bread, batches of deadly brownies — whatever I was craving, I baked.
I remember one of my proudest baking accomplishments: I was probably around 12 years old and had wanted to bake something special for my mom, who, despite her talents with the hand-mixer, wasn’t hard to please. She always appreciated any attempts we made to feed her, and I wasn’t worried about letting her down. But I did secretly want to impress her. I had remembered her always saying that making a cake from scratch was tough. In fact, she almost exclusively used cake mixes (as her base) whenever she baked cakes, saying, “Ah, they’re good enough.” So I wanted to try and make something even she found difficult. I found a recipe for a simple white cake — like a traditional wedding cake — and did my best to measure the ingredients accurately and to not overmix the batter — things I had learned from her. It turns out just fine, moist and delicate. I remember my mom seeming so impressed, and that stayed with me to this day.
I’ve never made that simple white cake again, and I doubt it was even that good. (Moms always gush over whatever their daughters bake for them, right?) But I haven’t forgotten that feeling of accomplishing something I had anticipated would be difficult and, even better, making my mom beam with maternal pride.
I love it when people are happy, and people seem to be happiest when eating something delicious. They smile, they gush, they moan (in a good way), and knowing you were part of that joy is completely addictive.
So why do I love to bake? Because people love to eat. And that’s been enough for me.