Baking Therapy in the Age of Limited Grocery Supplies

Baking+Therapy+in+the+Age+of+Limited+Grocery+Supplies

Megan Meyerson ’20, Senior Editor

What makes baking such effective therapy? Maybe it’s the idea of taking different ingredients that might not taste great on their own and creating something beautiful and satisfying with them. Maybe it’s the pleasure of feeling busy. Maybe it’s the comfort of feeling in control of something when everything is so crazy; after all, you can’t help the fact that we are all in quarantine, but no one can stop you from adding butter to sugar and creating a bite or two of heaven. But more than that, maybe it’s giving that muffin or cookie or cake to a loved one and seeing their face light up, not just because sugar is amazing, but because you care enough to make it for them and do that little something to brighten their day.

In the spirit of therapeutic baking, here are a few easily adaptable recipes. Feel free to go rogue and use yet a different substitute (though I cannot vouch for the results).

A general disclaimer: the original ingredient is usually the most reliable, so if you can get your hands on it, that might be the safest option. If that’s not possible, or you are allergic/can’t eat it, it’s lots of fun to explore the other options.

Meringues sometimes have a reputation for being a tricky confection, but in reality, they are a wonderfully adaptable treat, which makes them perfect for quarantine procrastibaking/comfort baking.

Meringues:

  • 2 egg whites (substitutes: 4 tablespoons aquafaba (the liquid from canned chickpeas, with the chickpeas drained out; you can make your own by cooking chickpeas, but it is less reliable because you could make it too thin if you stop cooking too early), meringue powder and water (use the ratio on the specific container of meringue powder). I’ve also seen gelatin and hot water as a substitute, and if the grocery store has them, you can absolutely use pasteurized egg whites from a carton (the closest to freshly separated eggs).)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Cream of tartar (substitutes: ¼ teaspoon lemon juice, or honestly just skip it; some recipes don’t call for it and just make sure you wipe down your mixer well to get rid of any oil/fat that could prevent the egg whites from whipping properly)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar (substitutes: ¾ cup powdered sugar, ¼ cup maple syrup (you can add more if the meringue is not deflating), ½ cup maple sugar, ¼ cup light brown sugar, ½ cup coconut sugar. Less common but still options: ¼ cup honey, ½ cup agave syrup, sugar substitute (stevia, monk fruit, etc.) (use this as a last resort and use the conversion specific to the sweetener as too much will have an adverse effect on the meringue))
  • Flavor (you can add any of the following, depending on what you have and what your favorite flavors are): 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; almond extract; mint extract; zest of one lemon, lime, or orange; ¼ cup cocoa powder; ¼ cup fruit purée, fresh or frozen (passion fruit, mango, strawberry, coconut, etc.); spices (cinnamon-ginger-nutmeg, for example);

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and line a cookie pan with parchment paper or a silpat sheet. Beat the eggs or substitute with salt and cream of tartar/substitute on high in an electric mixer until soft peaks form (when lifted, a little peak should appear and slightly wilt, but not sink back into the egg whites). With the mixer on high, slowly drizzle in the sugar or substitute until very stiff peaks form. You know in cooking shows when they turn the bowl upside down over their head and nothing falls out? That’s how stiff it should be. Then beat in the flavoring(s). Spoon or pipe the meringue onto the pan. Bake for 2-3 hours, until meringues are firm and dry and unstick easily from the sheet.

What is the ultimate comfort food that’s also the ultimate celebration? Pancakes, of course. And, happily, very easy to adjust depending on availability of ingredient

Flat Pancakes:

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute almost any flour: almond, hazelnut, cake, semolina, cornmeal, oat, whole wheat, pastry, buckwheat, spelt, bread flour, etc.)
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (substitute: 1 teaspoon lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon baking soda)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar (substitutes: powdered sugar, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, maple sugar, coconut sugar, sugar substitute (monk fruit, stevia, etc.), finely granulated sugar)
  • 1 ¼ cups milk (substitute any other kind of milk (almond, oat, etc.), or buttermilk (if so, reduce the baking powder and add a little baking soda))
  • 1 egg (substitutes: 1 tablespoon soy lecithin (reputedly the best alternative), mayonnaise (I haven’t personally tried this, but it has a good reputation, so don’t dismiss it), applesauce, mashed banana, about ¼ cup silken tofu, ¼ cup yogurt or buttermilk (be careful with the consistency, though), 3 tablespoons any nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, pecan, etc.)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted (substitute equal amounts of: vegetable oil, coconut oil)
  • Optional add-ins: lemon, lime, or orange zest, berries, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, banana slices, cinnamon (or another spice), etc.
  • **(spices and zests mix into batter; berries and chips drop onto pancake batter after ladled onto the hot griddle).

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Box alternative: Use pancake mix and follow the directions on the box, inserting any of the substitutes above as needed

Pancake Toppings:

  • Fruit Syrup: Any kind of fruit (blueberries, strawberries, bananas, apples, blackberries, mango, etc.)
  • Any kind of sweetener (sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, agave syrup, honey, date syrup, cane syrup, sugar substitute)
  • Optional: zest of one lemon, lime, or orange; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • *If using heartier fruits (bananas or apples, etc.) consider a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or ginger and opt for brown sugar if possible

Bring the ingredients together in a medium saucepan to a simmer over medium heat to let the fruit soften. Bring to a boil to reduce into a syrup. Let cool slightly before drizzling over the pancakes.

Orange-chocolate ganache: melt chocolate (preferably bittersweet) and add an equal amount of heavy cream. Stir in orange zest (alternatively, use a lime or lemon). Serve with pancakes.

  • Chocolate-hazelnut ganache: melt chocolate and add an equal amount of heavy cream. Toast hazelnuts (skins removed) and blend in a food processor until a coarse powder (smoother if you prefer not to have bits of hazelnuts) and stir into chocolate mixture. Serve with pancakes. Substitute any nuts you like that go well with chocolate.

This is my last article for GAP, so I thought I’d close with a few of my favorite cookbooks:

1. Tate’s Bakeshop by Kathleen King: I don’t think a single recipe in this book has ever failed me; you can play with them a little and they’re reliable and sturdy enough to hold up to a few mistakes and experiments. Plus, most are pretty short and generally not too complicated.

2. Sweet by Yottam Ottolenghi (or Simple, Plenty, or Plenty More): Ottolenghi is one of my favorite chefs, as much for his savory cooking as for his dessert recipes. The flavors are generally more adventurous than those in Tate’s, but equally reliable. He categorizes some ingredients as “pantry staples” that no grocery store around here would carry, but a quick Google can solve that as nearly everything has a substitute (and sometimes you can make it yourself, which adds a step but also adds more baking fun).3. Dam Good Sweet by David Guas: My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Gundelach, gave this to me and it has served my family well. My mom is from New Orleans, so we love having a reliable cookbook besides the family cookbook to bring tastes of New Orleans (is there a better taste than that?) to the table. The recipes range in difficulty but are all worth it.