Why are people baking so much?

I may live to bake, though I’m not so myopic in my thinking as to assume that everybody else in the world does. But I have to admit, pushing down the aisles of the grocery store this morning, it sure looks like it.

Six weeks into the quarantine thing and most panic-purchased consumer goods are back on the shelves: canned goods, rice, beans, pasta, even toilet paper. But I can’t find a bag of AP flour or a packet of yeast to save my life. It’s not like flour and yeast aren’t coming into the stores. They are, if in limited quantities. It’s just that they’re snapped up within moments of being paid out on the shelves.

Which prompts the question: why? Probably like you, I chalked up the initial wave of hoarding to fears that stores would run out of bread. That never happened. My subsequent thought was that people weren’t actually baking, but rather stockpiling just in case of a corona-induced bread shortage. But that doesn’t explain the ongoing demand.

The inescapable conclusion: people are actually baking. But why are they baking? It’s not so silly a question. Quite a few people aspire to become better bakers, but never really take it up. Yes, now most of us have the time, but time can be used in all sorts of ways. And based on what I‘ve been reading lately, people in quarantine aren’t actually doing the things they always said they’d do if they had the time: writing books, practicing to become concert pianists, even painting rooms or cleaning house.

Yet there’s baking going on.

Why? I know baking is special, and you know baking is special, but suddenly it seems that many, many others are turning onto the idea. How come? It’s not a rhetorical question. I really want to know. Please weigh in.

32 thoughts on “Why are people baking so much?”

  1. Yep, it’s the same over here in UK. Yet demand is high (every week I’m doing pre-Christmas levels of trade in my micro-bakery).

    I’ve asked the same question as yours of a lot of customers who’ve mentioned they are doing a lot more home-baking. Not a very scientific sample but quite interesting anyway. Quite a few replied that it’s because they have the kids at home and it’s a fun way of both helping fill the day and preparing meals. Others because they had a bread-maker gathering dust and it seemed like a good time to start using it again. Some—often those begging me for yeast—have plainly panic-bought a mountain of flour and are trying to work out what the heck to do with it.

    1. First, it’s been decades since I’ve been to Leeds. Love your town, Martin.

      And yes, I’ve encountered more than a few folks who’ve come into possession of 50 lbs. or more of flour and now have neither proper storage, nor a proper idea of what to do next. I’m glad it’s not just Americans. But I think you’re very right. For younger families it’s something to do with your kids, but in a way we bakers probably understand better than anyone else, something that’s meaningful.

      Congratulations on the brisk business you’re doing. Interesting that your customers are doing both: coming to you AND baking at home. Fascinating. Here’s hoping the sales keep up long after corona has left us!

      Cheers in all senses,

      – Joe

  2. Thank you! I “discovered” your site a about 5 months ago when I was researching a baking project and it was like meeting a new friend! When I realized you had stopped posting I was a bit sad, but thankful that you were keeping all of your work available for your regulars and people like me. Thanks for doing that.

    With our quarantine home time I am stepping up my baking and choosing to tackle breads, something that has intimidated me for reasons unknown. I enjoy complicated desserts (not the stress of failure while in the process!) and the good feelings of the finished product, the taste, the smiles and compliments. I have a relative who bakes a weekly sandwich loaf plus additional loaves and I’ve always aspired to that. Providing that to my family would be meaningful to me.
    So I missed the first wave of panic buying and finally found some yeast in the beginning of April. I’ve had trouble locating flour beyond All Purpose and stumbled upon an article about wholesale distributers making exceptions during the pandemic and delivering to regular folks in addition to their restaurant accounts. I teamed up with neighbors to place an order ($250 minimum!) , 1lb of Yeast, $5, 50lb bag of Sir Lancelot flour $25! May I suggest looking into your local wholesale distributer to see if they are doing the same.

    Why are more people baking? I wonder if social media is playing a part? I’ve resisted Instagram ( Facebook takes enough of my time) and often my very good friend will show me Instagram posts that are AMAZING! Beautiful loaves, sourdough fantasies and pictures you can taste! When I see those pictures I want to download Instagram and start scrolling, but I already do too much of that! So I resist. OR, perhaps as we become more computerized we are longing for something real. ALL of our senses are working when we are baking! Maybe we feel human again after staring at screens all day.

    Those are a few of my thoughts. Thanks again for what you have created here and thank you for continuing to share during these strange times.

    -Grant

    1. Baking provides a multi-sensory taste of the real after staring at screens all day…Grant, that’s brilliant. And I bet quite accurate. Thanks for weighing in with that thought.

      And also for the suggestions. I’ve maintained a wholesale account since my doughnut days, and it’s been handy lately, though thankfully not necessary in the strict sense. I had no idea some restaurant wholesalers were selling direct. Makes perfect sense: they need to make sales as well, and restaurants sure aren’t buying what they used to.

      And yes, you’ve stumbled on a secret: flour is dirt cheap when it’s wholesale. My source doesn’t carry KA, but I buy pretty good stuff for $12 a 50-lb. bag. Just make sure you store it well. It’s amazing how fast home pests can find and exploit a large flour quantity. So find yourself a good airtight bin.

      Good luck with the bread project — and thanks for the thanks! I’ve gotten a lot out of this over the years.

      Cheers,

      Joe

  3. I had the same sort of reaction you did, early on: Did everyone suddenly turn into a 1970s-style earth mother?? But as the weeks go on, and I *still* have trouble finding flour and yeast, I’m beginning to think that people are simply (re)discovering the satisfactions of baking for family and friends. Dust off mother’s favorite recipe for coffee cake, or those wonderful muffins you remember so fondly, or try making pancakes from scratch. The kids can help, and it keeps them from picking on each other, at least temporarily. Plus it makes the house smell so good!

    All are things we regular bakers know full well. I’m glad other people are discovering them; truly, I am. I just hope King Arthur Flour ramps up production soon….

    1. LOVE that theory, Bill. I think (and hope) you’re right about that. Especially the kids part. Keeps mine occupied!

      And from what I’ve read KA is indeed overwhelmed. Their just-in-time production system (like everyone’s) clearly needs a re-think! Let’s hope they do it soon.

      Cheers,

      Joe

  4. Time, boredom, anxiety and the inability to visit their local bakery is my guess.

  5. Welcome back, Joe! Baking is a soothing task – it is for me, quite literally, therapy. And I’m not the only one.

    Also, in these uncertain times, most aren’t doing grocery store runs with the frequency needed for a fresh supply of bread – so they take up making it themselves.

    I’ve given sourdough starter and baking lessons for many in the past 6 weeks. Bake on!

    1. Here Rosanne!

      Yes I think there are indeed far fewer trips to the grocery store these days. Nice insight. And keep up those lessons! There is no shortage of yeast and never has been! 😉

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  6. Being able to bake a loaf of bread or a batch of cookies whenever I need it provides a sense of control. I can’t do much about the world, but I can use my hands to turn raw ingredients into delicious food, and that is the best feeling. A lot of people are getting into gardening now too.

    Btw, so excited to see new posts on this site. I dropped by to start on a batch of danishes for the weekend. And since I’ve never been here before while the site was still active, I want to say thank you SO much for this incredible resource! It is the first place I go when I’m feeling inspired to bake something.

    1. Jess, did you ever make my day with that. Thank you. And it’s funny you mentioned gardening, our garden has been in for a couple of weeks now and we’re already getting some lettuces. Not much, but enough to garnish our Derby-day dinner, even though there won’t be a true 2020 Kentucky Derby until October.

      Regarding your first paragraph, I think you’ve hit on something else that’s important: baking helps the world make sense. And how important is that to anyone’s general sanity? Thanks so much for weighing in!

      – Joe

  7. “Whatever do they do to it in the shops?” A direct quote from Elizabeth David’s book on bread and yeast cookery! I think baking is happening because the internet makes it easy and also there’s a faint racial memory of just how good homemade bread tastes. If the kids get really interested they might keep it up after all this social distancing goes away and wouldn’t that be wonderful!

    1. You made me think of Hepburn just now Sally, singing in that flat straw hat and grubby overcoat: “Oh, woooouldn’t that be loverly…”

      Great comment!

      – Joe

  8. For me baking has always been my therapy (though you wouldn’t always know it in the middle of it when something goes wrong).
    It gives me a sense of accomplishment and there is inherent satisfaction in making something with your hands. If things go wrong it is very low stakes.

    Also, I’ve been dropping off baked goods with friends and neighbors (from a distance, of course) and it is a nice way to stay connected and let them know you care.

    1. Hey Lizzy!

      Great stuff. And it is funny the reaction you get when you give someone a loaf as a gift. “What…there’s still civilization?”

      Thanks so much for checking in!

      – Joe

  9. We made groceries today (New Orleans expression), in particular flour. All the AP was gone; only bread and self-rising. I didn’t even check for yeast. I have enough to make some muffins but not much more. One bakery may be selling flour again (they grind it), and another has yeast, so we’ll be okay, but man! We may not need to as all the neighbors are dropping off so much – except I enjoy baking myself sometimes.

    1. Are we on the cusp of a baking Renaissance? It’s probably too much to hope for, but what an enticing idea! And neighbors dropping off baked goods all the time…you’re describing a heaven I hope one day to visit!

      But do tell…which bakery in N.O. grinds their own flour??

      Joe

      1. Bellegarde Bakery. Here’s a link – https://bellegardebakery.com . They do ship but it’s not cheap. My husband was at the gas station last year when their delivery truck pulled up to the pump beside him. He told them they have the best bread in New Orleans. The guy told him to wait a second, went into the back, then brought over a ciabatta. He paused, then went back, and returned with a large baguette! Definitely worth complimenting them. (I do like La Petite Sophie Patisserie too, which despite all this is also getting some national press.)

  10. People are baking because Joe Pastry IS BACK! Been a reader for many years, and was so thrilled to see you start posting again. Keep up the great work!

    1. You are now officially my favorite reader and contributor, Jordan. Why didn’t it occur to others, nay even myself, to state this utterly obvious fact?

      Feel free to drop over and pick up your official helmet, sash, and insignia at any time. They’re waiting for you, Your Excellency.

      – Joe

  11. I’m baking more now for reasons several people have already expressed: it brings me comfort and reminds me of happy times, it’s a low-stakes creative outlet, my kids enjoy it (and I can call it a math lesson for my son!), and while I feel like I have LESS time and energy between my husband and I both trying to keep up with work and our 5 and 2 year olds, I am at least now home during the day to let bread rise, or cookies chill.

    1. MATH LESSON. Fabulous. Never thought of that but you’re entirely right, Nicole!

      And isn’t it funny, the Pastry clan also feels as though we have less time than ever these days. Isn’t time and perspective a funny thing? Many books will be written on the corona experience, and I’ll probably buy them all!

      Cheers and thanks,

      Joe

  12. I was so happy to find you are back, Joe, although the reason you have the time isn’t pleasant. And, I’m hoping having young Joan as your co-blogger will ensure you stay with us.

    As far as the baking phenomenon, I don’t really have a good explanation, I do like the answers others have given. I’ve been baking bread for 45 years, sourdough for 20, so was dismayed to not be able to get my regular amount of flour when this started.

    I think it’s wonderful that folks are discovering cooking and baking and I hope it continues when this eases.

    I hope that you, and yours, will stay safe. I hope everyone will stay safe. Happy baking.

    1. Great to hear from you, Robin! And I’m with you: how wonderful it would be if this renewal of the Art of Home baking were to last. Stranger things have happened! I’ll remain optimistic.

      And we shall indeed stay safe. You too!

      Cheers,

      Joe

  13. I am baking more mostly because baked goods, once made, are easy to serve and easy to keep. We are not eating out anymore, and food delivaries are not easy to arrange most of the time, sometimes completely impossible. So now we eat more home-cooked food, which means we spend more time cooking and cleaning… Bread is so versatile and freezes well, I bake a loaf or two, and use it for quick breakfast/supper/snack for two whole weeks. I usually don’t buy bread at all and only make it every once in a while, now we are consuming more bread because it saves time. Homemade cakes are also great for breakfast and snacks, and keep well.
    I, like others have mentioned, also find baking therapeutic. The smell of fresh-baked bread is relaxing and comforting. I guess it is the familiarity or just nostalgia, or perhaps we are conditioned into seeking comfort in eating bread and other baked goods. Heck, even the smell of dough is so comforting to me.

    Thankfully, up to now we don’t have any shortage of flour. I try to keep just the amount I can use and use it wisely, and hope everyone does the same.
    Good luck to you all, enjoy baking and stay safe!

    1. Hey Jasmine!

      Not a lot of people talk about home baking in terms of convenience, but I think it’s a solid rationale. As you point out, keeping bread is easy (freezing is by far my favorite method). Once you’re in the rhythm of producing and storing your own breads and cakes, you wonder why you ever did anything else.

      And great to hear there’s somewhere on Earth where flour isn’t in short supply!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  14. I’ve been baking more for the following reasons:
    -flour stores better than bread and cutting back on grocery runs limits store bought bread
    -I (finally) have my own (not shared) kitchen so I have space for baking tools
    -I can’t control the outside world but I can control my kitchen: baking is controllable
    -baking produces comfort for me and to share… and in times of discomfort, a little sweetness can go a long way

    XOXO

    So glad to see you back Joe and with a sidekick as well!

    1. Glad to hear about the kitchen, Mahri! Nothing like your own baking domain to work in.

      Thanks for weighing in on the matter! And “sidekick”…hehe…Joan will love that.

      – Joe

  15. Joe! I kept expecting one day for the site to be gone but I was checking a recipe again and was so thrilled to see new posts! Slowly making my way through them.

    As for the baking, while I bake frequently for my immediate family (muffins, quick breads, etc.) the inability to see anyone outside of family has meant that small gestures like a fresh loaf of bread or a Bundt cake have come to represent a way of reaching out and projecting care and hope.

    Stay safe and bake on!

    1. Doug!

      Thanks for the check-in! I’m very glad to be here.

      And I love that answer. But I wouldn’t call your baking a “small gesture”. Receiving something like a homemade bundt cake would be a pretty big deal to me!

      Cheers and well done!

      Joe

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