If you're looking for an at-home stress reliever, you don't have to think outside of the kitchen. Stressed spelled backwards is desserts, after all — maybe that's why "stress baking" is so calming.
"Baking for others can increase a feeling of wellbeing, contribute to stress relief and make you feel like you've done something good for the world, which perhaps increases your meaning in life and connection with other people," Donna Pincus, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, told HuffPost last year.
Social distancing? Yes. Brownie distancing? Never. Baking is the perfect way to unplug from the world around you because it requires you to stop worrying and start focusing on the task at hand, if only for a short while. Baking has an end point. But it's chemistry, so it requires precision. One skewed ingredient can ruin hours of hard work.
"It's almost like a meditation, because when you're baking and measuring out ingredients, you have to concentrate. You can't worry about your to-do list it, because that breaks your focus," Meghan McGarry, the pastry chef and owner of Buttercream Blondie, told Salon in a recent interview. "And when you truly focus on baking, you give your brain a break. That alleviates stress."
Best of all, baking is about sharing. After our discussion, McGarry shared her recipe for whiskey-infused brownies on Instagram, which prompted a discussion about why she bakes.
"Baking has always given me a sense of calm and grounded me, especially in challenging times," she wrote. "I've baked my way through everything good and bad, and I'm going to bake my way through this, too."
Salon asked McGarry about the recipe that keeps her baking through it, and she shared her Meyer Lemon Blueberry Loaf, a versatile quick loaf you can easily make from the ingredients already on hand in your pantry, plus possible substitutions for missing items just in case.
"This is a recipe I return to time and time again," McGarry said. "It's not a trend. It's not an involved project that takes a whole day. It's simple, and it's good."
This loaf is super adaptable, and not only in terms of ingredients. It's a multi-functional crowd pleaser that's great for breakfast with a cup of coffee, in the afternoon with tea or as a snack all on its own.
Citrus is a great way to add flavor to loaves, and the zest from the lemon packs a special punch in the flavor department. This particular recipe is powered by lemons, but you can use any citrus you have on hand. Blood oranges or limes work well, too. If you don't have citrus in your fruit bowl? Just eliminate it.
McGarry adds fresh blueberries to this loaf, but you can sub any frozen berries, in particular blueberries or raspberries. So if you stocked up on frozen fruit, you're in luck.
If you do use frozen fruit, keep this in mind: Don't remove your fruit from the freezer until it's time to add it to your batter. Make the batter, then take your frozen fruit out of the freezer. Fold it into the batter, then pop it straight into the oven.
If you take your fruit out of the freezer before you start mixing your ingredients, the berries will release juice as they start to thaw. If you have them sitting on the counter for too long, they will bleed through the batter and release moisture that could alter the bake, as well as the color.
For a pop of citrus-y flavor, McGarry finishes her loaf with Grand Marnier glaze. You can substitute any orange liqueur, or opt out of the alcohol if you've run dry.
Eat half of this loaf and freeze the rest, or double the recipe and freeze an entire loaf for a day when the therapist isn't in session.
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Recipe: Meyer Lemon Blueberry Loaf
Ingredients for Loaf:
- 1 and 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Zest of 2 Meyer lemons
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 cup blueberries
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease a 9x5" loaf pan.
- In medium bowl, whisk flour (reserving 1 Tablespoon to toss with blueberries), baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix sugar and lemon zest on medium-low speed for about 5 minutes so the sugar can absorb all that citrus flavor.
Click here to access the remainder of Meghan McGarry's loaf recipe. And don't forget to follow @ButtercreamBlondie on Instagram for more ways to bake through it.