What is it about baking that is so intensely satisfying? I enjoy cooking in general, but when I make savory dishes, it's primarily for the sake of eating them. I love eating what I bake, too, but my desire to do it is often less motivated by the result than by the process itself. In short, I love the baking part of baking, not just the eating. The slow process of measuring, sifting, and stirring; waiting as the dough rises in the oven and the house becomes saturated with the scents of butter and flour and chocolate; pulling the pans out of the oven and finding the dough transformed into something golden and perfect. And, OK, fine, also the part where I stuff my face with warm gooey cookies. That part admittedly isn't terrible.
People who love baking really love baking. For them, the perfect Saturday involves whipping together a cake; To them, a really awesome standing mixer represents the pinnacle of material possessions. For bakers, baking is more than a simple means to an end—it’s a way of life. Here are a few of the ways that baking is more that the sum of its parts:
1. Baking smells amazing
Is there anything better than having a house that smells like baking chocolate chip cookies? It turns out the smell of baked goods isn’t simply pleasant. It can, in fact, be intensely emotional. Dr. Alan Hirsch, a neurologist who studies olfactory-evoked nostalgia, has found that smells produced by baking have a particularly powerful effect on memory. He explains that in a study of a variety of scents, "We found that the smell of baked goods was the number-one odour that made people nostalgic for their childhood." (He also puts a "u" in "odor", so you know he's classy and you can trust him.)
2. It’s not about talent—it’s about science
Unlike other types of cooking, baking doesn’t require a lot of skill or intuition. If you have a good recipe, you follow it, and the deliciousness just sort of happens. Everyone thinks you’re a genius, but really you just know how to read and follow orders.
3. OK, it's science, but it’s also sort of...magic
Baking can feel a bit like putting together a magic potion. You combine a bunch of ingredients into a wet, sloppy mixture, put it in the oven, and—SHAZAM!—it’s a cake! How cool is that? Very freaking cool. And it never stops feeling magical, no matter how often you do it. Having constant access to feeling a little like a wizard? Yeah, bakers don't get tired of that feeling.
4. A lot of baked goods are freezable
Few things feel better than having a freezer stocked full of delicious baked goods. Knowing that an indulgent, homemade treat is only a thaw away creates the sense that any day can be special—all you have to do is pull something out and defrost it. Cookies, muffins, and quick breads freeze particularly well.
5. Baking is usually an indulgence, not a necessity
As much as I love them, I never actually need chocolate chip cookies to survive (although it can certainly feel that way). One thing I love about baking is that it always feels a little bit indulgent, a little bit unnecessary. I don’t have to bake anything, but when I do, it’s because I want to devote my time to making myself or someone else happy. Simply making that decision feels like a gift to myself.
6. Baking is for sharing
Baking is a communal experience. Usually we don’t make a whole cake or batch of cookies just for ourselves. (OK, fine. Sometimes I bake cookies just for myself. Go ahead and judge me.) Instead, we tend to embark on baking with the intention to share what we're making. We share with coworkers, with friends, or with someone who's simply having a bad day...pretty much anyone who will indulge our compulsion need to make treats and give them to people. Knowing that what you’re making will make other people happy is one of the warmest, fuzziest feelings there is. The fact that you get to eat some, too, is simply icing on the cake. (Yes, I went there. For me, saying “no” to a pun is like say “no” to salted caramel brownies: impossible.)
7. It’s cheap!
Cooking with really good meat, fish, cheese, and wine can get really, really expensive. You know what’s not expensive? Flour. Sugar. Eggs. Shortening. You can, of course, find baking recipes that use pricey, exotic ingredients, but, for the most part, baking is an inexpensive hobby. The best thing is that you can make things that taste expensive—soufflés, beautiful tarts, gorgeous cakes—on the cheap.
8. Baking is celebratory
I think that because so many celebrations are associated with baked goods (cakes for birthdays, pies for Thanksgiving, Bûche de Noël for Christmas, and so on), baked goods have come to seem celebratory in themselves. You don’t need a holiday to justify make an amazing cake—invite a few friends over to eat it, and the cake is the holiday.
Images: Pastry Affair; Giphy (4)