A Sweet Way to End 2020

An in-depth view of students baking during quarantine.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In the throes of daily life, it can be difficult to take on a new pastime. Particularly for high school students, the vortex of extracurricular activities, schoolwork, and familial obligations can make it seem like there isn’t enough time in a day to breathe, let alone bake.

Yet quarantine, in all the ways it has made daily life unbearable, has also provided some opportunities to take on hobbies that would normally escape us. Perhaps one of the most common ways people have looked to pass the time during our isolation is baking. Instagram is flooded with pictures of banana bread, YouTube is full of baking instruction videos, and daily blogs have an influx of recipes. These trends can only mean one thing: people are desperate for something sweet.

But for sophomore Max Hesse, baking has been a part of his life longer than these past eight months—since the age of seven. “I live in a family of people who love cooking a lot, so I’ve always been encouraged to [bake],” he explained.

“I love the feeling of success after you get something correct and just the calmness of cooking,” he elaborated. This calmness is an especially important feeling to have during the uncertainty of quarantine when it seems like everything can lead to higher stress or anxiety.

Junior Ella Krechmer, a fellow avid baker, has had a similar experience baking, though her call to action came a bit later. “I baked a little when I was in middle school and earlier in high school,” she said. “But it was mostly for special events like bake sales, parties, Minutes gifts for English class, or for friends, and I would usually use pre-made mixes.”

Like many others, Krechmer deepened her passion over quarantine. “At the beginning and [during] the middle of quarantine, I baked every Friday for several months,” she recounted. However, like most Stuyvesant students, the burden on the school year took a toll on her baking. “When school started back up, I had much more work to do, so I took a break. I still bake, but it ends up being once a month or so,” Krechmer said.

However, for freshman Dinah-Luba Beylison, being able to bake during the school year is what makes it bearable. “Baking makes me calm and tranquil,” she said. “I can zone out from the stresses of everyday life.” For Beylison, eating her baked treats is also a rewarding, relaxing experience: “I bake to eat. I love food, and I love when other people love my food.”

Hesse affirmed this thought, saying, “Personally, I use baking as an escape from the world.” Escapism is invaluable at this point in time. With the unrelenting sense of isolation and the consequences of the pandemic looming over us, it can be difficult to remain optimistic. Baking provides that opportunity, but it also provides others: From a need to clear his mind for a bit, Hesse has found a lifelong passion. “Now, I’m actually looking into cooking as a career. I enjoy baking and cooking so much that I would love to become a chef, my dream job,” he shared.

But in all the ways that quarantine has given students time to bake, it has also made it more difficult for students to go out to buy food, be it from the grocery store or the bakery. This restriction has served as an even greater motivation to bake. “You'll never get good desserts in stores (most of the time),” Beylison said. In addition, baking from scratch gives students the creative freedom to create whatever they want, including items that are not commonly found in stores.

Especially with the holiday season upon us, the necessity for desserts has elevated. This has provided the perfect opportunity for some baking experimentation. “I’m planning a Christmas cake with fondant and buttercream, and probably a sausage bread roll,” Hesse said. He’s making them for the holidays, as both are unique products that would be difficult to buy and are in season.

Beylison is also taking advantage of the holidays to explore her baking canon. She excitedly admitted, “I plan on making my apple pie, my chocolate cupcakes, sugar cookies, lemon pound cake, and bread over the holidays.” Despite the variety, there is one specific treat she is looking forward to. “My favorite holiday treats are sugar cookies,” she said. “There's honestly a certain nostalgia to them that relates to the holidays.”

This nostalgia is a characteristic many students can relate to, surely. The crackled voice of Bing Crosby on the radio, the overwhelming scent of sweets wafting from the oven, and the sense of safety and solidarity—unparalleled at any other point in the year—so deeply and undeniably indicate December.

At least, that’s the hope. Despite all of its sweetness, baking can certainly have some shortcomings. As Krechmer divulged, “Baking is a great way for me to get out of my head and have a little fun, but if I'm messing up a lot or my family is walking around the kitchen, I get really frustrated.”

Baking requires a tremendous amount of concentration, which is why it can sometimes be done the best alone. “I baked with my mom a few times, but we're both such control freaks that we get really annoyed with each other, and it makes the whole process much more difficult,” Krechmer admitted.

In some ways, a grip on control is useful in baking. Baking, in many aspects, requires an eye for accuracy—an aspect that Hesse was shocked to learn about. “I was surprised to see how precise baking needed to be,“ Hesse said. “Since I was always into cooking beforehand, you can do custom things with ingredients and have it be loose, but baking cannot be that loose. If you change a key ingredient, then it may not bake well.”

Still, the careful attention that baking requires is useful on a daily basis. “I would definitely recommend learning how to bake. It's a great skill to have, especially around the times of family gatherings,” Beylison noted.

The unattainable ideal of perfection may seem intimidating, but baking provides the perfect way to confront it. It can also be incredibly exciting to approach. “I love being able to choose when I get a dessert and just making it,” Krechmer said. “I always feel an overwhelming sense of pride when I am done, particularly when it was a really difficult recipe.”

Baking can also be a fun challenge for those seeking new hobbies. “I recommend it to people who have the ability to learn while baking,” Hesse said. “Because you need to learn things to become better. You can’t expect yourself to always be perfect.”

And in a time when the expectations we hold ourselves to can weigh even heavier, that point resonates even more deeply. For all of its difficulties, baking can help remind us of the simpler times and a past of enjoying days with friends and family. During a moment when stress runs so high and the future becomes increasingly insecure, that reminder can be invaluable.