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Why Is Everyone Baking Bread?

A loaf of rosemary-thyme-garlic bread

A loaf of bread next to flowers

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Let me start off by saying that I’m no baker. So maybe it’s because, after Governor Pritzer announced Illinois’s shelter-in-place order the only bread I could find at the grocery store was cinnamon raisin, but when I stumbled upon a recipe for five-minute no-knead bread, the idea of baking bread was suddenly tantalizing. And apparently, I wasn’t alone in my thinking.

No Shortage of Time

It was clear things were getting bad in the US as grocery store shelves were emptied. The coronavirus was encroaching on our collective health and safety, and nobody was sure how to proceed — or prepare. And while for some preparation looked like hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer, for others, it meant stocking up on books to read, crafts to complete and puzzles to solve. Both approaches pointed to two essential needs: sustenance and entertainment.

Baking bread answers both needs. While there was a shortage of essential provisions, there was no shortage of time. I needed bread, and I also wanted to bake bread. The desire was primal, simple.

Wants and “Kneads”

But while I wanted to bake bread, I didn’t want to bake bread alone. To embrace the collective consciousness of cooking, I made a telecooking date with a friend. With her laptop perched on top of her refrigerator and mine tucked onto a cabinet shelf we made dough together and compared notes on what it was like to work from home. Our dough then “proved,” covered on the counter for two hours, sat in the refrigerator overnight and was ready to bake the next day.

The five-minute no-knead bread recipe states that, “crazily enough, a perfectly baked loaf will audibly crackle, or ‘sing,’” when removed from the oven. The following morning, when my friend and I synchronized our ovens and timers, in our respective homes we shared the aromas and sounds of freshly baked bread, as the bread did, indeed, sing. It was heavenly.

A loaf of rosemary-thyme-garlic bread
Todd’s rosemary-thyme five-minute no-knead bread.

Quarantine Makes Bakers of Us All

Working from home is like baking bread alone. The Otherwise team is a group of makers and doers — coworkers, collaborators and friends. And as we learn to support our relationships remotely and apart, we also miss one other, and look for new ways to fuel our collective sustenance.

Bundt-cake banana bread
Amanda’s banana bread.

So it only made sense to pass along the five-minute no-knead bread recipe to everyone. We found such joy in comparing notes and loaves, from Todd’s rosemary-thyme versions to Amanda’s banana bread to Abby’s dimpled focaccia. Apparently we truly are in good company as my telecooking partner recounted a podcast about an entire town where one sourdough starter kit was slowly dispersed and shared amongst the whole population.

Dimpled focaccia bread.
Abby’s dimpled focaccia.

Beyond the physical, experiential and evocative dimensions of baking bread as a collective, it is also a beautiful metaphor for a broader call to action. During tumultuous times such as these, that’s no small feat. As we continue to brave an unforecastable storm, we find great meaning in discovering shared comfort and care, and urge everyone to explore ways to stay connected, engage with your community and, of course, to bake a loaf or two.