Jeannie Eddy, of Glens Falls, has had a lifelong passion for baking. Her mother never baked while Eddy and her siblings were growing up and learning to bake has become a form of relaxation and joy for Eddy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the kitchen has been a refuge for Eddy, where she has concocted everything from handheld pie tarts to perfectly glazed scones and cupcakes swirled high with rich chocolate frosting.
Until being home during quarantine, she has never had the nerve to practice yeasted products. “I’ve been a baker my whole life, but I’ve never tackled yeasted bread,” Eddy said. Like so many others over the last several weeks, the extended time at home has allowed her to experiment, practice and play with recipes in the kitchen. She enrolled in an online sourdough bread tutorial toward the start of quarantine and is baking a sourdough recipe about once a week. “What I’ve discovered with sourdough is that it’s so versatile and you can make so many different things,” Eddy said.
Eddy views these baking endeavors as “projects” that she might not have attempted if not for being at home during a pandemic. According to a study of 1,005 Americans by Hunter, a marketing agency in New York City, 54% of those surveyed are cooking more since the pandemic erupted, while 46% are baking more. Half of the respondents are using the time in the kitchen to try new recipes and learn more about cooking.
The top selling cookbooks at the moment support those figures. Two of the top 10 best sellers in the cookbooks, food and wine category for Amazon include, “Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza,” by Ken Forkish and, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1,” by Julia Child. (Both books are also trending in sales on the Barnes and Noble website.) The complex theories of baking and intimidating recipes of French cuisine are experiencing a revival as home cooks have the time to move beyond the quick-fix meals that often are staples of everyday dinnertime cooking.
Another cookbook that has spurred baking and cooking projects has been “Binging with Babish,” which Francesca D’amico-Bailey of Delanson gave to her 11-year-old son, Santino, for Christmas. The book, by Andrew Rea, compiles recipes from Rea’s popular YouTube channel of the same name. Each recipe focuses on a food item from a popular television show or movie, like brisket from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and cannoli from “The Godfather.”
“It’s not really a kids cookbook,” D’amico-Bailey said, but the recipes were varied and expansive enough to turn cooking into a project during the downtime of quarantine. So far, Santino has made breadsticks, chocolate lava cakes, beef Wellington, boeuf bourguignon and creme brulee. D’amico-Bailey and Santino plan out their cooking projects for the week and make a shopping list and try recipes together, but Santino will make recipes on his own, as well, and has mastered apple pies and macaroni salad during quarantine. The next project they plan to make is apple strudel, a recipe that they probably would not have attempted but can tackle now because of the new time together at home. “We don’t have weekday meals and weekend meals anymore,” said D’amico-Bailey, adding that any recipe can be made during the week instead of being reserved for the weekend.
Kate Cohen, of Albany, has also found her sons have taken interest in “project cooking” during quarantine. As an avid home cook and columnist for the Washington Post, Cohen’s approach to food is often chronicled in her writing, and she is relishing having her children home each night for big family dinners. (Cohen is currently quarantining with her husband, three children ranging from college-aged to high schoolers, and a family friend.) “I love to cook and I am enjoying that I am now cooking for a family of six, and that they were relying on me. I was excited for the job and it was something for me to do,” Cohen said. Still, the daily slog of cooking dinner can wear on even the most dedicated cooks, and seeing her children take pleasure in learning to cook and replicating new-to-them recipes has been heartening for Cohen. Her sons recently made themselves eggs Benedict for the first time, with Cohen nearby in case support was needed.
“Over quarantine we’ve been making a lot of eggs in the morning, usually over hard with toast and sriracha or a breakfast sandwich. We wanted a change and something special,” said Jesse Cohen-Greenberg, Cohen’s younger son and a high school senior. Cohen-Greenberg, his older brother Noah (who is home from Williams College) and a friend of Noah’s had success with the project and have also tried other recipes, like fried pickles. Cohen-Greenberg said he would like to learn some cooking basics, as well, but that, “the reason we do [these recipes] is for the social feeling.” If not for being in quarantine, he would not have tried to make new recipes, and he said if his brother were not home from college he probably would not try to cook or bake at all. “We’re a team in quarantine,” he said.
Though social restrictions are loosening as New York state begins to reopen, home cooks are planning to maintain their current cooking and baking endeavors. (The Hunter survey stated that 51% of those surveyed will continue to cook more at home after the pandemic has ceased.) Eddy plans to try more historic recipes, like the 100-year-old recipe for pound cake she recently made, and is hoping to master macarons, the traditional French sandwich cookie known for being finicky and difficult to perfect. “I find baking to be the way I relax,” Eddy said, and knowing that social unrest and a global health crisis are near-guarantees for the future, the kitchen skills learned during this pandemic will be tools for managing whatever lies ahead.
Deanna Fox is a food journalist. www.foxonfood.com, @DeannaNFox