We’ve all had those moments where anger wants to take over. Where nothing in the world would feel better than a scream exhaling every bad thing from inside you, or your steering wheel suddenly looks like the perfect thing to punch and slap around. But that could alarm a few people, or lead to damaging your own property. So, rather than face those concerns, I started baking.
It didn’t start as an anger-management tool. In fact, in the beginning, baking sometimes caused more anger than it relieved. But after learning some basics, recognizing that I’m still a beginner, and needing an environment to let all the work stress out, I found that baking could actually help temper all that hostility into a pretty dang good crème brûlée or brioche loaf. Hopefully, combined with the calming power that is The Great British Bake Off, these tips can help save some scratchy throats and steering wheels.
1. The Joy of Creation
As a writer, creating something is something I get to do every day. But with more and more writing published online, the tactile sensation of holding your work fades a little. That’s not the case with a lovely pie or batch of macarons (the French make this look easy).
I used to hold my decoration standards pretty high. The pie crust had to be a perfect golden brown, the scones needed just the right amount of sugar crystals on top, and the bread needed a nice crust and a good rise. I wanted the Paul Hollywood handshake after my first from-scratch bake. But that was before I realized a finished product was all I really wanted. Maybe I got cut off in traffic or screamed at by my boss, but hey I made some incredible morning glory muffins. And no one could take that away from me.
2. Sometimes fire is involved.
Yes, we all have to be careful around flames and ovens and stove-tops, but there’s something awesome about lighting something on fire. Especially when the recipe requires it. When I get really angry, I think about how much fun Godzilla must’ve had during his rampages. (I know it wasn’t all about that, but we have rage rooms for a reason.)
Pure destruction is attractive amidst extreme anger, but that’s a lot of legal bills or repair costs that I know I don’t have the money for. Instead, I prefer toasting some marshmallows for a creamy topping to my cupcakes or getting the perfect caramelization on a green tea crème brûlée. I get to feel like I’m wreaking havoc while making a tasty treat. (Don’t even get me started on the flambe.)
I didn’t think much of aromatherapy until I invested in incense. While I can’t always tell between one scent and another, I generally feel calmer with a smoldering incense stick or a drop of lavender oil on my pillow at night.
And is there anything better than smelling fresh bread? Or a strawberry rhubarb pie, chocolate chip cookies? Regardless of how angry I am, smelling baked goods and pastry creams tends to make that rage dissipate. If you’re having a really bad day, I might even suggest combining this step with fire. Caramelized sugar may smell a little burnt, but the undertones of sugar can put a smile on your face while the carnage continues.
4. The Need to Knead
This is most people’s go-to for a nice rage release through baked goods. Who am I to disagree? Depending on your recipe, you may not need to knead all that much, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the time you have. My preferred method is to picture the face of whoever pissed me off in the middle of the dough and then go to town on it.
If simple kneading isn’t enough, there are some breads and kneading techniques that require the dough to be slapped down on your work surface or punched down within a bowl. Brioche bread in particular requires two proofing times, meaning you get to knead and punch down the dough multiple times throughout your bake. I highly recommend.
There’s not much in baking you can leave up to chance. Sure, you’ve got to try new recipes, new experiments, but that only happens after learning various proofing times and ingredient ratios. Even if you're not the experimenting type, there's something magical about folding cranberries into scone dough or watching your cupcake batter rise in the oven. It’s not the same escapism you get from a good movie or book, but beautiful baking can hijack your senses and your attention, allowing some of that anger to melt away.
For as beautiful as many baked goods are, there's a lot of violence that might go into it. Shaving chocolate curls, beating eggs and sugar together, slapping dough on your countertop, all result in beautiful concoctions that my loved ones always enjoy. I know some chefs (savory and pastry) talk about putting love or passion into their cooking. That’s great and all, but anger can give baking the passion with an added spicy flavor that many would enjoy.