Confessions Of A Stress Baker

feature image photo by bgwalker via Getty Images

Whenever I’m feeling unsettled, there’s one place I turn: the kitchen. Nothing soothes my mind and soul like getting in the kitchen. Even something as simple as making dinner can alleviate the pressure in my brain, but when it’s really bad, the only thing that can fix it is baking. That’s right, I’m a stress baker.

It wasn’t something I was conscious of until a few years ago, mainly because I love baking so much. I started baking when I was in high school. I didn’t grow up in a house with a mom who baked, so I figured out that if I wanted something homemade, the only person who was going to make it was me. I love to cook, but there is something about the precision of baking I love even more. It’s the only type of science that makes sense; if you add too much or too little, it changes everything.

That’s what it feels like when I’m really stressed out, which is probably why baking feels so good. There’s a big difference between a tablespoon and a teaspoon, especially when it comes to adding baking powder to a cookie recipe. Baking when I feel stressed gives me something to focus on other than whatever is making my stomach churn. Creaming together butter and sugar keeps me from picking at my cuticles until they bleed. I get lost in the whir of my hand mixer instead of the whir of thoughts ricocheting around my brain. There is something about the monotony of stirring that soothes a part of me that I didn’t even know needed soothing.

My junior year of college was hard; I was living fully on my own for the first time and trying to juggle being an adult and still feeling like a kid. I constantly felt like I was drowning, but there was one thing that saved me. I could swing by the grocery store on my way home from class and grab a box of brownie mix and, in an hour, everything felt a little less scary. You don’t know catharsis until you’ve frosted a dozen cupcakes with an offset spatula. My classmates always looked forward to seeing me because I’d usually bring the fruits of my stress to class for them to eat. After I graduated into the 2008 recession, forcing me back into my parents’ home, I would usually be up in the middle of the night baking. My dad would wake up to find brownies on the counter like an elf had left them and then vanished.

I remember being heavily pregnant and juicing a million tiny key limes because I couldn’t sleep, and one in the morning felt like a totally appropriate time to make a key lime pie. Why else would I have bought a whole bag of key limes? It may have seemed ridiculous at the time, but I got to have pie for breakfast the next day.

Back then, I just thought it was a craving or boredom that would make me want to get in the kitchen, but now I know it was low-key stress or anxiety. (Okay, maybe sometimes it was a craving for brownies.) Few things take me out of my own head like baking does. At least now, I’m more aware that it’s happening. If work gets too overwhelming or I’m freaking out about money, don’t be surprised when there’s suddenly a funfetti cake in the fridge. It won’t be long before I’m pulling the bowls and measuring cups and sifting my dry ingredients. These sudden urges are why I always have flour, sugar, and butter on hand. I hoarded unsalted butter during the worst days of lockdown, because the stress of being stuck in the house with a little kid made me constantly want to bake chocolate chip cookies. Right now, there are at least three different kinds of chocolate chips in my cabinet.

When I feel a stress bake coming on, I have a few go-to recipes I draw from. Being stressed out isn’t the time to try something new; I need to relax, not worry I’m going to fuck something up. If you’re wondering what I usually bake, check out some of my go-tos below. I prefer the taste of boxed brownies, so I just grab whichever ones strike my fancy. I have an individual cake pan, so I make my brownies in it and then customize them by adding craisins or chocolate chips or peanut butter chips or pretzels. My kiddo likes when I top them with M&Ms too.

Rainbow Sprinkle Cake

This is an adaptation of a funfetti cake by Candace Nelson, the founder of Sprinkles, my favorite cupcake shop. I love this cake so much, but I’m the only person in my house who does. Not only do I go through the hassle of making a whole cake, but then I go through the hassle of eating it, too. I like having it with chocolate chip or strawberry ice cream on the side for fun flavor combos.

Yellow Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

This is an easy one, which is why it’s perfect for stress baking. I use a boxed yellow cake mix (either Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker) to save time and also increase the nostalgia aspect. You can use a butter yellow cake mix if you want it to taste more like a homemade cake. Making frosting is really easy, and this tastes way better than the stuff in the tub. I use Hershey brand cocoa powder, but use whatever you’d like as long as it’s not sweetened.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Craisin Cookies

This has become a recent favorite, and they’re SO GOOD. Craisins add a little bit more bite and also sweetness to a typical oatmeal cookie, and the dark chocolate chips add a nice chocolate flavor that isn’t overwhelming.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

How can you not love a chocolate chip cookie? They’re classic for a reason. There are a million chocolate chip cookie recipes out there, but I really love these. I tend to reduce the amount of chocolate chips by like a quarter cup just because I like a better cookie to chip ratio. Sometimes if I want to have fun, I’ll mix peanut butter chips into the chocolate chips or do a mix of semi-sweet milk or dark chocolate chips.

Sprinkle Cookies

Yes, I really love things with sprinkles. But these sprinkle cookies are so good — like an elevated sugar cookie. I tend to skip the almond extract mainly because I don’t like almond flavor, but if you do, go for it! There’s a note about reducing the amount of sprinkles, but to me, that is sacrilege, so I did not heed the adaptation. But do what feels right to you, I guess!

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake

This is so easy to make and truly delicious. It’s best eaten a little warm to really enhance the flavors. I dusted it lightly with powdered sugar once it was sufficiently cooled, and goodness, what a cozy little cake.

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 123 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. I feel seen! This is me too. I’ve learned that it’s anything with my hands that results in a tangible outcome: baking, gardening, knitting. Calms my mind like nothing else. But baking is the best one for sure.

    I found myself in the kitchen making a chocolate cake after a recent upheaval and everything just felt so much less overwhelming. I’m glad you have this too.

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