When the COVID-19 pandemic hit my life in mid-March, I really wanted to be the kind of person who copes by baking elaborate desserts and writing meaningful articles for big-name publications. Instead, I discovered that I'm the kind of person who copes by crying a lot, listening to "We Don't Know" by the Strumbellas on a constant loop, watching Babylon Berlin in the original German, and waking Mike up in the middle of the night to draw parallels between current events and the collapse of the Weimar Republic (Babylon Berlin is not, perhaps, the best television show to watch in times of crisis).
But I have been baking too, maybe even a little more than usual. For the most part, I've been making familiar recipes again and again, to feed myself and the people that I love during a complicated, confusing time.
1. Chocolate chunk biscotti
When I made these back in late March, my mood was "This pandemic has taken my job, my well-being, and my sanity, but LIKE HELL is it going to take my Sunday biscotti." I made a half batch of this biscotti recipe from King Arthur Flour and added a chopped up chocolate bar since I was self-quarantining at the time and couldn't go to the grocery store to get chocolate chips.
The biscotti were surprisingly easy to make—only a bit more involved than a batch of chocolate chip cookies—and came out okay. They were a little dry for my taste (I think I overbaked them during their second round in the oven) and needed a lot more chocolate. The amount of chocolate chips recommended in the recipe notes sounds about right, but I didn't have enough chocolate on hand.
Fortunately, the Daily Dose remained open during the restaurant shut down for contact-free curbside pickup, and I was spared from further mediocre biscotti—their chocolate chip biscotti are excellent, and the salted caramel mocha ones are straight-up perfection.
I first posted this chocolate cake recipe in 2013, and I've been making it on a regular basis ever since. It's a good size for two people, I always have all of the ingredients on hand, and it's my go-to vegan recipe that non-vegans enjoy too.
While I originally made this a heart-shaped pan, I've switched to making it in a greased 8x8 glass baking dish so that the cake is easier to glaze and transport. If I'm baking it for myself and Mike, I use butter and whole milk in the glaze. Since this particular cake was a pandemic pick-me-up for Josh, I used butter-flavored coconut oil and soy milk in the glaze so that he could share it with his vegan kids.
It might not be very photogenic, but cornmeal molasses pudding is what I turn to when I need something easy to eat that's comforting and nourishing. I've lost track of how many times I've made it during the pandemic (at least four, probably more). I usually have the ingredients on hand anyway, but I've been making sure to stay stocked up with soy milk and cornmeal so that I can make a batch whenever I need to.
As I mentioned in this recent post, this is a recipe that I developed based on Mike's formula for the perfect muffin: lots of cinnamon, not too many chocolate chips, and crunchy sugar on top. I made a couple of test batches to get the recipe down and have made a few batches since.
I posted the recipe for these milk-free chocolate chip muffins a couple of months ago, and they've become Mike's favorite muffins. This is another recipe I've made several times during the pandemic, and I'll be making them long after this is over.
6. Chocolate Cadbury Mini Egg cookies
Since we don't observe it as a religious holiday, Mike and I typically don't celebrate Easter. Sometimes I'll make a small ham for Mike and buy a bag of jelly beans. But this year, I didn't even feel like doing that. Things were particularly overwhelming that weekend and the three inches of snow we got on Easter Sunday didn't really help my mood.
However, I did buy some Cadbury mini eggs on clearance the next day and used them to make a truly delicious batch of chocolate cookies. If I could find more Cadbury mini eggs, I would make these again because they were such a hit—I dropped off some with Rachel and Alex, gave some to Josh, and Mike and I took care of the rest. I'll be posting the recipe next spring, when Cadbury mini eggs are available again.
7. Blueberry pie
I offered to bake Josh anything he wanted, and he requested a blueberry pie after waxing rhapsodic about his grandmother's juneberry pies. Living up to someone's childhood nostalgia is a tall order, but I think that I did a pretty good job. I used this blueberry pie recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction (my go-to source when I need a reliable dessert recipe) and my mom's pie crust recipe (available here). The filling has lovely nuanced flavor thanks to the addition of cinnamon, lemon juice, and butter, and I borrowed a heart-shaped cookie cutter from my sister to make the top crust.
8. Honey muffins
I made these at 3:30 a.m. because I couldn't sleep (aside: when people talk about what they want to do when this is over, me included, they focus on things like going to crowded bars and throwing parties. What I really want more than anything is to get a straight eight hours of sleep). I used a recipe from Midwest Living that I've baked a few times before, but I left out the nuts because Mike recently informed me that he doesn't like "impurities" in his muffins. Chocolate chips are apparently an exception.
If eating heaps of frosting is wrong, I don't ever want to be right. I first made these frosted sugar cookie bars for my sister's baby shower last year, and I've wanted to revisit them ever since. The dough includes a half cup of sprinkles, and the layer of frosting is thicker than the bars themselves. Mike and I ate almost half the pan in an afternoon, and I gave the rest to Josh. Sugar highs and good times were had by all.
10. Honey walnut muffins
A few weeks after Mike's muffin purity declaration, he reversed course and decided that walnuts were acceptable. I went back to the Midwest Living recipe since I'm trying to use up a jar of crystallized honey, and I added a half cup of toasted walnuts. Yes, it's an extra step to toast the walnuts, but it's worth it for the rich, mellow flavor.
Those honey walnut muffins marked the end of my pandemic baking. I've made things since then, but not from the same place. When this started, both my emotional state and my baking were focused inwards. Since then, my mental focus has shifted, and baking has become a part of my professional identity (I started a home-based bakery!)
Sometimes, I even sleep through the night.