Baking tales


Discovering a new passion for baking, Vijayalakshmi Rajan refused to give in to despair and used the lockdown time to bake and bond with her family.

The lockdown of the last few weeks has taught me three things. One, I can bake. Two, my hubby, son and I can actually tolerate each other, in fact, get along very well, 24/7! And three, working from home is fun. I do miss my office and colleagues, but it’s been fun working in our respective niches at home, breaking for coffee and meeting for lunch!

I was determined from word ‘Go’ of the lockdown that I wouldn’t allow feelings of panic to overwhelm me. Believe me, the lockdown though initially for just a week, had looked interminable. If I had anticipated that it would eventually continue for more than two months, I think I would have thrown in the towel then and there. Seeing it as an opportunity to spend some time with my son, I soon succumbed to his demand for cakes which I used to bake quite often in the past. I started I remember, with a pineapple upside cake, which the family not only enjoyed, but it triggered a huge interest in experimenting with other kinds of cakes. I made an apple cake, a banana cake, a lemon cake, a sponge cake and even a jam cake. Even then, I only flirted with cakes and cupcakes. The thought of baking breads was not even on my radar.

I think it was around the second extension of the lockdown. One day, late in the evening, when the family had gone to sleep, feeling extremely restless, I opened one of my baking books and searched for yet another cake to bake. Suddenly my eyes fell on a twisted herb loaf recipe. I scanned the recipe and realised that not only did it look simple, but I had all the ingredients for it. Feeling emboldened by the quietness of the hour and the blessed lack of an audience, I embarked upon this project. What one doesn’t realise about bread baking is that the dough has to be kneaded for many long minutes, proofed (set aside to rise) and perhaps proofed again, which literally adds a couple of hours to the process. So by the time I popped it into the oven, it was past midnight. But the elation I felt when I presented the perfectly baked herb bread to my family the next day, was tremendous. I had finally baked a bread!

Hot cross buns, croissants and more

Baking bread had always seemed like an unnecessary activity to me. The gourmet shops and bakeries are full of artisanal breads and multi-grain breads and croissants and all sorts of buns and dinner rolls. Why on earth would I even want to bake one? But believe me, baking bread, any kind of bread, is the most primal and satisfying activity one can undertake. It’s basic sustenance and bread is a part of my family’s staple diet. Ingredients like yeast and baking powder were not always available. To source them took every bit of ingenuity and luck. Frankly, I would have stopped with my twisted loaf, but for a twist in circumstances. The following evening the little mart in our building complex ran out of bread. The lockdown effect was slowly being felt, with groceries and vegetables not as plentifully available as before. When the mart started running out of breads as demand far outpaced supplies this little store was able to provide, my blood ran cold. A chill went up my spine.

I came back home, seized my recipe books and for once, instead of looking at cake recipes, I searched for bread recipes. The very next day I baked the local pav (bless Sanjeev Kapoor!), followed by dinner rolls, and feeling very brave, baked hot cross buns and croissants over the next few days! Okay, maybe they were not the most professional, flaky croissants and buns, but they were rather good! I even tried whole wheat varieties, finally making a largely whole wheat focaccia which hit the sweet spot of health and taste. I was in baking paradise!

I believe that baking is what helped me preserve my sanity in the bleak days of the lockdown. World over, I believe, women and men have baked during the worst of this pandemic, as a coping mechanism. Just like I did. All I can say is, how lucky were you, world!

Vijayalakshmi Rajan

Vijayalakshmi Rajan works for an education consulting firm and in her free time blogs at: