That’s right, I masturbake. And I do so unapologetically. I masturbake to push away the impending drudgery of exam term. I masturbake as a way of bolstering my self-esteem. I masturbake to reassure myself that the world is not going to end. I masturbake for me.
I recently came up with the concept of ‘masturbaking’ as a way of describing my belief in the holistic benefits of baking. When you take a cake out of the oven, or when you ice a pastry, there is a resultant feeling of unrivalled self-satisfaction. That feeling, in my eyes, is masturbaking. Or put simply, baking for pleasure.
Scientific studies have shown the benefits of cooking for mental health – it is a form of release from the pressures of everyday life, comforting in its promise of a definite end product and, what is more, the end product is delicious. Psychologists call this pattern of behaviour ‘’behavioural activation’’, that is when you find meaning in things rather than just drifting through them. By baking, you get something tangible for your efforts. No wonder that, particularly in the US, cooking therapy has taken off as a way of helping people with depression and anxiety. Kitchen therapy has become something of a big deal. The very process of cooking has been shown to nourish psychological well-being. Mindfulness, for instance, is a technique very much attainable in the kitchen. Use your senses to savour the ingredients you are working with – focussing on the sight, smell, sound, and touch of your food places an emphasis on moment-to-moment sensations, preventing you from ruminating over past misdemeanours or future worries. It thereby offers a way of reducing stress and a means of promoting gusto for life.
As a person who has had anxiety, I know from experience the magic of baking a cake. Flour, eggs, butter and sugar combine to miraculously form sweet magic – it is mystical and alchemical, yet also greatly rewarding. You can take time out and let your mind run free with all the creative opportunities baking brings. You can take out all your frustrations – bake a loaf of bread and knead it to within an inch of its life whilst thinking about all the people that have annoyed you. You can allow yourself a stolen private moment in the hectic bustle of modern life.
As a student, there is also a point at which I begin to ‘procrastibake.’ Making a batch of cookies is far more rewarding than making a set of revision flashcards, so I put down the pen and paper and pick up a whisk. Sometimes I feel like I am wasting precious time, however, I soon realise that baking is a great way of spurring on creativity and concentration, skills invaluable for good revision.
I have chosen a recipe for a French apple tart to illustrate the sort of things I bake when I need some me-time. This ‘Tarte Fine Aux Pommes’ is a perfect example of a bake that is easy yet satisfying to make. Its flavours are simple yet immense, and the feeling of pride once you take this pastry out of the oven, pretty as a patisserie window, is like nothing else. As well as apples, you could use thinly-sliced pears for this tart – in that case, I would advise either a teaspoon of ground ginger sprinkled over the pears before baking or the crunch of a handful of toasted flaked almonds at the end. Also, feel free to leave out the rosemary – I promise, however, that apple and rosemary is a winning combination!
Easy Tarte Fine Aux Pommes
1 ready-rolled sheet of puff pastry (375g)
2 large apples (Granny Smiths or Braeburns are perfect – no eating apples!)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter
A couple of sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C
2. Pour the juice of the lemon in a shallow dish and fill it with cold water.
3. Core the apples and cut them in half. Cut each half into quarters, and then cut the quarters into segments as thin as you can muster. Place the cut apple slices in the lemon water so they don’t turn brown as you get on with the pastry.
4. Lay the sheet of puff pastry on a baking sheet. Use the back of a knife to mark a ½-inch border around the edge of the pastry (this will puff up and go crispy during baking – delicious!).
5. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of the brown sugar over the pastry base.
6. Working from the inside edge, place the apple slices closely overlapping within the border of the frame. Create neat lines of apple slices until the pastry is covered.
7. Heat the remaining sugar with the butter in a small pan until the mixture becomes a light caramel colour. Scatter the chopped rosemary over the apple slices and then dribble the pan mixture over the apples.
8. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry has risen and the apples are soft. This is heaven with some crème fraiche!