Cup cake can make us happy
An afternoon spent whipping up cakes, biscuits and pies doesn’t just make your kitchen smell amazing, it can also help alleviate stress, anger and even depression. Baking enthusiast Alix Walker reveals why it’s making us very happy Photography: Patrice De Villiers Baking: Pamela Giles Supermodel Karlie Kloss may have appeared on 20 magazine covers this year alone, but she still finds time to send the editors at US Vogue her homemade toffee at Christmas.
She also spends the night before important shoots baking her Perfect 10 Kookies (milkbarstore.com) to calm her nerves. I may be a good foot shorter (and wider) than Karlie, but we do have something in common. Two weeks before my wedding I decided it would be a brilliant idea to bake my own four-tiered wedding cake. It wasn’t like I was already about to internally combust with stress or anything… When we launched Stylist I worked until 2am for three months but I still spent my first weekend off making a giant gingerbread house. When I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed, like my brain can’t quite focus and my heart is a bit racy, I bake.
John Whaite, the winner of The Great British Bake Off 2012, has spoken about how baking helped with his depression. He says, “You can turn the destructive into the creative just by stirring some sugar and eggs. Working through the steps of a recipe in a methodical way means you don’t have time to concentrate on everything else that is whirring through your mind. ” Spending an afternoon in icing sugar is certainly becoming an increasingly popular pastime. The fourth series of The Great British Bake Off started on BBC Two last Tuesday night, hoping to draw in even more viewers than the 7.2 million who watched last year’s series finale.
Sales of baking paraphernalia have shot up at John Lewis; cult baking clubs like Band Of Bakers and Clandestine Cake Club are popping up around the country; and owning a KitchenAid is suddenly as prestigious as possessing an Alexander Wang bag. And this is not a hobby just for the retired: 287 Stylistreaders lovingly crafted everything from a Ryan Gosling cake to the perfect afternoon tea in our competition to bake this week’s cover (click here to read an interview with Pamela Giles, who baked the winning cover), showing the passion for baking among professional 30-somethings.
We’ve fallen back in love with this age-old hobby for a simple reason: it makes us happy. In an increasingly fast-paced and unpredictable world, baking has become the modern woman’s stress buster. Today, we spend eight hours a day in front of a computer screen and rarely have something tangible to show at the end of it. Modern technology means we don’t switch off until we actually sleep. Baking is the antithesis to this. It’s physical. Methodical. It can’t be rushed. Follow a recipe step by step and you’re almost (almost) guaranteed a certain result.
There is calm in its predictability; reassurance in its simplicity. Unconvinced? Type ‘stress bake’ into Google and nearly seven million entries flash up. In addition,the Depressed Cake Shop, a series of baking pop-ups, appeared throughout the UK this month to recognise the power of baking to soothe (not cure) depression. And author Marian Keyes wrote her first cookbook Saved By Cake after a newfound passion for baking pulled her out of depression: “To be perfectly blunt, my choice sometimes is: I can kill myself or I can make a dozen cupcakes.
Baking makes me focus. It is sort of magic – you start off with all this disparate stuff and what you end up with is so totally different. Sweet and scientific It makes sense, really. For a start, the techniques used in baking – stirring, mixing, kneading – are very similar to other proven stress relievers such as knitting or squeezing a stress ball. Chartered psychologist Dr Jill Owen explains: “Repetitive behaviour and rituals can be very effective in increasing focus and reducing stress.
Countless studies have also found a strong connection between being creative and wellbeing. Focusing on a new icing technique means you don’t focus on individual pieces of information, which is why you may find the answer to the problem you’ve been stewing on all day the minute you bring your hot cross buns out of the oven. You also receive an extra shot of happiness when you see the positive reaction your baking has on other people. Then, of course, there’s the eating.
Tucking into a thick slab of apricot and ginger cake, a flaky millefeuille or a raspberry clafoutis subtly change our brain chemistry, making us altogether happier. The sweet sticky carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin into the blood, which clears out all the amino acids in the bloodstream apart from tryptophan, which is then converted into serotonin in your brain, that warm, fuzzy hormone that makes us want to hug people and smile a satisfied grin. That, in my opinion, is worth all the calories.