STILLWATER – When the oven door opens and the sweet aromas of hot chocolate chip cookies or a loaf of fresh bread waft through the house, it’s a passport back in time. In recent years, people have discovered the therapeutic art of baking which often allows them to reconnect with family through tattered recipe cards handed down from generation to generation.
Many busy families rarely share a home cooked meal at the table or slow down enough to whip up treats in their own kitchens these days, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, people looked for activities at home. As quarantined families got creative with sourdough bread and other baked goods, the home baking trend flourished.
âMuch of the interest relates to the Oklahoma home bakery law,â said Andrea Graves, business planning and marketing specialist at the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center. Oklahoma State University. âPeople use simple, easy-to-prepare foods and earn a little extra money. “
Back to the roots
Oklahoma’s Home Bakery Act 2013 inspired a new wave of bakers when the state legislature voted to allow the preparation of baked goods in an uninspected home kitchen. The items could be sold at the owner’s premises. In 2017, the law was amended to allow the sale of off-premises bakery products in certain locations.
âHome-baked products like bread give off an aroma that makes us smell,â said Renee Albers-Nelson, milling and baking specialist at FAPC. “It connects us to something safe at home – that’s how we grew up.”
A tasty loaf of bread only requires a few basic ingredients: yeast, salt, flour, and water. Oil can be used to make the bread softer, and sometimes a little sugar is added for the sweetness. Cooking at home takes time but saves money.
âWe all love the taste of homemade bread because it doesn’t have the preservatives like store-bought bread,â Albers-Nelson said. “You can make five to seven loaves of bread with a bag of flour.”
A community of bakers
In 2019, FAPC partnered with the Oklahoma Wheat Board to host All You Knead to Know, a bread-making workshop with guest speakers, hands-on tutorials, and field trips to research plots on OSU wheat. The event drew a huge turnout, including Oklahoma County educator Taylor Conner. A professional dietitian who had little baking experience prior to his extension career, Conner said the workshop opened his eyes to the disconnect between cultures and foods in the world of nutrition.
âI grew up in a suburb of Oklahoma with no farming training so seeing real wheat at the event was just fascinating,â she said. “I didn’t relate to wheat and flour for a very long time, and now I enjoy whatever it takes to grow wheat and create food.”
Conner started experimenting with sourdough bread and joined Facebook groups on bread making around the world.
âMore and more millennials are interested in knowing where their food comes from,â she said. âPeople see value in it. “
First a hobby and now a fun business, Conner started offering his bread this summer at a local farmers market. The breads are sold every week.
âFor me, especially over the past year, bread making has been therapeutic,â she said. âI love science and the way you focus on one thing – it’s intentional. It makes you forget about other things, and once I feel like I’ve mastered a recipe, I wonder how I can stretch a bit more and do something different.
Following the success of the All You Knead to Know event, Conner and OSU Extension partnered with the OWC in 2021 to host a series of virtual workshops called The Art of Breadmaking. During four two-hour Zoom meetings, participants used toolkits provided by the organizers to learn how to make basic bread dough, explore bread and dough shaping, bake bread focaccia and to try painting and decorating bread.
âWe thought we could handle 50 people,â said Chris Kirby, OWC marketing and communications director. “It sold out pretty quickly with male and female participants from different cultures across the state.”
Before the pandemic slowed down everyone’s pace of life, Kirby said people reached out to the OWC to ask about the origin of the food. Beginner bakers were hooked and wanted to learn more about bread, such as how to grind their own flour.
âWe have been contacted several times by people looking for how to buy berries or wheat seeds to grind their own wheat into flour for baking,â Kirby said.
Panic buying and comfort cooking
A consumer study conducted by the nonprofit Home Baking Association in September 2019 also indicated an increase in the frequency of home baking.
âIn the past, the main reason we cooked was for craftsmanship and caring for the people we love – for the community,â said Sharon Davis, program director for the HBA, who is also a science educator. family and consumer and bakery. âBut new trends include an increased desire by consumers to cook more frequently and buy local with ingredients that protect the environment. Our research has shown that 80% of consumers want to control the ingredients used in their food.
Although home baking skills have diminished over the decades, that has started to change. Weather has always been a factor in why people don’t cook. The pandemic shelter-in-place orders provided time and an opportunity to learn. From banana bread to flat breads, the new bakers kept their ovens hot with batches of dough. Online traffic for recipes increased dramatically and bags of flour flew off grocery store shelves as fast as toilet paper. Surveys organized by the HBA at the end of 2020 showed a 120% increase in homemade baking.
âWe were inundated with interviews from the BBC media to Seattle TV stations,â Davis said. âEveryone wanted to know why they couldn’t find flour and yeast in the grocery store. Nothing overshadows learning to bake at home, and the skills people developed during COVID have supported a new understanding and a call for family and home cohesion. People were thirsty for the opportunity to join a community again.
Oklahoma-based milling companies such as Shawnee Milling Co. have worked tirelessly to meet consumer demand. Sarah Haselwood, vice president of food sales, said safety was the # 1 priority, employees in every department quickly adapted to COVID protocols to continue serving customers.
Shawnee Milling produced six times more volume in April 2020 than the previous year in standard flour, cornmeal and baking mixes. The holiday rush for baking ingredients lasted all year.
âWe had people called and said, ‘I would feel better if I had a bag of flour in my pantry,’â Haselwood said. âWe even got calls from other people who weren’t our typical customers asking for a flour truck. We shipped flour to everyone we could help.
With cooler temperatures on the horizon and the holiday season just a few months away, Shawnee Milling and the HBA are gearing up for another busy cooking season. Davis of the HBA said interest during the pandemic remains high and that she is not trying to get people to stop cooking anytime soon. This is where partners like OSU Extension rise to the occasion.
âWe always send people out for extension research,â she said. “This idea of ââhome has taken on new meaning – a new normal is emerging, and Extension serves this area.”
Whether in person or virtually, Conner with Oklahoma County Extension plans to host a few holiday bread-making workshops later this year. Additionally, OSU’s FAPC hosted a Playing in the Dough session for beginners during the pandemic, and Albers-Nelson said another edition is in the works for this fall.
While the pandemic has contributed to a global increase in home cooking, people are finding solace, healing and a taste of nostalgia in art, and it shouldn’t be fading anytime soon.
HBA members and partners – FCS farmers, millers and teachers, and Oklahoma extension professionals – have helpful resources on how to cook at homebaking.org.
Try this New York Times No-Knead Recipe.
3 1/3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon generous instant yeast
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran, as needed
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and stir until well blended; the dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for at least 12 hours, preferably about 18 hours, at lukewarm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
The dough is ready when its surface is sprinkled with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place the dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it back on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let stand for about 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; place dough seam side down on a napkin and sprinkle with flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton cloth and let rise for about 2 hours. When ready, the dough will have more than doubled in size and won’t bounce easily if you prick it with your finger.
At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a 6 to 8 quart thick covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven while it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pan from the oven. Slip your hand under a napkin and turn the dough over in the pan, seam facing up; it might sound like a mess, but it’s OK. Shake the mold once or twice if the dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten up as it is cooked. Cover with a lid and cook for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for another 15 to 30 minutes, until the bread is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.