In the days after the presidential election, I was glued to Facebook. I rarely check the site, but on the morning of November 9, I propped my phone up on my pillow and mainlined commiseration. Statuses and links became a chorus of support that kept me informed and made me feel less alone: David Remnick’s “An American Tragedy,” Aaron Sorkin’s letter to his daughter, and even a distant friend’s simple “I can’t. But you better f#@%ing believe I will soon.” My personal favorite status: “Whatever happens, we have each other.”
Social media fed me action plans, scripts for calling local representatives, links to lists of organizations in need, but after that first week, people around me were moving beyond despair and into action. I could offer up my life savings to the Southern Poverty Law Center or National Women’s Liberation from the comfort of my computer, but I had trouble stepping away from this online support system — that is, until an unlikely hand pulled me out of the void: baking.
Idle hands are Mark Zuckerberg’s playthings, right? I couldn’t refresh my newsfeed if I was elbow-deep in flour. Finding solace in the kitchen wasn’t a conscious choice, but self-care sometimes takes weird forms.
I had no intention of ignoring or succumbing to reality, but I needed to transition from absorbed desperation and betrayal back into confidence and self-valuation. (In other words, more solid ground from which to fight the good fight.) I found that strength by perfecting an old cornbread recipe I could never seem to get right, and by tinkering with a cinnamon roll formula so much that I still have trays in my freezer.
I had never actually finished off a five-pound bag of flour and then had to go buy more within the same week. The stock boy in the Whole Foods baking aisle probably recognizes me now (“Tapioca starch? Hmm, we didn’t have it when you asked last time, but let me check…”).
The irony is not beyond me, of course: a woman feeling violated, devalued, and under attack, keening and railing against her country — a country that still has no respect for her (nor for any of its non-cis, white, male inhabitants, it seems) — seeking comfort in the arms of domesticity. But it doesn’t have to be ironic.
Creating something with my hands, however frivolous, reminds me that I am capable. It puts me back in touch with my power. And during this time when it can be very easy to feel powerless, what could be more important than that?
Smash the Patriarchy with a Skillet Cornbread
Because we’re going to be frying a lot more things in butter these next four years.
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 tablespoons for pan
- Preheat oven to 425ºF.
- In a large bowl, mix cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- Whisk milk and eggs in a separate small bowl.
- Pour egg mixture into cornmeal mixture, using a rubber spatula to fold gently. Don’t overmix (some lumps should remain).
- Stir in melted butter until just incorporated.
- Heat a cast iron skillet on medium-high with 2 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter sizzles, pour batter and cook 30-60 seconds. Place skillet in preheated oven.
- Bake 15-20 minutes, until cornbread is golden brown at the edges. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Let the skillet cool on a wire rack for five minutes. Slide the cornbread out of the skillet and onto the rack to finish cooling. (Cast iron retains its heat and will continue to cook the cornbread if it’s left in.)
Self-Care Cinnamon Rolls
Flour, cinnamon, and yeast cost a lot less than therapy.
4 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (Plus more if dough is too sticky)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons RapidRise (Or bread machine yeast)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup cold whole milk
2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
- Prep rolls at least one day ahead. Combine flour, sugar, salt, yeast in electric mixer with whisk attachment.
- In a separate bowl, melt butter then allow it to cool. Slowly stir in milk, then eggs. (Do not add eggs to hot butter as it will cook the eggs).
- Switch mixer attachment to dough hook, pour egg mixture into flour mixture. Mix on low until combined. Increase mixer speed to medium-low and run another 4-5 minutes. Add more flour if dough gets too sticky.
- When the dough is smooth and springy, form it into a ball and place in an oiled boil, Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm room (68-70ºF) for 30-45 minutes.
- While dough rises, mix the filling ingredients in a medium bowl. Butter a 9×13-inch glass Pyrex pan, or two circular pans (cast-iron skillets are acceptable, too).
- Lightly flour a flat surface and roll the dough out, aiming for a ¼ inch thick rectangle.
- Spread filling on the rectangle liberally and evenly, then roll up the dough, starting at one of the longer sides.
- Cut dough log into 1 to 1 ½-inch thick slices and place next to each other in pan. (They will expand while baking, but it’s ok for them to touch. When they can’t grow outwards any further, they will grow up).
- Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for a few days, until you’re ready to bake. You can freeze some for later use if you split your dough into two pans.
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF and remove rolls from fridge. Remove plastic wrap and bake approximately 20 minutes, being careful the tops don’t burn. Rolls are done when the middle of a roll is soft (but not jiggly) when poked.
- Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack with a cutting board beneath.
- While rolls cool, combine frosting ingredients with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add more powdered sugar if desired.
- Once rolls have cooled 10-15 minutes, spoon icing on top of them and spread evenly with a spatula. Serve immediately. Baked rolls can be stored in refrigerator for 4-5 days.
Meyer Lemon Stress Meltaways
Powdered sugar, take me away.
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup powdered sugar (Plus 1 cup more for dusting)
1 tablespoon grated Meyer lemon zest (Plus 1/2 tablespoon more for dusting)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter (cold), diced into 1/4-inch cubes
- In food processor or blender, combine flour, tapioca, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest, and salt. Blend until thoroughly combined. Add butter and pulse until smooth dough forms.
- Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Roll into a log about 1-inch thick in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours or overnight.
- Place oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350ºF. Slice dough into 1/4 inch slices and arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about an inch between each. Bake until firm and just barely golden around the edges, about 12 minutes.
- Cool on baking sheet on top of a wire rack until the cookies are cool enough to handle, but still warm, about five minutes. Gently flip cookies upside down and sift powdered sugar over them until completely covered. (You can use a sifter or a mesh sieve.) Flip cookies over and dust the other side. Allow them to cool completely. Store at room temperature or in the fridge.
No-Knead to Cry Bread (Inspired by Jim Lahey)
Although if you have to sob, you might as well have a hot loaf to keep you company.
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons RapidRise (or bread machine yeast)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
- Combine flour, yeast, and salt in electric mixer with whisk attachment until thoroughly incorporated.
- Replace the whisk with dough hook and mix in 2 cups of warm water, until a shaggy dough forms. Continue to blend on medium speed for 3-5 minutes, until dough is smooth.
- While the mixer is running, lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil. Flip dough into bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm area for 3-4 hours.
- When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, and fold it over once or twice. Preheat the oven to 450ºF and place a 6-to-8-quart heavy, covered pot (cast iron, ceramic, enamel, or Pyrex work) in the oven with the lid on to heat. (Do not oil the pot.)
- Once 30 minutes have passed, remove pot from the oven and place the dough ball into pot. Cover with lid and bake for 35 minutes, until loaf is well-browned. Remove from pot and cool on a wire rack.