Life

Baking Your Own Bread Has Therapeutic Benefits

It's OK if you want to use a bread maker.

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Today’s habit: Bake bread!

For whenever you’re feeling: Like you want to try something new; when you want to impress your family during holiday get-togethers; when you want to smell something mouth-wateringly delicious.

What is is: There’s really nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread, especially in the morning, with a cup of coffee, preferably served by a hot human. But many of us have to lug ourselves all the way over to the bakery to get a loaf, and who has the time (or the energy — we’re lazy) to do that? Certainly not us.

But with the holidays on our heels, we feel like we have to step it up. There are parties, brunches, dinners, and all sorts of family gatherings coming up, so what better way to be an excellent guest than by making your own bread and gifting it to the host?

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How it can help: There are a couple ways you can do this: 1. Use a bread maker or 2. Make it from scratch. Either way, you’re going to get a yummy loaf, so it all depends on whether you have the time and inclination to do it all yourself or not.

Whatever method you choose, you’ll still reap the benefits.

For starters, homemade bread is more delicious because you can customize the bread to be whatever flavour you want. There are so many Christmas bread recipes that can be tweaked depending on what you like: gingerbread, pistachio, white chocolate cranberry pecan (omg get in our belly), German Christmas stollen, orange cranberry, Amish cinnamon, and pumpkin.

Not only is it tastier, homemade bread is more nutritious than your store-bought variety because you can control what goes in it. On the other hand, you can make your bread less healthy, too, and that’s totally fine!

You can choose the kind of flour (white or whole wheat), eggs, and dairy, and you can control the amount of sugar that goes in. You also don’t have to worry about added fructose corn syrup or dextrose, which, as Livestrong.com notes, “offer empty calories.”

Homemade bread also has lower sodium and doesn’t contain trans fats (unless you add margarine or vegetable shortening); substitute it with healthy unsaturated fats such as olive oil. Store-bought bread will also contain preservatives and artificial ingredients to give it more flavour and have a lengthier shelf life.

Aside from the nutritional value, baking your own bread is good for your mental health.

Mixing the ingredients, kneading the bread (hot tip: if you ever find yourself frustrated or angry, take it out on dough. It’s very satisfying), and watching the dough rise can be soothing.

And while there’s online anecdotal evidence on the benefits of baking, science backs it up, too.

In 2017, five people who were mental health residents at Bethlem Royal Hospital in London spent six two-hour sessions baking bread by hand and answered weekly questions about how they felt. They reported feeling happier, creative, and having a sense of achievement. They also revealed that baking bread made them feel relaxed, less anxious, and that they had a sense of purpose.

Chris Young, campaign co-ordinator of the baking sessions, noted that the findings were proof that therapeutic baking deserved further study. ”[Making bread] can offer therapeutic benefits to some people who are experiencing mental health problems,” he said.

Whether baking or cooking, both can offer relief from stress and feeling down.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who do small, creative acts regularly, such as baking and cooking, feel more relaxed and happy.

“A lot of us turn to baking when we’re feeling low,” Melanie Denyer, the founder of the Depressed Cake Shop, a bakery whose goal is to raise awareness about mental health issues, told BBC News. “Some of us even started baking because they were ill and needed something simple as a focus. And there is genuinely something very therapeutic about baking.”

Yes, you can be just as happy at the woman in this photo as you bake.
Yes, you can be just as happy at the woman in this photo as you bake.

If you’re not sure how to get started, keep it simple. Find a recipe that doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, such as this super easy five-ingredient sandwich bread recipe. A search for “easy bread recipes” on Pinterest yields lots of results, including garlic herb no knead bread, easy French bread, and easy cinnamon bread.

If you’re short on time (between measuring ingredients, mixing, kneading, rolling, rising, and the actual baking, you’re looking at a few hours spent in the kitchen), there are ways to make the process shorter.

One way of doing this is to invest in a bread machine (you can get them starting at $60 on Amazon), which will cut down your baking time significantly.

Another way to cut down on your baking time is by baking in batches. The actual work involved should only take you about 25 minutes, so “with less than half an hour of work, you can keep yourself stocked up on homemade bread all month long,” notes MoneyCrashers.com.

Finally, you can also make a bread that requires no kneading, which involves mixing a big batch of moist dough and storing it in the fridge for a couple weeks. When you want fresh bread, take the amount of dough you want, shape it into a loaf, let it rise for 40 minutes, and then bake. Pinterest has many no-knead bread recipes for your perusal.

Where you can do it: At home, in your kitchen. Preferably with a glass of egg nog in your hand and the Christmas music blasting.

How it makes us feel: There’s nothing more satisfying than pulling a freshly baked loaf of bread out of the oven. The comforting smell, that first bite, and the satisfaction of a full belly makes us feel warm and cozy.

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